I love driving, but I hate commuting (by which I mean the process of driving in the same basic direction as tens of thousands of other people with limited route options at absurdly low speeds). Thanks to the wonders of telecommuting and the internet I don’t have to commute on a daily basis, but the days when I do have to venture out during rush hour aren’t fun. I look forward to a future where I can choose to drive when I want to and assign the task to my car when I’m tired or lack the patience to drive myself.
Because of this, I’ve been following the progress of self-driving cars. I’ve been impressed by the videos of Tesla’s Autopilot (check out numerous YouTube videos) and usually read any articles about Google’s self-driving car project and the progress they are making. Then tragedy struck (slight exaggeration).
On Valentine’s Day, one of Google’s self-driving cars crashed into a bus. Thankfully, no one was hurt and the damage was relatively minor as it was a very low speed accident. Actually reading about the crash and situation made it seems like a small hiccup for the project and not anything of major concern (check out Engadget’s article here for details) especially since a human driver was sitting there and made the same assumption/choice as the computer.
It’s possible that being partially at fault is one of the best things that could have happened for the project and that data from this will help refine the software and avoid more dangerous accidents in the future. I don’t doubt that self-driving cars are less accident prone than humans, but the next phase of Google’s project frightens me a little. Google’s next phase removes all controls except for a panic button and a start button. Because I like driving, I still want to be able to do it on occasion. Not to mention the fact that the Terminator movies and the general hackability of computer systems makes me nervous about having zero control over the car once I get inside.
I’m still excited about the future of self-driving cars despite my reservations. How do you feel about them? Write a comment below or shoot me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Aaron Baldwin, Designer