Timothy B. Lee writes an interesting fantasy about the future, where cars drive by themselves. He sees plenty of benefits to such a system:
In short, a car that drives as well as the best human drivers would save tens of thousands of lives in the United States and hundreds of thousands of lives worldwide. And most likely, we’ll be able to do even better than that. Computers have much faster reaction times than humans do, and they will be “looking” in all directions simultaneously. Self-driving cars may be able to avoid many of the mistakes that even experienced human drivers make. They won’t have blind spots, they’ll have better sensors, and they will be able to react almost instantaneously to unexpected problems, giving them the ability to recover from dangerous situations that no human driver could have handled.
Dramatically fewer accidents is the most obvious—and probably the most important—benefit of self-driving technology. But self-driving technologies will also bring significant changes to peoples’ daily lives.
He also envisions several other benefits to robot cars. Fewer parking lots would be needed since a car could drop off its passengers and continue out of the way. Cars could drive through the night while passengers nap; retail stores could make deliveries with their robot cars.
His descriptions might sound nice, but it is a nonsensical idea that automatic cars will replace human drivers. In an earlier article, the author admits that there are major technological hurdles in the way of a driver-less society:
There are also bicycles, animals, parked cars (which might pull into the road at any moment), potholes, stalled vehicles, emergency vehicles, and so forth. Navigating successfully around each of these types of obstacles, safely and effectively, requires a lot of knowledge that may be obvious to human drivers but may be difficult to capture programmatically.
Nevertheless, the Ars Technica author concludes that cars driving themselves is ultimately a matter of “when not if.”
Lexus may have a car that assists drivers with inferior parking skills, but I do not ever foresee a time when the human driver is obsolete.
- How will off-public road data be collected for the system, e.g. driveways and garages?
- People like to be in control. That is a major reason people are more afraid to fly than to drive, despite the safety statistics. Will you trust a machine more than yourself?
- Cars and motorcycles can be fun to drive. Will people give that up?
- Today’s GPS navigation systems are unreliable. Will GPS and the other computer software and sensors ever be more reliable than the human body?
- While some companies are experimenting with technology, would they really take full responsibility for all accidents and expose themselves to that liability?
If you want to see a robotic car, I suggest watching Night Rider (the classic episodes not the new series).