Five Reasons Why The Dawn of Autonomous Cars May Be A Way Off Yet
While everyone is expecting autonomous tech to take over in our near future, Automologist MAC thinks we will be keeping our hands on the steering wheel for a wee bit longer.
Every day, we are inundated with stories and articles about the testing of some new autonomous technology that will whisk us seamlessly from point A to point B. In fact, it seems to be the one thing that governments and tech companies agree on, and thus driverless cars are the future and so very many companies are racing to get to the grand prize first.
This complete unanimity of opinion, though, is blinding those in the race, and I really do not think there has been enough discussion on the obstacles that will hinder those cute little Google Pods from whizzing around the streets anytime soon.
I found myself arguing the case against autonomous cars with some friends over dinner the other night, and as one does these days in an argument, there was much fact-checking going on with just about every disputed fact being “googled” for accuracy. One of the facts that we could not get away from and surprised my friends was that even with autonomous cars being about as common as ducks with lips, there were in fact 27 accidents involving them in California last year, and thus far this year, a further four. What’s more, these numbers are hard to verify, as the accidents are reported by the companies undertaking the test, and thus may be way higher.
So here are five reasons why I believe that the dawn of this particular brave new world is further off than most would have you believe:
First, and perhaps foremost, autonomous cars simply do not play well with others. And with others, I particularly mean when they mix them up with us mere mortals. The cars are still typified by being jerky and overly cautious: two attributes that confuse and scare those around them. Just about all of the accident reports attest to the fact, as the humans involved in the accidents reported that they had misread the robots intention. Just ask Joshua Brown, who was killed when his Tesla on autopilot hit a tractor-trailer.
Second, most of us will really struggle to fully trust a robot–driven car, much in the same way that no one would get into a pilotless plane, even though the autopilot has been largely flying all commercial airliners for many years now. The human ‘driver’ gives a psychological assurance to the passengers should anything go wrong, and thus even when the systems can handle all eventualities, I believe that there will be a human sitting behind the wheel for far longer than the inventors of the technology can imagine.
Third, currently there are no unified regulations or rules for self-driving cars, and in a way they still operate in a free-for-all. The US, which is at the vanguard of the autonomous movement, still has not created legislation to govern them. Some States do have very permissive laws allowing for testing, but a unifying law to cater for small issues, such as who is responsible if an autonomous car is at fault in an accident: the owner or the manufacturer.
Fourth, thus far all the testing has been done largely in good weather conditions in leafy Californian suburbs, but there is a chance that the technology cannot get smart enough, quickly enough, to outgrow this current limitation. And if we cannot take our autonomous car where we want and pretty much when we want, then the entire argument for them disappears.
Fifth, there are no autonomous development companies that are, as of yet, making money. Heck, even many of the EV start-ups are losing money hand over fist—just ask Elon Musk over at Tesla. But up to now, with the quantitative easing in the US of A, money has been relatively easy to get. This era of easy money is well and truly over, and thus the great science project of autonomous cars could be coming to an end, and thus the advent of truly autonomous cars could yet be a very long way away.
Of course, there is a certain amount of Luddite thinking in my points above, and I would add that autonomous cars could be one of the great disruptive technologies of the modern era. Of course it could also be a complete non-starter, so just for now, if you own a driving school, I shouldn’t worry.