Google’s new self-driving car is something to behold, coming across as a merger between a Playmobil toy and Hayao Miyazaki’s Totoro. From the videos on YouTube, the people given a chance to take the car for a spin – or the car...
Google’s new self-driving car is something to behold, coming across as a merger between a Playmobil toy and Hayao Miyazaki’s Totoro. From the videos on YouTube, the people given a chance to take the car for a spin – or the car taking them for a spin, to be more accurate – sure seem to be having fun.
I’m not convinced this technology will become mainstream enough that you will walk into a dealership showroom and buy a self-driving sedan. There are several reasons.
Not every piece of technology, no matter how revolutionary, is guaranteed to catch on. Remember the Segway? It was promoted as the next great leap forward in personal transportation. It never caught on, reduced to being a punch-line in movie comedies and now only used in warehouses to move shippers about. Google also has a history of technological missteps. Remember Google’s much hyped Video Player . . . you probably don’t. Or just look at the recent Google Glass, a technology that seems on its way to becoming the Zoot Suit of hardware.
Most of the tests on such vehicles have been done in carefully controlled test tracks or in very limited real-world locations. Autonomous vehicle technology has been in development since 1980, first with Mercedes Benz and later with the U.S. government looking at the technology for military applications. Few of these vehicles have been made to drive through busy, pedestrian and pothole ridden downtown streets or on crowded highways where even experienced drivers are challenged trying to navigate without colliding into others and losing their tempers. Google’s car is only able to achieve a top speed of 25 mph, so it is hardly road worthy. Right now, it is just a very expensive golf cart.
The other issue is liability, an issue that has not been addressed but will play a big role in deciding if this technology will catch on. If the vehicle becomes involved in an accident, where does blame reside? Remember, no technology is foolproof or can anticipate and react to every situation, especially when people are involved. Does blame fall upon the vehicle passenger, the vehicle manufacturer or the software maker?
What will the rules be for when a vehicle can be in autonomous mode and when it has to be under the direct control of a driver? Will autonomous driving be restricted to controlled environments such as gated communities? Will drivers be told that they have to be in control while in the city and when highway driving? If the technology is legislated for such limited use the public may be reluctant to pay for its inclusion in vehicles as it will be seen as an expensive luxury.
If there should be time and money invested in vehicle technology, how about making the onboard navigation and vehicle entertainment system easier to navigate? I still can’t get the air conditioning to work on some vehicles!