(Thebalance) – For some people, driving is one of the greatest joys in life––and for others, it’s a tremendous pain, or even impossible.
For years, companies have been developing technologies that could eliminate the need for a person behind the wheel. This has by and large been an exciting process––but there have also been several accidents along the way.
Who Is Driving The Movement For Driverless Cars?
Google started testing driverless car systems in 2009, and Uber launched its driverless car program in California in 2016, but soon gained the attention of California law enforcement officials because its cars had been caught running red lights. Although Uber blamed the humans behind the wheel for these errors rather than the self-driving cars, California ordered the company to end its program. But that didn’t stop the company from expanding to other locales, including Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Canada.
The first fatal crash in which a driverless car hit a pedestrian occurred in Arizona in March of 2018. Although there was a “driver” inside the vehicle at the time of the accident, he wasn’t driving, and the car was in self-driving mode. Uber immediately suspended its driverless car program but did not indicate for how long it would be doing so.
But the suspension of Uber’s program does not spell the end of driverless cars––far from it, in fact. Ford, GM, Tesla, Toyota, and Volvo are all developing driverless cars of their own. A former Google-run company called Waymo also has driverless vehicles in Arizona––and their cars don’t have anyone sitting in the driver’s seat at all. Many of these other programs have been far more successful than Uber has: according to a 2018 New York Times investigation, “Waymo, formerly the self-driving car project of Google, said that in tests on roads in California last year, its cars went an average of nearly 5,600 miles before the driver had to take control from the computer to steer out of trouble. As of March, Uber was struggling to meet its target of 13 miles per ‘intervention’ in Arizona.”
Who Is Regulating The Driverless Vehicles?
If driverless cars are a mystery, the enforcement of their behavior is even more of one. The United States government has so far relied on driverless car developers to self-report how safe their vehicles are. Following this year’s fatal accident, some states are in the process of developing more comprehensive oversight. A California law that took effect in April of 2018 allows driverless cars on the road only if their makers can meet safety and notification standards.
What Are The Arguments For Driverless Cars?
If you are a rideshare service such as Uber or Lyft, or a car manufacturer, when you hear “driverless vehicles,” all you see is dollar signs. Rideshare companies have their bottom line in mind when developing these programs because running a taxi service in which you don’t have to pay your drivers is a financial dream come true for them. Of course, there is a more palatable argument for driverless vehicles as well––many experts argue that because human error is the main source of most accidents, letting a computer do the work will save lives.
What Are The Arguments Against Driverless Cars?
Not everyone buys the argument that driverless cars, at least at this stage, are safer than human drivers. These cars are incredibly complex: as one astrophysicist put it, “The amount of software these processors run is greater than the combined amount of software in the Chevy Volt, the F-35 fighter jet and Facebook.” Many experts argue that companies are rushing to put profits before people, at the expense of proper testing and safety. As The Washington Post reported, “Missy Cummings, a robotics expert at Duke University who has been critical of the swift rollout of driverless technology, said the computer-vision systems for self-driving cars are ‘deeply flawed’ and can be ‘incredibly brittle,’ particularly in strange circumstances.” They also interviewed Carrie Morton, deputy director of Mcity, the University of Michigan’s 32-acre test facility simulating urban and suburban environments for self-driving vehicles, who told them that said the technology requires a combination of real-world and controlled testing to perfect.
What Is The Future Of Driverless Cars?
The aforementioned astrophysicist thinks that the process of research, testing, and development to perfect driverless cars will take at least another decade. During that time though, he argues that consumers should be patient with the process and not let a few accidents, even fatal ones, get in the way of the future.