Too Soon for Autonomous Vehicles?

Categories Technology
autonomous car

Autonomous vehicles, particularly cars such as the now infamous ‘Google Car’ or the Tesla range of vehicles featuring the ‘Autopilot’ feature, are viewed as one of the more achievable advancements in technology we can expect  to enjoy in the next few years. Nearly every vehicle OEM is scurrying to take advantage of the clear consumer demand and from what I’ve seen in the industry, consumers will be inundated with the first wave of truly autonomous vehicles from around 2020. But are we truly ready to have these vehicles out on the road?

Popular technology magazine Wired has been writing about autonomous vehicles since 2007. It’s first article? “Communication, Not Autonomy, is Driving’s Future”. In 2007, a decade ago, we certainly weren’t ready for autonomous vehicles. We didn’t have the technology, the computing power, the infrastructure or, most crucially, the demand. Since then we’ve had an explosion of chatter and, despite significant advances in computing power and technology, one single factor has driven autonomous cars into near-existence: consumer demand. Major car manufacturers are falling over each other to capitalise on consumer’s willingness to buy into the forefront of technology and money speaks much louder than technological reality. In a perfect scenario, there would have been a number of advancements in technology leading up to vehicles being enabled to be fully autonomous. But in today’s instant gratification culture we haven’t allowed any of this to germinate in the proper manner.

The fact is we neither have the infrastructure nor mass-market experience with semi-autonomous vehicles in order for a successful transition to occur. I have no doubt you could have sold the internet to a standard consumer at the advent of the telephone but there would have been no websites, no social media and they would have waited longer than a day for any Amazon Prime order… that’s assuming they would even grasp the fundamental concepts once they laid hands on the technology. The Wired article from 2007 argues that inter-vehicle communication is the future of driving but fails to grasp that this advancement would be one of the foundational pieces of infrastructure on which to build autonomous vehicle logic. Without brand-agnostic communication between all vehicles we cannot sustain an ecosystem of fully autonomous vehicles.

I feel as though the lack of experience for vehicle OEMs at the bleeding edge of technology has led them to be naive, and over-promise to prospective consumers. If you own a new vehicle in 2016, think about all the data that it makes available to you. Does it tell you the speed of other vehicles around you? Does it know where those vehicles are going? Can it tell when they will change lanes? You’ll likely only be provided by a few data points by your vehicle, alongside a number of vague indicator lights that aren’t close to reliable. Ask yourself whether you would be happy with life or death decisions being made based on this information?

Give me an in-car augmented reality experience any day and build the availability of data with infrastructure that will allow any consumer to feel comfortable letting their vehicle take control. Don’t tape some camera’s to a car and hope it will avoid any obstacle – consumers are fickle and any failures could set faith in the technology back decades.

Currently studying Philosophy, Politics and Economics at St Annes College, Oxford University. I have a keen interest in applied economics, food and most types of sport.

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