Would you let a computer drive you around town? It might seem like something out of Back to the Future II when Marty McFly accidentally sends himself 30 years ahead to October 21, 2015, and sees things like big screen TVs and the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series. Two things that actually weren’t so crazy in 2015. In reality, a self-driving car is no longer something of the future. It’s here. In testing mode.
Google has a self-driving car project. Their hopes are that these could be vehicles for the visually impaired and aging adults who don’t want to give up their sense of independence. A noble cause at the forefront, or is it truly a race to the never-ending finish line in the world of technology? An autonomous form of transportation is not new, but, cars contribute 37,000 deaths each year in the U.S. Almost 1.3 million globally. The question becomes, would you put your life in the hands of something that is not entirely cognizant of the things around it? Would you put your family in the same situation?
The truth is, the majority of the population already relies on autonomous forms of transportation, whether daily or weekly for business, or even a few times each year for family vacations. Planes have been using auto-pilot technologies for years and a lot of what pilots do these days is monitoring buttons, dials and switches according to Patrick Smith, a veteran commercial pilot. It’s a completely different skill set than what was previously used, but it isn’t an entirely hands-off experience. There are planes used in agriculture that have the same sort of capability and drones that can give farmers insight into yields and crop damage.
So, if there is already so much of the population reaping the benefits of a self-driving mechanism, is there hope for the self-driving car? Google’s tests predict that motor vehicle accidents could be decreased drastically with this technology. They found that 94 percent of traffic accidents involve some sort of human error. Their cars would be equipped with sensors to detect objects like pedestrians, cyclists and other vehicles. There wouldn’t be issues like Dad working late the night before and being too tired to keep going so he slightly veers into the next lane. Teenagers wouldn’t be distracted by that infamous ping of a text message. Those things could happen naturally and safely as Sleepy Dad and Distracted Teen are driven along in their smart car.
Those who don’t know what to look for may not have noticed, but these self-driving cars are already on the road going through extensive testing. Design and experimentation can date back to the 1930s and Google already boasts an impressive 1.5 million self-driven miles logged. Tesla, GM, Volvo, Ford, Jaguar and more are looking to develop their own solutions as well.
What’s even more curious is that if car owners were to think about their own high-tech cars, there is probably a lot that can already be done without much help from the human being in the driver’s seat. As long as the driver assist features are on, many newer models can sense something in a blind spot, or even stop on their own when an object is too close to the rear of the car. USA Today did a self-parking challenge with four manufacturers to see which performed best. Three of the four required drivers to switch on the parking function, but the luxurious Mercedes-Benz “assumes” that you are looking for a parking spot the moment your car begins creeping along. But, is the assumption too much?
Many self-driving features are already on the cars being driven around by families, friends, and coworkers. Some of them are coveted and seen as deal-breakers when car shopping. (Ever driven a long road trip without cruise control?) Families are already putting their safety in the hands of technology; to an extent. But don’t throw caution to the wind. When programming, very important questions arise like, if a crash is inevitable, who does the car save? Does it sense the mother and her three-month old, the family of six coming home from work and school, the elderly couple who loves to take an afternoon drive, or the businessman on his way home from a 12 hour shift?