Autonomotive Singularity- Coined by the great Alex Roy, this philosophy states that as companies strive for perfection in the automotive world, one problem that needs to be fixed is the human input. We are the biggest problem.
Traction Control, Stability Control, Automatic Braking, and Lane Control. These are all created because car companies believe us to be imperfect.
Autonomy is the final step in the Autonomotive philosophy. Once the human element is removed, cars my continue to approach “perfection”.
But what is “perfection”? From the current trend of research and development, it can be summed up easily. It is a vehicle that requires zero input to get from A to B.
For an enthusiast, as most of you are, this is completely the opposite. Perfection is instead a vehicle that requires the most input. (The journey, not the destination, all that jazz.) The enthusiast is a minority, and yet there is definitely some opposition to full autonomy. Let’s explore this further.
What does the general public see in a car?
For a country based on that mantra, this shows how central the car is to the American way of life. Having a car that you can drive away whenever you want, and go wherever you want, that is a right given by our forefathers and brought to life by Henry Ford. Every high school teenager understands the freedom inherited with car ownership. You can now drive to the movie theater without ever having to ask for a ride or *gasp* show up on time.
Urbanites understand this, because though they may lack ownership, they still need freedom. Uber and Lyft and the venerable taxi service rely on people who refuse to travel en masse. Public transportation (barring taxis) isn’t always the most efficient for the high powered class, because time is money, and buses have no concept of time. Besides, riding with the plebs is so 1908.
Which leads into the next issue. Autonomous cars will, at least at conception, be very expensive. You are basically buying an electronic chauffeur. The common man will either be unable to afford this, or wise enough to afford it. There is no financial advantage of autonomy, unlike fuel efficiency. Safety features add to the quality of the car, but (unless you can’t keep a car on four wheels for 30 minutes at a time) it’s usually not a monetary advantage.
But safety is important, right? Wouldn’t an autonomous car be safer than any other safety feature? Well, let’s break that down. First, let’s establish something. There will be a period in time where Autonomous and Non-Autonomous cars will share the road together. So this leads to a few problems.
- Autonomous = Accident-free. Google has found that out. Their autonomous test cars have had several accident reports show up in the news, though most are not their fault. One in particular was interesting, however. A Google test car ran into a bus because it predicted the bus to slow down like a car would, and tried to cut in front of it. Didn’t work. Also, Tesla having the first autonomous death is a big setback to convincing the public that we are ready.
- We will never be able to make a car smarter than we are stupid. People really are terrible drivers. Distracted Driving. Drunk Driving. Old people. There will still be accidents. But now we have no control and cannot avoid these people. We have pretty good radars for stupid. But let’s say avoidance just wasn’t possible. How do you convince someone to just let go? Literally. You no longer have control. That can be scary.
- We know electronics aren’t perfect. (See: any British Leyland product.) So, as good citizens would, we exploit this. Let’s make an example. Man drives his car into the back of an autonomous vehicle. Man claims that the AV was at fault. The AV cannot defend itself at that instant, and will be considered guilty until proven innocent. “It didn’t get out of my way” probably isn’t a good excuse, however.
- Autonomous cars must be 100% perfect to please the public. Not 87%. Not 95%. Not even 99.9%. For that would mean even if a car is ‘safe’ 99.9% of the time, there is a 0.01% chance of an accident. Does this make it any better than someone who’s is “Accident-Free”? No, but this goes back to the Letting-Go Principle. Company says 95%, people hear 5% chance of death. People tend to overact, but hey, makes my point better.
What does this all mean then? Are we destined to drive until the fall of man? No. We just aren’t ready yet. Big Business is notorious for giving us products before they were ready. Ask anyone who has played any Battlefield game in the first week of release. Also common is the habit of giving us not what we need, but what they think we should need. Maybe we don’t need full autonomy by 2020. Maybe gradual is a good way to go. Example time. The EV1, released by GM in 1996 as the world’s first readily available EV. But since technology was’t ready yet (lead acid batteries don’t make for good weight reduction), this monstrosity instead spoiled the public to the idea of electric cars, and car companies have been fighting this stigma for the last 20 years. Autonomy could follow this path all too easily. We need to let technology catch up this time. Solution? Leave the steering wheel in for now.