Even if you are so young that you grew up with the Internet, you probably appreciate how impressive and useful artificial intelligence can be. The digital assistant on your smartphone may know more about you than anyone else does. It can finish your sentences before your human friends can; when you type “do” into a Google search, your phone correctly guesses that you mean “donuts near me,” whereas when your mother-in-law types the same brief sequence of letters, her phone correctly guesses that she means “Dolly Parton playlist.” You trust your phone to find a route to anywhere you want to go, while avoiding the roads you hate. Would you really trust it to drive your car for you? 

Some companies are working on developing driverless vehicles, with the intent that these robotically controlled machines will one day share the road with human drivers. People who get injured by driverless vehicles, as some already have, possess the same legal rights as people whose injuries are the result of car accidents caused by human error. The Kansas City car accident injury lawyers of Foster Wallace, LLC can help you recover damages, whether your car accident was the fault of a human being or a machine.

The First Big Driverless Truck Experiment in the United States: The Rise and Fall of Starsky Robotics

kansas city car accident lawyersStarsky Robotics, the first major autonomous truck company in the United States, began in California in 2015. Its founders, Stefan Seltz-Axmacher and Kartik Tiwari, aimed to create trucks that could transport freight to its destination without any human beings in the truck. They collected investments from sources such as the startup accelerator Y Combinator, the entrepreneur Sam Altman, and the venture capital investment firm Shasta Ventures. The technology they were able to develop with the investment money enabled drivers to operate the trucks remotely from a central office, much the way that a child operates a remote-control car.  Lots of kids wish for a remote-control truck of their own, but imagine if the remote-control truck weighed 14 tons.

The maiden voyage of a Starsky Robotics driverless truck took place in Florida in February 2018. A robotic truck, entirely devoid of human passengers, completed a seven-mile trip. By June 2019, Starsky trucks were traveling 55 miles per hour on public roads. Of course, the company was still in the experimental phase and was not transporting goods or receiving money from customers. The company still needed to raise funds in order to continue testing and improving its technology before it could become commercially available. The technology seemed to be successful, and Starsky trucks got to the point where they could complete long trips during which they were empty 85% of the time. The problem that worried investors, though, was the financial stability of the freight-hauling aspect of the company. In the second part of 2019, most of the major investors declined to contribute more funds, and the company had laid off 85% of its staff by November 2019. In March 2020, the company liquidated its assets and sold its patents related to driverless truck technology.

The Current State of Driverless Trucks

Missy Cummings is a professor of Robotics and Artificial Intelligence at Duke University. She has high hopes that, one day, driverless trucks for commercial use will become a reality. She is the daughter of one truck driver and the niece of another. In her academic career, she studies human-autonomous system collaboration and explainable artificial intelligence. Cummings describes herself as a techno-realist; she says that self-driving trucks will someday be able to avoid our current problem of crashes caused by fatigued drivers. While she believes wholeheartedly in continuing current projects to develop driverless vehicles and enable them to operate safely, she believes that we are a long way away from a time when robotic trucks can safely share the road with human drivers.

Uber Refuses to Give Up on Driverless Car Project

Besides efforts to implement autonomous vehicle technology in big trucks that transport freight over long distances, several companies currently envision driverless cars as the logical next step in the rideshare revolution. If Amazon can deliver groceries and ready-to-eat meals to your door, and if it can make entertaining content instantly appear on your phone, why not let Amazon transport you to where you need to go, without the need to interact with a human driver.

Against all odds, Uber seems determined to get driverless cars on the road before Amazon gets there first. Uber has been testing self-driving cars on public roads since 2018, and the results have been less than promising. In Arizona in March 2018, a software glitch caused a self-driving Aston Martin operated by Uber to fail to stop when Elaine Herzberg was crossing at a crosswalk.  Herzberg is, thus far, the only person to die in an accident involving a self-driving car, but Uber self-driving cars had already caused 35 other accidents in the 18 months leading up to her death.  After Herzberg’s death, Uber stopped testing its self-driving cars for more than a year and a half, but it resumed the tests in November 2019.

Uber is still looking for investments to help it continue developing driverless car technology. In September 2020, Raphael Orlove wrote a scathing column on Jalopnik in which he dismissed the project as foolish at best. The project is set to run out of funding by the end of 2021, but two of Uber’s biggest shareholders, SoftBank Group and Benchmark, urged Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi to seek out more funding for the project from investors. Khosrowshahi is considering open-sourcing the project to coders around the world.

Contact a Kansas City Personal Injury Lawyer 

Even if there was no one behind the wheel of the car that hit you, someone should be legally responsible for your damages. A Kansas City car accident lawyer can help you identify that person or company and collect damages from them. Contact Foster Wallace, LLC in Kansas City, Missouri for a free consultation

Brian Wallace
Kansas City Personal Injury Attorney
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