YOUR CAR’S NEVER GOING TO DRIVE ITSELF

We distinctly remember chief execs at Ford claiming that self-driving cars would be on the roads by the end of 2019. And, okay, there was a pandemic… But it has been five years now.

We also remember a certain Mr Musk saying the same thing, and even charging customers thousands for “full autonomy” as an add-on for new Teslas.

Well, despite the hype and the hopes of tech enthusiasts, full autonomy is nowhere to be seen.

2019 was supposed to be when we all got to witness “autonomy day”. But to be perfectly honest – we don’t think that’ll ever come. At least not in the way we’ve all been led to think. Instead, we’ll probably get something much closer to our current public transit systems, but a little more comfortable.

We’ll explain it all shortly. But first, why is this such a tough nut to crack – and where did all the self-driving car tech go?

HYPE VS REALITY

There was so much promise in the early days of autonomous vehicles. Google’s initial tests were amazing, and everyone could see the potential. Sure, the cars looked weird – covered in sensors and cameras, full of makeshift controls – but on test tracks, it worked. Cars could guide themselves around, sensing obstacles, steering, stopping at lights… It was like witnessing a miracle.

Even Apple was reportedly in on the game, working in secret to develop a self-driving car. But that dream is over. In fact, for all the hype and promise surrounding automated cars, nothing has ever been realised.

That’s because while they work fine in highly controlled environments, and perhaps even on the perfect grids and ide lanes of the American road system – they simply can’t cope with the challenges of driving alongside us; the meat and bones computers that currently rule the road.

For a machine, navigating the rules of the roads is fairly easy. “There are rules, I must stick to them”. But when there are humans involved, all of that goes out the window. We are unpredictable to machines, and tend to do things on roads that are… unwise, let’s say. We bend and break rules almost constantly.

Environmental variability and real-time decision-making are major pitfalls in autonomous vehicle creation. We can make a car that can navigate an empty street all by itself, but add pedestrians and non-auto drivers to the mix, and it’s going to be chaos.

In fact, the current best-in-class “self-driving” cars have an alarmingly high crash rate when compared to fully manual cars. It’s still immature tech.

We don’t quite know what artificial intelligence and machine learning will do for autonomous driving systems – but we’re not sure it’ll be any better. There are too many difficulties in replicating human-like driving behaviour, and human intuition, like recognising the sounds of children playing or distant sirens, for example. And there’s the famous trolley problem – how does a car decide what to do, and who’s liable?

The car? The driver? The maker? The AI? The legal, regulatory and ethical hurdles alone are as challenging as getting a car to drive itself in the first place.

Volvo was the first company to have a go at solving this, by accepting full liability if one of their autonomous cars ever crashes. But of course, they haven’t made one yet. Still, it prompted Google and Mercedes Benz to follow suit – and that set a precedent for the matter; if a self-driving car crashes, it’s the maker’s fault.

And maybe this is a reason for slow adoption, and slow progress. We actually think slow progress is a great idea, here – because willingly giving over control of a 2+ tonne vehicle to a mindless computer is still a scary concept, and the results so far have been far from safe.

Servicing and maintaining these vehicles is also going to be an issue, due to the overwhelming complexity of their guidance and steering systems – not to mention their internal processing and software.

In our view, to make this full automation lark work, you’d need to essentially replicate a human brain, trap it inside a car, and only interact with it when you want to go somewhere. 

And that’s just… weird and cruel. It’s never going to happen.

So, that’s why we’re calling it; you will never own a proper, autonomous self-driving car. Nobody will. The most likely future situation isn’t going to involve self-driving cars parked on every driveway. It’s probably going to be a bit closer to a public transit system.

Self-driving cars work fine driving with each other, on highly controlled tracks. So, we’ll probably, one day in the future, have two road systems; one for people who drive, the other for self-driving cars.

And it’s likely these autonomous cars will work like Uber does now. You hail a ride, get picked up and dropped off at your destination. Nobody would own one, except the companies leasing them or hiring them out.

It’s basically what we have now, but with fewer jobs, fewer humans… And less fun, if you ask us.

But – who are we to stand in the way of innovation and progress?!

Well, for now, we’re just your friendly local car servicing and maintenance garage. Maybe one day, we’ll be tinkering with your company’s fleet of self-driving, self-aware, self-replicating cars…

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Call 023 8061 1161 or contact us to book your car service.

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