Self-driving cars aren’t just the future – they’re here right now

Do you think of self-driving cars as some futuristic technology that’s still decades away? Well, you shouldn’t. As a 60 Minutes report from Sunday makes clear, self-driving cars are very much with us right now even though they still sound like something we’d expect to see in The Jetsons.

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The program got to take a spin in Mercedes-Benz’s S500, which it describes as its most advanced driverless car prototype. The car safely navigated its terrain by stopping when it was supposed to and starting up again when the way was clear. It did all this with almost no input from the driver, who could sit back and let the car’s software do all the work for him.

But here’s the thing about this technology: It’s not just something Mercedes is working on in its Google X-style lab. It’s something that car manufacturers and tech giants like Apple and Google are working on as well, which means we’re likely to see the first driverless cars go on sale within the next decade or so.

There are still issues to be ironed out, of course — as 60 Minutes notes, Google’s cars can’t hack it during heavy rain, while Mercedes’s software can’t yet decipher gestures from traffic police. Of the cars currently on the road, Tesla’s Model S seems to be the closest to being able to drive itself as its latest software update has automated the processes for switching lanes on freeways and parallel parking on streets. GM is planning to offer similar capabilities starting in 2017 and pretty soon all newly released cars will have the ability to automatically changed lanes for us.

Whether drivers take to these cars is another matter entirely, of course. And then there’s the jobs question — lots of people get paid to drive today who will be put out of work once companies start using self-driving cars. Regardless, the switch to self-driving cars looks like the next big technological disruption and it’s coming sooner than a lot of people think.

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