It might sound ironic, but the autonomous cars of the future need ‘drivers’, at least for today.
The future of the transport is being redefined on a regular basis: a few years ago, Uber changed the way we travel short distances. Elon Musk seems hell-bent on changing the automotive industry on his own with Tesla’s electric vehicles, and his Hyperloop is set to shake up medium length, cross-country journeys. Fellow billionaire Richard Branson recently invested in the Hyperloop project – to be rebranded the Virgin Hyperloop One – and hopes his Virgin Galactic will soon deliver orbital passenger trips (that means in space) from one side of the world to the other in under an hour.
While some of these advances may take decades to come to fruition, the future of autonomous cars is much closer to hand: traditional car manufacturers like BMW and Mercedes, as well as companies like Google and Uber, expect there to be thousands, if not millions, of semi- and fully-autonomous cars on the world’s roads by 2020. These driverless cars promise to reduce the amount of cars on the road, reduce the amount of time spent in traffic and return to commuters the countless hours of wasted travel time that could be spent doing something productive.
While many of us would give our left passenger door to skip out on the daily traffic, there is still a lot of testing that has to happen before these cars are ready to hit the streets in significant numbers – and that’s where the test ‘drivers’ come in.
It might sound utterly ironic that ‘self-driving’ cars should need test drivers, but the reason makes total sense: many of the self-driving features of these cars are still being tested, but they need to be tested on actual public roads in order to improve further. That means these buggy, beta-testing machines driving on the road with other cars, passengers and pedestrians, where the price of a technical issue could be fatal. So engineers for the respective developers are present in the car, ready to take over if anything goes wrong – usually one in the driver’s seat and one on the passenger side taking notes and doing system checks.
This might not sound very glorious but it hardly sounds like the most boring job in the world, right? And maybe it’s not: 6-8 hours behind the wheel of a car is no worse than sitting behind a desk and it’s significantly better than the jobs of long-haul truckers who are expected to drive through the night with little to no sleep.
It might sound like easy money – Google pays its ‘drivers’ 20 $ an hour – but if you suffer from car sickness, this probably isn’t the job for you!