Just think about your daily routine for a moment. Rushing around, trying to get errands done. Driving to the post office and the grocery store. Driving home from office. It does feel tiring doesn’t it? But just imagine, if the car does the driving for you, leaving your mind relaxed enough to concentrate about things that matter to you. In Elon Musk’s world, “easy” is used to describe almost impossible to solve problems. Thus according to him, producing a fully autonomous vehicle, which is capable of being driven on any road and under any condition is “easy-ish”. According to Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors, driverless cars will be on the roads within two years. With Google publicly testing its self-driving car and Apple investing billions of dollars on its top-secret Project Titan (read Apple’s self driving car) , one does feel that autonomous cars are just around the corner. However is it really that simple? Will autonomous cars be actually safe for our roads? And are we even ready for their arrival? Let’s see…
Necessity is the mother of invention, said Sebastian Thrun, former head of Google’s self-driving car project, as he unveiled the Google self-driving car in 2005. In an increasingly complex world, he said, it was essential that trivial matters like driving a car should be handled by technology. He argued that this was the essence of science and technology, to make people’s lives convinient. His arguments were met by both admiration and criticism. Not prepared to be left behind, Apple and Tesla began their own projects, pouring billion of dollars in the industry. Like the advent of any startlingly major invention, most people were apprehensive. Some people were worried about road safety, while others were worried about human laziness. Some even doubted the feasibility of inventing autonomous vehicles. Making a whole new invention from the scratch is easier said than done, they said…
Making a self-driving car is simple. Yes it really is. But making it reliable enough to be driven in all weathers under all conditions is a major problem. Usually most of us who rely on automobiles use them come rain, hail, snow or worse. Our brain knows how to handle situations like avoiding ice or driving slow when the road’s wet. Self-driving cars however haven’t mastered it …yet. In fact, Google’s self-driving car hasn’t even been tested in heavy rains yet.
The second problem is that the software that runs the car doesn’t have its own brains. Everything has to be carefully programmed, and I mean every single detail. So for example, you are in Google’s self-driving car and want to drive to a camp-site for the weekend. Unfortunately, if the road hasn’t been “Googlified” (scanned by Google), you are sort of out of luck. I’m pretty sure that the number of compatible roads will increase in the future, but still you don’t have that peace in your mind which you have when you can just drive to anywhere. One can still imagine such a vehicle plying in the United States among other first world countries. Now imagine an autonomous vehicle driving itself in a country like India, where cars, trucks, motorbikes, and bullock carts ply through the same roads. Can even sophisticated technology avoid portholes, jay-walkers, and animals all at the same time?
There are many more problems. But hey, aren’t tech companies spending billions of dollars to solve these problems? Don’t we have brilliant scientists who are working passionately day and night to resolve these issues? Yes we have. But they can do only so much when the public itself doesn’t want to accept this new technology. In a poll conducted by statistical agency Vox, more Americans say they’re worried about the prospect of self-driving cars than excited. They’re afraid that the technology will take jobs away from taxi and truck drivers, and they’re skeptical that the technology will save lives as supporters claim. Just take a look at the poll below:-
Many say they won’t buy a self-driving car even if one is available in the future. So that brings us to the question:- Why do we need such cars in the first place?
It is because these cars will be a whole lot safer than our present day cars. Experts predict that self-driving cars will reduce the total road fatalities in the United States from an average of 33,000 people each year to just 3,300 each year. That is a really significant improvement, and the pubic needs to realise that. In addition to safety, the development of self-driving cars is the logical step in the evolution of the automobile. It isn’t only about safety, it is also about human endeavour and the human thirst to conquer challenges.
The advent of self-driving cars is inevitable, it is only a question of time. In the meantime, the public should debate on this issue widely, so that none of us feels left out in this era of science and technology. U.S. President John .F. Kennedy said the following words when he announced America’s intention to send the man on the moon:-
“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”
I firmly believe that we need to welcome the advancement of technology in the same spirit.
Note:- All the opinions stated in the above article are the author’s own.