Point for Discussion
The level of technology in cars and trucks is exploding. Electric vehicles were the start, and now, a set of autonomous features are becoming standard on many vehicle models. While backup cameras have been in place for a while, people are now expecting several new features, such as emergency braking, lane assist, and more. The question is, how autonomous do we need our vehicles to be, and how much control should stay in the hands of the driver?
Our Points of View
I admit it. I’m a laggard when it comes to new technology, but not for the reasons you may think. I’m not afraid of technology, nor am I worried about the cost. I can appreciate the investment auto companies are making. I think I may be like many others, though, who worry that the technology is being rolled out before it’s ready. Can it ever be ready for the unpredictability of humans?
Here are just a few ways that autonomy in vehicles worries me:
Cars are not ready to drive themselves – testing of autonomous vehicles is only done in a few states that have no laws (or accountability) for accidents. “Testing,” by nature, is dangerous. While required, people will get hurt. States, such as Arizona, are realizing this as they are discontinuing some, if not all, testing. Many of the autonomous features are not ready for the road.
New technology being tested is not proven, and there is no backup protection. For example, sonar technology that senses objects (people) in a car’s path (such as that used for backup cameras) is more effective and “foolproof” than a device that uses a “vision system” that is unable to differentiate between a person walking a bike in front of a car if he/she is wearing white versus a gray road. Shouldn’t the new technology have a back-up with proven technology? This biker would not likely have been hit.
Features are not always about safety, but technology for technology sake. Features that enhance SAFETY are expected – hands-free calling, backup cameras, blind spot alarms, etc. These are tools for the driver, who is still responsible for watching the road and driving with care. Features that AUTOMATE driving of the car, are not expected, and would NEVER be able to recognize all road hazards created by PEOPLE. People are unpredictable, will drive erratically, will run out into the street, and will throw stuff, etc.
Only when and where ALL roads and ALL vehicles are autonomous, could this work. Think the Jetsons, but on the road, where no one drives their own car, so technology can accommodate most, if not all, road and driving conditions. If there is a mix of regular (driver-controlled) and autonomous (technology-controlled) vehicles on the road, it will NEVER work.
That said, there is a place for fully-autonomous vehicles. For example:
Retirement communities where many don’t want to drive, and all roads in a planned development could be programmed in – and where no individuals would be allowed to drive. Instead of golf carts, they would be driven from point A to point B by an autonomous car/cart.
Theme parks, such as Disney, where vehicles take you around the park along designated roads, where kids (and adults) wouldn’t be able to enter or cross the roadway.
Park and Ride – Those hover lanes could become the dedicated road for autonomous vehicles, with barricades that already block entry to the masses.
Interstates that are heavily traveled, such as I-75 from the northeast down to FL, or I-95, or other roadways, where an autonomous road could run parallel to the road used by regular drivers. It’s as if autonomous vehicles can become the next generation of trains or mass transit, on their own dedicated tracts.
So how autonomous should vehicles be? Technology can be used to create the capabilities of full autonomy for safety sake, but drivers must also remain fully in control – UNTIL the day when all vehicles on the road are fully autonomous. There should never be a mix of fully autonomous and non-autonomous cars or trucks on the same roads because accident and injury cannot be prevented. We are just too easily distracted and unpredictable :-).
I agree with Laurie that people are unpredictable. That’s why robotics for factories is so popular. Eliminating human error makes the work safer and more consistent. A machine is going to do what it is programmed to do without distraction. What could go wrong with that? As we’ve seen with our computers, quite a bit.
I definitely see a need for autonomous vehicles. There are many applications for this type of transportation.
- As we age, and our eyes, ears, and mobility and reflexes decline, a car that can get us from point A to Point B just using an address would be extremely helpful. And safer for those on the road with us. My stepdaughter was involved in an accident a few years ago caused by an older driver that confused the accelerator pedal for the brakes.
- Impaired (drunk, drugged, fatigued) drivers could be taken home safely, not putting themselves or others at risk.
- This technology may be helpful with locating our cars, if stolen, or finding someone that may have been involved in an accident in a rural area where there may not be a lot of traffic.
- There could be a public pool of cars available that could eliminate the need for individual car ownership, reducing our carbon footprint. We could have a network of rentals that could come to our house (autonomously) when needed and then return itself to the public pool after dropping us off at home.
- There is a current shortage of available big rig drivers. This technology, once perfected, could reduce this need for local deliveries.
I see this technology as helpful within an urban setting, maybe not so much for long haul trips. These vehicles would not be traveling at high speeds, thereby reducing the risk of serious injury. As Laurie suggested, special lanes for travel in autonomous vehicles could be blocked off as well, minimizing the chances for people or other hazards to appear “out of nowhere”.
As helpful as this technology could be, convenience can’t be the only consideration. The drivers still need to be aware of their surroundings with an eye towards the world outside of their vehicle. I still don’t want to see someone reading the newspaper on their commute, taking their eyes off of the road for even a second. Safety FIRST!
In addition to the physical risks, technological risks must be considered and mitigated. Hackers attack every system. Imagine the horrible things that could happen if the systems could be taken over remotely. While we might want to control where our kids go by pre-programming the vehicle, this could be hacked and used for evil by people with bad intentions.
And, if these systems are anything like our PCs, what happens if there’s a software hiccup? Would we pull to the side of the road (assuming that were still possible) and reboot our car?
Accidents involving autonomous vehicles have been in the news lately. The causes of many of these have been human error, both inside the car (not paying attention) and outside the car (pedestrians not being aware of their surroundings). Some issues have been technological. As awful as these events have been, the best way to test the technology is through real-life testing. Without that, risky as it may be, how could we ever have any faith in the systems and their ability to accomplish stated goals?
I am generally in favor of autonomous vehicles, and look forward to affordable access. Though I believe this to still be a few years away, I want to embrace this technology and the conveniences it may offer.
Our Question for You:
Does this technology frighten you or excite you? Would you purchase an autonomous vehicle?