Every year, about 1.3 million people die in traffic crashes globally. In the U.S. alone, it’s estimated to be more than 40,000 deaths.
But there’s a belief among researchers that those numbers could dramatically fall if more cars became self-driving.
Specifically, one published work cites an estimation that 25,000 lives would be saved every year if 90% of U.S. cars became self-driving.
Another review, in the American Journal of Public Health, states autonomous vehicles could save 10 million lives per decade.
This highlights the long road technology has to navigate as we adopt a new way of travel, but also its potentially massive impact.
And while things won’t change overnight, one local company believes its technology can be a leader into the future.
Self-driving cars haven’t taken over the world quite yet, but that’s not stopping Harald Braun and his company - Guident - from working toward the future.
Guident isn’t a car manufacturer, but a software company striving to guide autonomous vehicles and make them safer -- ultimately, solving what Braun describes as a transportation crisis of death and preventable errors.
“We take the human out of the equation, and then let the software and the artificial intelligence and everything we know we can do best -- let that make the decisions on how to drive. That was the original idea,” Braun explained.
The company partners with car makers and integrates its technology to what’s currently available.
“We work then on letting them put our software on top of their autonomous vehicle software stack,” Braun said.
But before you think this is exclusively artificial intelligence and algorithms leading the way, there is, in fact, someone with their hands on the wheel -- they’re just in a different room.
A remote monitoring and control center featuring a remote-control operator, or RCO, is in charge of monitoring the AV’s and stepping in when necessary.
It’s essentially a version of air traffic control, but for autonomous vehicles.
“We have the human operator make a judgment of the situation,” Braun said. “This is an interpretation of a software of an algorithm, so we better check that algorithm with a human being.”
Normally, AV’s are programmed to make it to their destination without issue.
But in case something were to go wrong, like an accident, tech hiccup, or other digital/physical obstacle, the RCO can take over the vehicle and put it back where it needs to go.
They can also talk to the passenger or call for help.
“There will be all the time with technology, you know that software is not 100% on everything, and we wanted to add another level of safety,” Braun said.
We got a chance to ride in Guident’s test vehicle, taking a trip around the office’s parking lot with the remote control operator back in the office able to take over for the human driver at any time.
The ride with the RCO was as smooth as could be with a human driver, with almost no notable delay between what was happening back in the office versus on the road.
Right now, Guident is operating in limited spaces like hospitals, certain residential areas and office parks, like the Boca Raton Innovation campus.
And while the future may seem far away, in some ways it’s here right now -- technology being used to change what’s been common for decades – in this case, traditional travel with reliance on cars.
And while we still might be years from a traffic commute like the Jetsons, Guident hopes to have a part in leading the way.
“People hold on as long as possible to what works all the time, until it doesn’t work anymore. You need to get to a new trajectory curve,” Braun said. “We are creating an industry and what is better in this world to create a new industry in an area where everything is connected, and you prove that that you can do actually something with that for humanity.”
Guident plans to continue developing its software and work on hiring more people.
Braun also said he would like to see the company and more autonomous vehicles incorporated into geo-fenced areas, like campuses, neighborhoods, etc.
From there, he hopes AV’s can grow into smart cities and incorporate with public transportation, ultimately transforming transportation and lifestyle.