When computer-controlled driverless vehicles one day take to the streets of New York, their common original ancestor will be a sleek, white and red Audi sedan nicknamed “Jack.”

SwissCognitive LogoJack will start taking test spins in Albany near the state Capitol, accompanied inside by two human engineers, who can instantly take control should any issue arise. Jack’s inaugural trip on Tuesday marks the state’s first foray into the burgeoning field of autonomous vehicle technology. The market for such vehicles — in which computers, sensors and ever-increasing artificial intelligence (AI) take over some or all of the driving — is expected to explode in coming years, changing the nature of travel and work. Welcome to a brave new world where “driving” changes to “being driven.”

Revolutionize Personal Transportation

Driverless vehicles could remake personal transportation, and entire industries including taxis, bus fleets, commercial trucking, and farming. Such systems could save hundreds of thousands of lives that would otherwise be lost in human-caused accidents, while also throwing millions of paid human drivers out of work. Such vehicles have the “potential to uproot personal mobility as we know it,” according to a federal transportation policy adopted in September. “Will they fully replace the human driver? What ethical judgments will they be called upon to make?” asked then-Transportation Secretary Anthony Fox. “Will they disrupt the nature of privacy and security?”

The State of New York is interested

In the new state budget adopted in April, New York invited car companies to demonstrate the technology behind such possibilities. On May 12, German carmaker Audi became the first — and so far, only — company to apply for a testing permit from the state Department of Motor Vehicles. Audi Government Affairs Director Brad Stertz said the company wants to start selling an AI-equipped model that can handle start-and-stop, low-speed traffic jam driving within the next 18 months. Sometime between 2020 and 2022, Audi hopes to sell a stronger AI vehicle that can handle highway driving. Other vehicle companies are working elsewhere in the country. Last fall, Uber and Google began testing driverless taxis in Pittsburgh. Honda, Volvo, Honda, Delphi Automotive, Tesla and Chinese technology company Baidu have all announced plans to develop such vehicles. […]