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Self-driving carmakers will have to pry steering wheel from some cold, dead hands

August 22, 2013 12:29 PM ET

"There are a lot of people who enjoy driving under the right circumstances, but there's also a lot of driving that's grunt work. Under those circumstances, the challenge is to stay awake and not bump into the cars in front of you," said David Alexander, an analyst at Navigant Research.

More importantly, its backers say autonomous car tech will reduce accidents and enable those who are physically unable to drive today to get behind a wheel - so to speak.

"[Autonomous auto technology] has the potential to change the very nature of vehicle ownership. I believe it will bring independence to people, not take it away," Alexander said.

95 million self-driving cars a year

A Navigant report released this week claimed that by 2035, more than 95 million self-driving cars will be sold worldwide every year. In 2035, sales of autonomous vehicles will represent 75% of all light-duty vehicle sold, the Navigant report states.

Alexander said he's aware of the negative online comments about autonomous cars, but compared them to people that rallied against the automatic transmission in its early days.

The public view of automated cars, Alexander said, suffers from misperceptions.

For example, if a driver wants to take the wheel, they'll likely be able to disable the automated function. Also, many technologies now in development are aimed more at offering assistance to drivers, not fully automating vehicles.

Today, there are predictive emergency braking, adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning systems that act to assist drivers for safety, but do not take away a person's ability to control the overall driver experience.

"What's important to understand is the definition of autonomous vehicle," Alexander said. "It's an autonomous functionality available in the car. It's not going to mean the cars will be completely automatic and you're not going to be able to do anything. It's a bit like having cruise control in the car, but not everybody uses them."

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at Twitter@lucasmearian, or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed Mearian RSS. His email address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

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