“Self-driving” is not exactly a topic of discussion at a local car meet with car guys talking handling, horsepower and stance. So naturally, it is not a topic that auto magazines would discuss with auto enthusiasts either. When many claim that “self-driving cars are the future”, it also means that the joy of driving may soon come to an end.
Drunk-driving, texting while driving and now even smartphones come integrated, to add to the long list of distractions for drivers that often lead to accidents. With that said, if the law ends up trusting computers to humans that ‘self-driving future’ is not too far away because the fact is that humans are not the most attentive drivers on the road.
A self-driving future
Google has been driving around its self-driving cars (now Waymo) for a good seven years now. Tesla recently demoed how an $8,000 package could turn any of its current models (although it won’t provide one separately) into a fully self-driving car. Ford is onto the self-driving cars as well. At a point in time even Apple was! So it sure seems like the future would be accident free where all car owners turn into commuters or passengers.
Uber (thanks to its recent partnership with Volvo) has made an announcement that it has begun offering its self-driving fleet of Volvo XC90 SUVs to riders in San Francisco. And all of a sudden it seems that well, may be that utopian self-driving future is already here!
But Uber is not the first one to pull it off on the streets. It was Nutonomy, a startup based in Singapore, that we thought would revolutionise the way we perceive self-driving vehicle, a sort of demo that gives us a taste of things to come.
The blame game
But Nutonomy’s self-driven vehicles in Singapore similar to Google’s runabouts in the USA have been involved in accidents. While Google is still in a safe spot, as they have not hit the streets as an official service just yet, Nutonomy may soon be because it is offered as an official service, no matter how minor the accident.
Whenever, an autonomous car runs over something (or into another car) it is always blamed on human error. And they should be (Hey! We created them). Else there would be no reason for their existence, correct? Everyone wants to build a self-driving car but few want to be involved in the consequences that come about from accidents they are involved in.
In an earlier accident involving its self-driving vehicle hitting a bus, it was convenient of Google to conclude that engineers did not programmed the software right. Google said that its computers had reviewed the incident and engineers changed the software that governs the cars to understand that buses may not be as inclined to yield as other vehicles. Who takes the blame? Well, our best answer would be that most countries aren’t prepared for these situations.
So if you take a self-driving vehicle, many would consider you to be a fool for sitting in one and an even bigger one, for smiling in it and taking a selfie.
After Pittsburgh and San Francisco, Uber could be thinking of a wider launch in more cities. More customers could check out the self-driving ride, but it like many other marketing campaigns, has a catch. There’s always a driver in driver’s seat for now. And that for many may be a good enough to reason for riders to hop into one, keeping their faith on the driver, in case things go out of control.
As per the California DMV policy, Uber’s self-driving taxis along with what Nutonomy has on offer, do not qualify as autonomous vehicles because technically speaking it’s not autonomous just yet. Nobody gives a damn about a permit process; the driver is there just so that the passenger can be saved in case something goes wrong.
In short, Uber’s move with a self-driving taxi is not a litmus test in any way.
Most of us don’t even trust joyrides, elevators. In fact, even the safest mode of transportation, an airplane (0.07 deaths per one billion passenger miles) can give you the jitters after a little turbulence. You immediately tend to forget all of those long hours the aviation industry spends certifying and testing every bolt that fits in an aeroplane. Oh yes, and there are two pilots manning the controls along with supercomputers balancing out their inputs. Funny, but true!
More importantly, the deciding factor for the success of self-driving cars will only take place once customers or riders get adjusted to the fact that they are safe and they can trust a computer entirely without a real driver or even a dummy at the wheel (think a WestWorld android driving a normal taxi seems like the ideal scenario).
Until that time, there’s bound to be plenty of panic with an air of uncertainty when you hop into a self-driving car.
Updated Date: Dec 15, 2016 13:25:44 IST