It is not wrong to say that the modern world is obsessed with technology; be it AI based home devices like Amazon’s Echo or algorithm and machine learning based automated systems. Automated or self-driven cars seem to be a concept driven straight out of sci-fi movies, but in recent years companies have been pouring millions of dollars and have invested a lot of effort and technology to make this concept a reality.
Tech giants like Apple and Google, among many others have devoted themselves to the concept and as per a recent Ernst and Young Report on the subject, it is estimated that by 2040, 4 out of every 10 vehicles on the road would be automated.
What exactly is the hype all about?
Autonomous vehicles use machine learning and have the ability to absorb and process massive amounts of data far beyond the capability of the human brain. Their developers claim that autonomous vehicles reduce human induced errors like accidents due to driving under influence and human errors due to tiredness. These vehicles promise to greatly enhance passenger safety and travel experience through the massive range of AI driven apps which will be installed in them.
Automated vehicles are already on the scene: many countries are successfully using automated buses, trucks and trains for use in factories, huge farmlands or for the transport of cargo over long distances.
As we enter 2019, consumers are eagerly awaiting the launch of the much-anticipated driverless cars. But the big question is not about when people can get to ride them to their offices.
The big question is are they safe to ride?
Are consumers and policy makers ready to fully trust this new technology?
A question we need to ask ourselves is this; do we have an enabling environment for the launch of such vehicles? To be fully functional and effective, driverless cars require some prerequisite infrastructure: fully functional traffic signals and signboards, presence of locations on GPS and well-built roads with a proper lane system. A lot of responsibility to provide this enabling environment rests on the shoulders of the government.
Governments across the world, need to proactively establish regulations, plans and policies that can continue to support the self-driving car revolution while keeping the travelling public safe. This requires infrastructure upgrades including road planning and development of roads embedded with sensors, installation of powering stations and provisions for appropriate parking infrastructure. The success of driverless cars depends a lot on the smooth flow of traffic and hence the presence of real time traffic monitoring is essential to ensure smoothness of their operations.
Another important question is about trust. There is massive public mistrust about the fundamental concept of driverless cars and the average consumer is still not fully open to embracing autonomous vehicles as a coming reality. There is still a big question mark on whether these vehicles can be driven without a human on any type of road, in any type of terrain and in any weather condition, including snowstorms and heavy thunder and downpour.
The third big question is about the presence of appropriate legal frameworks. Getting ready to welcome an era of driverless cars means putting in place appropriate legal frameworks which will guide sensitive issues regarding their use.
For instance, if a driverless car is involved in an accident, then who is liable for the same: the passenger driving in it or the person in whose name the car was registered or the company that manufactured the car? Pondering over these issues beforehand would be a wise step so that the regulating agencies of countries are well prepared to handle these new types of legal conflicts. There is also a need to have an intellectual debate on certain ethical issues related to driverless cars: suppose these AI driven cars are on a road and they face a situation where they have to either overrun an animal or crash into a car being driven by a human on the other side, what do these cars do?
In other words, how does AI compare to humans when it comes to split-second decision making.
Many intellectual committees that have been working on the issue have proposed amendments to civil liability acts, product liability acts and motor vehicle laws and have even suggested a new Self-Drive Act which will legislate new standards to cover certified autonomous vehicles.
The last major sceptical issue with regard to self-driving cars is about the whole safety and security of this technology. Since these vehicles rely on feeding a lot of personal passenger data to AI, there is a risk of loss of privacy and an even greater threat of personal sensitive data being lost to hackers. There is also the added danger of these vehicles being used for conducting terrorist attacks in the future. There is definitely a need to invest a lot in drafting cybersecurity legislation to prevent such dangers. Appropriate safety standards need to be devised to ensure quality control
in manufacturing driverless cars.
Recent incidences of Uber’s driverless cars hitting pedestrians during testing stages and Tesla’s several auto-pilot related mishaps prove that autonomous-vehicle makers have had a difficult 2018. The technology side of things with these cars is growing by leaps and bounds as we see new developments related to driverless cars each day.
But what also needs to grow at the same pace is the psychological embrace of this technology by people and in order to successfully do that, the
stakeholders including the government and the car manufacturers need to work carefully on issues like cyber safety, quality control and legal regulations.
Overlooking these aspects will result in self-driving cars looking good in sci-fi movies only and will not become as ubiquitous as we’d like them to be. For autonomous vehicles to disrupt the automotive industry that is presently dominated by fossil fuels, all safety and legislative issues need to be carefully dealt with in consultation with the general public so that these vehicles can be smoothly rolled out and they can generate a return on the millions of dollars which have already been invested into their development.