I Rode A Self-Driving Car Down The Las Vegas Strip
On Tuesday, I got the chance to ride in a self-driving car — an opportunity only a handful of people in the world have experienced.
As I stood outside the Las Vegas Convention Center, home to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), I hailed a 4.4 mile Lyft to the Aria Hotel.
But what started as an ordinary ride soon turned extraordinary with a single pop-up asking if I wanted to try out a self-driving Lyft.
You’re damn right I did. And today I want to share my experience…
The car of choice was the BMW 540i — a sleek sedan that wasn’t soiled with clunky sensors on the roof or sides.
In total, this car had 21 mounted sensors — 9 LiDAR sensors which use light in the form of lasers to measure distance, 10 radar sensors which uses radio waves to determine range and distance (which was more useful in the rainy weather) and 2 cameras.
For my ride to the Aria I sat in the back seat. The front seats were reserved for the Lyft driver whose hands hovered over the steering wheel just in case and the engineer who was in charge of answering my barrage of questions.
The Lyft driver started the ride in manual mode until we reached the main road. I was told this was due to state laws requiring a driver on private property.
But once we reached the main road, our driver hit the switch and I got my first look at the future of driving.
“Autonomous mode activated”
That’s what the speakers behind my head said as the car sped up out of the parking lot.
What stood out was how transparent the whole system was. There were monitors in both the dashboard and on the back of the armrest to show riders everything the car was seeing.
As you can see above, the monitor displays the car in front as well as markers indicating surrounding vehicles, stop lights and even crosswalks. And when people were crossing in the crosswalks in front of the vehicle, you could clearly see the cluster of pedestrians as blue dots on the in-car monitors.
Overall the ride was nearly flawless. The acceleration was smooth and the car never swerved or pinballed within the lane like many reports of other self-driving cars claim.
The one concern I had was that this car didn’t take into account the road conditions.
After raining for 2 straight days at that point, there was plenty of standing water left in low spots on the road that this car sped right through.
Although no mishaps occurred during my ride on Tuesday, I could definitely see an accident occurring in the future due to hydroplaning or even sliding on ice if road conditions are not considered.
So When Will We See These Cars On The Road?
After talking to Jining, the engineer in the passenger seat, I got a real timetable for when we could see fully autonomous self-driving cars on the market.
Right now, the major roadblocks (pun fully intended) are programming the finer points of driving into these cars and of course… the government.
There are plenty of situations that you and I don’t even think consciously about while driving but will still need to be programmed into these vehicles. Think about subtle events like passing a stopped bus that’s not fully out of your lane or how to react when a biker waves his arm for you to go around.
The thousands of instances like these will all need to be considered.
In addition, lawmakers will want to see serious safety procedures in place before they allow these cars on the road without a backup driver up front. And to accomplish this, updating infrastructure to include updated connectivity capabilities that these vehicles will rely on is a must.
(Hey, Mr. Trump! How about including this into your infrastructure plan!)
All in all, after prying a number out of her, Jining estimated about 15 years until we see fully-autonomous vehicles available to mainstream consumers.
Start your timer.
Here’s to keeping your edge,