Over the last year there has been a great deal of speculation, promotion and testing of self driving cars. These autonomous vehicles are, from some quarters, being touting as the answer to the worlds traffic woes, accident stats and much more. But can they really be the answer? and can you see yourself trusting one?
There are a number of Autonomous cars being tested from the famous Google cars to a British based vehicle that was recently tested in London. There are also many more being discussed, in development and some that have already been shelved. The idea behind it all is simple but the technology is not; the cars will safely move around our road systems using various sensors and GPS technology to avoid hitting other objects or getting lost. The goal of the car is actually more complex than just moving around, it must be able to adjust speed according to traffic, see and use road signals, be able to avoid collisions with cars,bikes, people, horses etc and much more. The task for these cars is enormous.
There is a growing realisation among many people in the industry that people may not ever actually be able to trust these cars. As people think more about them they start inventing scenarios and then wondering if the car will cope. For example, what would a car do if a rabbit ran out on the road? Would it swerve into oncoming traffic to avoid it, or would it make a choice to hit the rabbit and keep the passengers safe? This is just one situation, but the makers will have to either pre-program millions of scenarios or build such complex algorithms that the car itself can make the “choices”. Neither of these methods are really even feasible at this time. However, Google’s famous use of complex algorithms in their search engines may be the reason they feel they have something to bring to the table, that said they have suffered some recent crashes and set backs.
Another big aspect of concern with self driving cars is their integration into the current motoring world and all its parts. How would they work when faced with drivers of normal cars being unpredictable for example. Poor road surfaces, poor conditions like snow, wind, even road works have all been cited as potential issues for these cars. However, all this being said there is one big point that has everyone arguing; insurance and blame. If your self driving car crashes, is it your fault? If someone were to die as a result, who is responsible? Many experts think there just won’t be any crashes at all. These questions are a little like Asimov’s rules of robotics and may yet play a part in real life. They must, however, be answered before any real progress can be made, and the more press these cars get the more people will start to ask them.
The technology clearly has a long way to go, and so do people’s views. The trust is not there at this stage, but as with all new technology it will take time. People who saw the first motorcar certainly had mixed feelings, you could only drive one at walking pace and had to have someone walking in front waving a red flag in the early days. Could we see something a little similar with these cars as they start to gain trust. After all, computers do seem to make less mistakes than us humans. For the moment the Perrys team are quite happy to keep control of theirs cars but who knows what is around the corner.