Companies all over the world are developing technologies for driverless cars. Google is most visible having built some of their own cars as well as adapting existing cars for testing purposes. You can view their promotional video at https://www.google.com/selfdrivingcar/.
The news media recently reported that one of Google's driverless vehicles had a fender bender with a bus while driving in traffic in Mountain View, Ca., where Google is based. Google accepted responsibility and modified their software to correct the problem. This was not the first accident involving a self driving car - there have been a few - but it was the first time the car was at fault.
This illustrates one of the main reasons for developing driverless cars - the assumption that they will be safer. The driverless car follows rules programmed into the computer augmented by GPS and sensors to "see" what is going on around it. It doesn't get distracted by cell phone conversations, roadside scenery or animated conversations with other passengers. And computers aren't subject to road rage.
California, the first state to establish regulations for driverless cars, says that the car must have a driver and, thus, a steering wheel and sufficient controls to allow the driver to take over if the automated systems fail. Google uses a driver when road testing but feels that, in the future, the technology will eliminate the need for a driver. In the accident mentioned above, Google's human driver made the same mistaken assumption as the computer - that the bus would slow to let them merge.
Google has formed a coalition with car manufacturers Ford and Volvo along with ride sharing services Uber and Lyft, called the Self-driving Coalition for Safer Streets. Its main purpose is to lobby for standardized federal regulations that will apply across state lines. According to news reports Google has said that driverless cars could be ready for sale as soon as 2020.
There are obstacles to overcome:
Cost of the technology, which will come down as volume increases;
Non-existent or conflicting regulations (thus the Google Coalition);
Consumer trust may be the biggest hurdle. J.D. Power just released a study April 28th regarding interest in (trust of) fully autonomous cars broken down by age groups:
59% of Generation Y (born 1977 to 1994) would be interested, 41% of Generation X (1965-76), 23% of baby boomers (1946-64) and 18% of pre-boomers (born before 1946). It seems that the most likely age group to want the cars will be least able to afford them.
It's expected that early adapters will be people with handicaps that prevent them from driving and people with difficult commutes where a driverless car would allow them to sleep, work or just enjoy a good book.
So what happens if something goes wrong with your driverless car? If a critical component fails the car would automatically park itself, then call Uber or Lyft to pick you up and call to let your spouse know you will be late. Then it would call for a tow truck and, since you have already selected a servicing shop in the car's computer, it would be towed to Del Mar Automotive.
We will be ready. Will you?