Last month we began exploring the very real possibility of the driverless car. Here are a few more thoughts.
Check Engine Light On?
Perhaps the largest technological hurdle the auto industry needs to overcome is the consumer. As an auto repair facility, we’ve seen our fair share of self-inflicted repair disasters. We’ve removed tires with the steel belts showing through, wondering how they’re still holding air. We’ve performed routine oil changes where the car had virtually no oil in the engine. We have all seen cars on the side of the road with steam pouring out of the engine compartment in the summer and have all been behind the SUV whose roof was caked with snow, because the owner didn’t take the time to clean it off.
Many of these problems stem from a single issue – owner neglect. We don’t know much about our cars, so we simply start them and hope they run. We do the same with our computers. We turn them on and do what we want without worrying about updates, maintenance, or anything which we don’t understand. Combine these two areas of our lives and the results could be quite messy. The snow which we used to leave on top of our car now covers the sensors which tell us where we’re going. The tires which we haven’t replaced have now gone flat and we can’t manually pull the car over to the side of the road. You get the picture.
Cruise Control, Escalators, Automatic Braking…
What do smart phones, escalators, and automatic braking on a car all have in common? They all initially failed to fix the problem they were designed to address. The escalator and moving sidewalk was designed to enable large volumes of foot traffic to move quickly from one destination to another. People would walk up a moving staircase to arrive at their destination twice as quickly. Smart phones were designed to aid in productivity. Automatic braking was a second set of eyes on a congested highway. The public soon discovered that the escalator was a great place to relax and finish a hot dog while they rode the stairs to the upper level in the mall, and foot traffic remained congested. Smart phone users quickly discovered games and fun screen savers and are now distracted by the tool designed to enhance productivity. Automatic braking gave drivers the false assumption that they no longer need to pay attention in traffic, and initially, accidents rose. The moral of the story? Never underestimate the human potential for laziness. The autonomous car will be no different. During the transition to fully autonomous cars, we’ll need to intervene and monitor our autonomous car activity rather than take a nap in the back seat. Unfortunately, many of us would opt for the nap.
Autonomous cars will be here soon enough. However, much of the driving public will need to rethink the way they handle both their cars and their technology habits. Like any new technology, we’ll have a few learning curves before we’re completely ready to sit in the back and let the car do the driving. Until then, we’ll have to battle the traffic ourselves.