Professor: Self-driving cars no longer unrealistic

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Photo Credit: Connor Murphy | Daily Texan Staff

The prospect of self-driving cars is no longer an unattainable myth. According to a UT researcher, the once-deemed-unrealistic idea is now closer to being a present-day transportation option. 

The primary hindrances to making self-driving cars accessible to the public are in the hands of insurance companies and lawmakers, computer science professor Peter Stone said.

“The technology to make it possible is already there,” Stone said. “The insurance industry has to figure out what to do with it, the legal industry, and the cost has to be reasonable.” 

Stone, who studies artificial intelligence and machine learning, has created a full-size self-driving car in his lab.  

Once self-driving cars debut in the marketplace, which some automobile companies say will happen within the decade, more people will be eligible to “drive” them, according to Stone. The elderly, visually impaired and children would have access to a car that doesn’t require driving skills in order to transport them to their desired location, Stone said. 

Rhonda Weldon, director of communications for University operations, said UT Parking and Transportation Services recognizes this developing change in regards to self-driving cars but has not made any preparations for it. She said PTS will follow the same protocols employed when electric cars became more significant in the marketplace.

“We would make preparations for that type of item when it became a significant part of the automobile market,” Weldon said. “When electric cars became a more significant portion of the market, the University made changes that would accommodate that technology.”

Stone acknowledged the potential increase in cost because of technology used for self-driving cars but said the benefits include more than just a convenient, futuristic appeal. 

“The biggest advantage is that they’ll be safer,” Stone said. “Most accidents are caused by people, by human error. Those will be largely removed.”

With new transportation projects underway across the country, Stone said factoring in new technology such as self-driving cars during construction is essential to paving the way for an inevitable change in the automobile industry. 

French junior Rachel Krenek said she thinks having self-driving cars on a college campus like UT won’t make much of a difference for students.

“I think it’s a great idea, but, for my situation, it’s almost easier to take the bus,” Krenek said. “Assuming it costs money, I would definitely take the bus over self-driving.”