This past week has been a casual one. The pats won the AFC championship and are headed to the SuperBowl meanwhile the industry for autonomous vehicles continues to try to find solutions that will ultimately uplift autonomous vehicles as fully functional instruments for society. As uncertainty is usually a characteristic that best denotes a topic as interesting, I guess we will take up the topic that holds the most uncertainty in the future: autonomous vehicles (since we know Brady is the GOAT).
A few days ago I came across an article on the Wall Street Journal titled “Driverless Cars Tape the Brakes After Years of Hype” written by Tim Higgins. I personally thought the title was inherently a bit confusing so I decided to read more and I was ultimately moved to consider the depth of this industry and the implications that it raises. It seems as though we have all been hearing about all of the hype surrounding autonomous vehicles (cars that can operate themselves without a driver needed). We, the public/consumers, are occasionally promised its implementation into society being in the near future, yet, how far have we really come?
A little over a year ago, Uber Technologies was running a test on one of their self-driving vehicles which ultimately resulted in a fatal crash with a pedestrian. This accident was the catalyst for bringing the industry into a new light. No longer was it a race to be the first company to introduce this technology in full effect to society; the event transformed the industry by bringing about a wave of ‘cautious optimism’ as quoted in the article. If you’re unaware of the accident, there is an interesting video embedded in the article that shows experts analyzing the footage from the Uber self-driving vehicle in an attempt to explain the cause of the incident. The video can be viewed by following the link below:
In the video, the systems installed on the vehicle are broken down to see what failed. Experts concluded that it was likely the Lidar technology that acted as a factor in this accident. The Lidar is the primary sensor that uses lasers to calculate the distance of obstacles that could potentially block the vehicles path. In the video, the experts explained that the Lidar should have picked the pedestrian up despite being in the dark, so what went wrong? Now investigators must locate the malfunction to see if it was a problem with the hardware or if it was something else. Regardless, events like this are not common yet they still occur and necessitate the need to consider many factors as we proceed to revolutionize this technology going forward. Time and time again, this industry has shown to be full of more complications than people previously anticipated.
Top executives like Tesla’s Elon Musk and Waymo’s John Krafcik have been noted several times as promising driverless cars in the near future. However, we continuously are left with disappointment which leads us to question if this technology will ever truly be viable or even socially accepted. Although Waymo successfully carried out their driverless car service in Pheonix, the company has yet to pull the safety operators from the vehicles. These operators, according to Krafcik, are merely there to answer questions and are essentially guides.
This same method, having an operator in the car, is utilized by various corporations including General Motors Co., Cruise Automation, and Aptiv. Given the need to have an operator in the car, even if it is not a long term plan, seems to defeat the purpose of ever incorporating autonomous vehicles in society. This industry begs for answers to a multitude of questions as it has reached this period of ‘cautious optimism’ and calls for further analysis of its social implications. Furthermore, the article detailed the scene at the annual CES tech show in Las Vegas where the company, automotive supplier, Aptiv unveiled its latest operations. In order to monitor 75 autonomous vehicles, 30 of which operate 20 hour’s a day for Lyft, the company requires a 30 foot screen set in front of rows of monitors for the 300+ operators to ensure safety of the vehicles. Despite the industry still being in its early stages, the extent to which these vehicles are monitored in order to operate further begs the question if it is even economically sound. After learning of this, I was stumped as to how much money was going into these efforts and if the payoff in the future would even be worth it. Will people ever be comfortable with getting in self-driving vehicles? Sure, some people love a thrill and others simply do not care but from a more personal standpoint, I doubt a majority of the population will even be convinced in the coming decades.
Upon reading the article and researching into this industry a little more, I was questioning if we will ever live in a society dependent upon autonomous vehicles. People are growing alarmingly more attracted to technology and more significantly their smartphones. With generations to come, will we reach a point where people are so immersed in technology and the lives they live inside their phones that no one will have the time to even drive a car? Will this technology ever be socially justified? In an accident, who would be to blame? And more importantly, will this technology take away jobs or simply create new ones? These are all questions we will be forced to ask ourselves as this technology continues to seek advancements.
Many say that the technology of the future is officially here, yet, it seems evermore important to consider if a specific technology should be created just because it can be.