My Take on Autonomous Cars

The idea of autonomous cars is nothing new. Whether it is the allure of “technology of the future”, the want to not have to drive, or simple curiosity this topic has a lot of people across many industries talking. There are many potential positive points to automating the thing most Americans spend a good deal of their day doing, and few downsides. I want to wade into some of the points on both sides of the discussion.

Argument for Autonomous Cars

One of the biggest area that I could see improvement is safety. The vast majority of automotive accidents are caused by a human factor. Someone was not paying attention, someone was driving recklessly, someone was not driving in accordance to the current road and weather conditions. A machine will not have these problems. Machines can calculate weather conditions on the fly. Machines are aware of the location of other machines. These systems can react faster than any human mind so in the even that one of the systems does fail the damage can be avoided or minimized.

Completely automated cars should be able to run analytics on themselves. Checking their oil, service miles, inspection dates, etc. should be an automatic process. This way the vehicles that we depend on for transportation can ensure us that they are in the best possible condition. Doing so will also help prevent mechanical failure which would become the biggest cause of accidents after removing the human factor.

Traffic would be a thing of the past. Since all vehicles could communicate with each other there would be minimal traffic. Cars could weave through one another flawlessly leaving walking pedestrian traffic control the only remaining task of traffic lights. This has the added side-effect of pedestrian safety.

The potentials for efficiency is incredibly high. Some people have long commutes to work each day. Depending on how they get to work that has the potential to be time wasted. Imagine your workday starting right when you leave home instead of when you arrive at the office. For people who live away from a city that would drastically shorten their workday. I won’t get into the benefits of happy employees translates into better performance, but they exist.

All that wasted time in the driving in a car or on crowded public transport could be better spent in a personal vehicle that allows you to do other things while you’re carried to your destination. Reading books, studying for an exam, conference calls, etc. are all tasks that could be carried out while you are in transit.

Autonomous vehicles also presents the potential for a whole new service industry. Imagine waking up in the morning and getting ready for your day. You brush your teeth, eat breakfast and while your coffee is brewing you take out your phone or tablet and call up a car from a nearby warehouse. You subscribe to this service because fuel and insurance costs are baked into the fees. You can choose vehicle options such as how many people it needs to seat, child safety seats, etc.

You can do the same for lunch and your trip home. When you’re not in the vehicle it will return to its warehouse for maintenance to be ready for the next subscriber to call it. Never worry about inspections, registrations, etc. All of that will be covered in one monthly fee. No more drunk driving, shuttling teenagers around, traffic, etc.

Argument Against

One area of concern with autonomous cars would be the impact on the freight market. Long-distance truckers would be a thing of the past. Companies would just fill a shipping truck and tell it where to go. They could track it everywhere it went and it would drive as efficiently as possible in any conditions. The truck would not have to sleep so time would be saved. Also, the only cost to run the truck would be fuel and maintenance.

Saying that, it’s obvious which most companies would go with. Efficiency aside though that would displace a lot of truck drivers. Granted some of them could maybe be trained to repair the trucks that replaced them, but that would not come close to filling the employment gap it would leave behind. Taxi services and ride-sharing services would be impacted as well.

Some people simply like driving cars. Some collect classic cars or sports cars and want to drive them places. If the human factor was being eliminated from driving conditions on public roads these folks would need to go to private tracks to enjoy their vehicles which I doubt would go over well.

At first I thought the automotive industry would be against this change in the industry, but the more I think about it the more I see a benefit for them. Selling fleets of automated cars to services would be a good money-maker. Iterate on the models every few years and you have continuous income. With that, however, I could see a drop in innovations.

The obvious concern with any automated system is cyber attacks. Companies that create the software for these vehicles will need to ensure top notch security to prevent malicious attacks via these types of vehicles. Software security would need to be taken seriously for once.

It Has Some Ways to Go

There are obviously some major problems that still need to be ironed out. Just search the news for autonomous car accident and you will see plenty of content. Granted some of that content is a bit sensationalized in my option, but there are still several sources that are accurate.

I mentioned that the human factor is the weakest link on the road. In order for autonomous cars to be as successful as I think he can be all cars will need to be automated. That will not go over well with a lot of people. I know many that enjoy driving, and people that collect cars will not want to be relegated to tracks. If we cannot keep other people from behind the wheel of cars on the road it introduces factors that the engineers designing the logic of autonomous vehicles will need to factor into their algorithms. Namely the lowest cost of life equation. If you car is driving down the road and the person in front of you is distracted and is about to get into an accident your car needs to make a choice. Run down the two motorcyclists driving in tandem in the lane next to you? Hit the pedestrians walking on the side of the road? Take the chance at trying to break and risk hitting the driver in front of you? it could also just drive you off a bridge? The algorithm will calculate the path of fewest deaths and if that means only killing you well… tough luck. This is very different than if a person is in control because people give an attempt at self-preservation. Completely autonomous vehicles afford no such luxury in my mind.

Either every car is autonomous or none are in my mind.

I’m hoping I will not have to drive myself anywhere anymore in 10-15 years. Just dial up my car and be on my way. Being completely honest, I’m in an area where public transit is not that great, so maybe if I had more options I would not desire this so much. Here’s hoping to for the autonomous future.