Driverless Cars – What Could Intervene to Prevent a Switch to Driverless?

Americans love hearing predictions of big technology advances that will change the world.  In the 1950s, "The Jetsons," a popular TV cartoon, caused the widespread belief that by the '80s, everyone would travel by personal mini-copter.

But, many things intervened that prevented the coming-true of the mini-copter prediction.  It is quite possible some of these factors will intervene against the coming of the driverless car.  What are they?

Regulation

One is regulation.  For example, after the 1950s, all travel by air became more and more regulated – for safety reasons.  It became clear that no municipality would, for example, allow personal mini-copters, for safety reasons.  This factor intervened against the fulfillment of the personal mini-copter prediction.

Today, America still has a penchant for safety regulations.  It is possible that on that basis, local elected officials could campaign to establish "no-driverless" zones.  They could point to the Google-car case in which a driverless car caused a lane-change collision.  The car failed to "see" a bus coming alongside a sizable oversight.

Legislators could simply say, folksy, "Ya gotta have a driver.  Anything else is silly, and dangerous." This will resonate with at least some people.  As humans and Americans, we'll not want to give up control over our lives.  Locals could decry "big government" in opposing the US DOT's current pushing of driverless technology. A survey showed only 30 percent of rural residents currently willing to ride driverless.

What about sports cars, a venerable and respected industry? Won't Maserati and Ferrari pooh-pooh driverless cars? Furthermore, there are many other moral and environmental impacts that driverless cars affect. If they do, will an ideal of the cultured, dashing auto sportsman have to die so the computer cars can come in?

Prudence

If driverless cars predominate, it's likely that generations will grow up not knowing how to drive.  Somehow, this doesn't sound good. Is driving an important life skill, like making a fire?  Prudence, therefore could be a factor intervening against driverless technology.  Then again, how many of us can make furniture or clothes, or grow enough food to sustain our family?

Market Forces

Market forces could intervene against driverless cars.

In part, a driverless car is an electronic device.  Many Americans like their independence and control over their lives.  Driverless cars could threaten that.  As a result, we may just prefer to drive ourselves, creating minimal demand for driverless cars – just like many cool technological advances that never caught on.

Difficulty of Reducing Cost

The marketability of driverless cars will depend on getting costs down to affordable levels. It's not a foregone conclusion that this can be done.  If it can't, driverless cars won't catch on.

Hacking

As we have seen, government regulation is one factor possibly intervening to prevent the accession of the driverless car.  In recent years, government officials have begun asking, "How easily could hackers disrupt computerized, driverless autos?"

 

The following chronology outlines a trend that could slow or prevent a transition to driverless cars.

 

September 9, 2014 – Federal vehicle safety regulators asked automakers to develop a way to share information about efforts to hack vehicle data systems.  Within 6 months, it emerged that most car makers had little or no information about whether and how much car hacking had already occurred.

February 9, 2015 – Most carmakers are "unaware of or unable to report on past hacking incidents," US Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., reported to the Senate, citing data he obtained from carmakers.

July 21, 2015 – On a web site, white-hat hackers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek publicized their hacking of a Jeep Grand Cherokee through its Internet-capable entertainment system.  They took control of the car's accelerator, brakes, radio, and other features.  That same day, Sen. Markey introduced a bill, the SPY Car Act, under which the Federal Trade Commission would force automakers to use "reasonable measures" to prevent the hacking of car-computer software.  Introduction of the bill got a quick response, just 3 days later.

July 24, 2015 – Fiat Chrysler announced recall of 1.4 million vehicles for installation of software to prevent hacking of the cars' computer systems.

March 17, 2016 – The FBI and the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a bulletin warning that motor vehicles are "increasingly vulnerable" to hacking.  The government requested that anyone who suspects their car has been hacked call the FBI.

In conclusion, there are many possible things, foreseen and unforeseen, that could make the adaptation of driverless cars difficult or prohibit it altogether.  Again, time will tell.

 


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