Future Cars Might Be More Automated Than Autonomous

Stemming off of the last post, despite the relentless media coverage, the real market for fully autonomous vehicle technology is forecast to be quite low, while the market for automated features (lane departure warnings, smart cruise control, and collision avoidance technologies) is substantially larger.

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While there are plenty of great things that will come about as a result of more robotic cars, there may be a limit to which we should allow robots to help us drive. Automated features allow the car to take control when drivers don’t want or need to, but leave the necessary decision making  up to humans. In other words, it may be possible to achieve the safety and traffic flow benefits of fully autonomous cars without relinquishing total driver control. The future car will act more as a co-captain – able to relieve you during intervals of your journey and making sure you have all the information necessary to make the most informed decisions when you are in control.

Fully autonomous cars may eventually gain traction, but there are a multitude of issues that will limit the technology’s widespread adoption, the most pressing of which are:

1. Even the cool ones don’t work in snow, ice, or fog.

As impressive as the progress in autonomous technology has been over the last decade, there are still and will continue to be major drawbacks, the biggest of which is probably dealing with weather. Given the reliance of autonomous cars on accurate GPS positioning and the variables associated with driving in snow or rain or fog, it’s extremely difficult to create a robotic car that’s capable of making correct decisions in such conditions. As a consumer, having an autonomous car that doesn’t work some days is not an enticing selling point.

2. You can’t just wipe out millions of jobs.

On a more political level, autonomous cars very much threaten millions of taxi drivers and delivery service employees like UPS and FedEx drivers. Companies like Uber are already dumping money into developing driver-less taxis, but governments (particularly the more leftward leaning ones) may stop these companies from operating within their countries if by doing so puts thousands of their citizens out of work.

3. Existing non-autonomous and partially-automated cars are already safe and getting safer…

Let’s talk about the touted benefits of cars that drive themselves, the foremost being that autonomous cars keep people safer than normal cars. The IIHS recently released a report detailing 9 existing car models that have never had a person die in them dating back to 2011, in addition to total highway driving deaths plummeting to their lowest ever levels in recent years. Also, the development of highly automated features like smart cruise control and traffic jam assist will allow drivers to let the car do most of the work anyway, so customers will feel less need to go fully autonomous.

… and buying an autonomous car doesn’t guarantee your safety.

Just because you are the one in the autonomous car doesn’t mean you can’t still be hit by another person driving a non-autonomous car. Just saying.

4. How do you properly insure a machine?

If an autonomous car hits something or someone, who’s at fault? The human driver? The car company who made the car?

6. In a lose-lose situation, should an algorithm decide who lives and who dies?

It’s a very real possibility that there will be instances in which a car has to decide whether to let the occupant or someone else live – do we want a formula to make these types of moral and ethical decisions for us?

5. No one can guarantee an un-hackable car.

The recent report detailing the DHTSA’s ability to hack a basic Chevy sedan and control the acceleration and internal controls does not bode well for car companies trying to get customers to put their hands in their car’s lives. When bank accounts get hacked by foreign terrorists, that’s one thing, but when cars get hacked, people’s lives are at stake.

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