Tuesday, October 4, 2016

What Is The World Going To Be Like With Autonomous (Self Driving) Cars?

Lately, I have been asking myself this question. Especially, as the idea has started to come to reality with Tesla Motors and GM Corporation (purchasing Cruise Automation) looking to have autonomous cars on the road soon.  People are excited about the prospect of not having to pay attention during driving (the reality is different) contrary to the state of autonomous cars.  Already, we have seen unfortunate events of relying too much on the autonomous capabilities of a Tesla Motor vehicle.  Back to the question at hand:

What will the world look like with autonomous vehicles?

Simple answer: No one knows.

Complex answer: read on to find out.

First Guess At A World Of Autonomous Cars!

Recently, I found a story which to me represents the bridge on the path toward a world of autonomous cars.  The tweet shown below from the news site "NBC Los Angeles" is an introduction to what the world will look like with an abundant amount of autonomous vehicles:

The article titled "Car Drives Through Living Room While Family Watches Chargers Game" carryed the unfortunate news of a car crashing into a house while the residents were watching television.  Here is an excerpt from the article explaining the incident and possible cause:

According to Hurn, when the car approached a stop sign across the street the driver hit the accelerator instead of the brake. The crash may have been caused by a medical emergency.
Both the driver and Hurn’s wife, who was sitting on the couch when the car came through the wall, were taken to the hospital.
“She was sitting right on the other side when it happened,” Hurn said of his wife. “Her knees hurt, her ankles hurt and her back hurts.”

What a terrible event to have happen at anyone's house?

Can you imagine sitting comfortably in your house watching a football game and then POW - right through the wall comes a car?

Fortunately, none of the residents were injured severely.  Evidently, this was not the first occurrence at this particular house.  Here is another excerpt describing the last event a year ago:

Amazingly, this isn't the first time someone has crashed into the family's home. 
"It happened about a year ago. Had a guy hit-and-run somebody up the street and he was trying to get away from the scene, drove through our neighbors yard, flew off the wall and hit the corner of our porch."

Taking the facts in based on the reporting in the news, the design of the street was flawed in the neighborhood.  The placement of the stop sign directly in front of the house was not a good idea.  At the same time, this design should be a major consideration in the event that autonomous vehicles become a reality.  Which appears to be the case.

The Reality Of Autonomous Vehicles

We do not yet have autonomous vehicles yet on the roads in the United States today.  The reason why is centered around the complexity in design of the cars and the infrastructure to ensure the dangers are mitigated.  First and foremost, the infrastructure (roads, signaling, signage, laws, etc.) would have to change dramatically.  Simple questions like the following remain unanswered by autonomous car manufacturers:

In the unfortunate even of an accident, whose fault does the accident rely on -- the driver or the autopilot?

How culpable is the automaker for disasters involving the autonomous features installed in vehicles?

How culpable is the government (local, state, and federal) for allowing the automakers to release deadly features on vehicles?

If a problem occurs, what happens then?

Do we wait for a recall?

Some proponents of autonomous vehicles have argued that once an accident has occurred, that will be the only time that type of accident happens.  Why?  Because instant changes can be made to all other similar types of autonomous vehicles that will eliminate that type of accident from occurring in the future.

Does the car learn from each accident?

As of right now, the current state of autonomous vehicles is appropriately summarized in an article discussing the unfortunate accident of Tesla in Florida months ago:

The accident occurred on a divided highway in central Florida when a tractor trailer drove across the highway perpendicular to the Model S. Neither the driver — who Tesla notes is ultimately responsible for the vehicle’s actions, even with Autopilot on — nor the car noticed the big rig or the trailer "against a brightly lit sky" and brakes were not applied. In a tweet, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said that the vehicle's radar didn't help in this case because it "tunes out what looks like an overhead road sign to avoid false braking events."

Because of the high ride-height of the trailer, as well as its positioning across the road, the Model S passed under the trailer and the first impact was between the windshield and the trailer. Tesla writes that if the car had impacted the front or rear of the trailer, even at high speed, the car’s safety systems "would likely have prevented serious injury as it has in numerous other similar incidents."

Based on the logic provided by Tesla in the excerpt above, would you place your life in the hands of Elon Musk?

Elon musk has genuine intentions to reach Mars and provide the world with cheaper energy along with amazing cars.  Although, the pace at which he is going on both fronts is rather scary.  Additionally, the Tesla car corporation has not been totally upfront and on top of reporting unfortunate incidents in which their cars are involved.  Did you hear about the death of a resident in China who was in a Tesla vehicle with the autopilot engaged?  Why not?

I would be more likely to believe car data coming out of GM corporation who has recently been slogged through years of skepticism regarding the safety of their vehicles.  They have more to lose and should be on top of their game in terms of regulations and safety procedures.

Although, the "bottom line" is what counts as success in business unfortunately -- not peoples lives.  In the excerpt above, the car company Tesla amounts of the death of the driver to 'not paying attention' and says that had the car not made the mistake of recognizing the trailer as an overhead traffic sign, the car would definitely have performed well.  Really?

This begs the need for infrastructure to change too.  At the same time, the government should hammer Elon Musk for his disrespectful behavior in regards to the death of a soldier in one of his cars.  Laying the blame by claiming his vehicles have traveled millions of miles on autopilot is arrogant and untrustworthy.

Lets hope that Elon Musk returns to planet Earth with a sensible and logical approach with safety in mind.  He needs to meet the rest of his potential customers with a safe reliable car that will return them back to their family at the end of the day.

In regard to autonomous vehicles occupying our streets in the future.  We are far off from a truly autonomous vehicle showing up in front of our houses.  The future of technology is exciting.  At the same time, the future of the rise of technology is scary too.  Lets be as measured and engaged as concerned citizens as possible.  Until next time, have a great evening!

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