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Technology Trends: Issues With Autonomous Vehicles, Part 1
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Technology Trends: Issues With Autonomous Vehicles, Part 1 - Executive Leadership Articles

Technology Trends: Issues With Autonomous Vehicles, Part 1

Executive Leadership Articles

Technology Trends: Issues With Autonomous Vehicles, Part 1

What seemed only a few years ago like a story idea for the Jetsons is today an incipient reality: self-driving cars are real, and they are going to be part of our everyday lives sooner than we could have imagined. Major players in the game are already years--and hundreds of thousands of miles--into testing, and already there are smaller players carving out niches where they anticipate the emerging market will need them.

If you’ve limited yourself to whatever’s in the headlines about self-driving cars, one could hardly blame you. It’s an enormous subject with all kinds of economic, technological, and social considerations, and it’s easier just to let the biggest news filter through, while hardcore tech-heads concern themselves with micro, day-to-day developments. Still, one almost wishes for a Cliffsnotes-style breakdown of where we are now, and where we might be in the very near future. Since we couldn’t find one, we’re attempting to create our own, hopefully to update periodically based on easily available information from mainstream sources.

First, we’ll identify some of the issues, which is going to take at least two installments because it’s such a huge topic. Understand that we’re scratching the surface in order to get a broad overview first, before we drill down and get into the deeper issues.

Ethical Decisions
This comes up a lot when there’s a news story about a driver falling asleep at the wheel or otherwise losing control of the vehicle: if an autonomous vehicle is in a position where it must decide between the safety of others outside the vehicle and the safety of the people in the vehicle, which does it choose? Does it (for one gruesome example) steer itself off a bridge in order to avoid colliding with an out-of-control tour bus?

Tricky Obstacles
A recent episode of the Startup podcast described an autonomous shuttle driving city streets at night for a company’s employees, taking them from the office to a parking lot. The shuttle handles itself in traffic well, but when it encounters steam coming through a manhole in the street, it doesn’t know immediately how to deal with it. Is this something it can drive through, or is it something it must navigate around? A similar (and very familiar) street obstacle is often brought up as a better example: puddles in the street. Can an autonomous vehicle detect how deep a puddle of water is? Should it drive right through or should it go around? And what about other, moving obstacles such as bouncing balls, which are often followed by running children, and windblown trash?

Interacting with Humans
People are unpredictable. It is one of our most endearing and maddening traits, according to the androids in all the science fiction movies. But sometimes they are unpredictable in a way that serves our best interest, as when a police officer gestures at us to do something that in all other situations would be dangerous and illegal. Will an autonomous vehicle be able to handle situations? Yes, in many of these test vehicles, there are human overrides, as with the shuttle and the steam, when the human controller decided not to wait for the vehicle to make up its mind about whether to drive through or go around. In order to avoid stalling traffic, the human drove the vehicle through the steam. However, in all our scenarios, a driverless car picks us up and takes us where we need to go. How does a driverless car with no humans aboard deal with human unpredictability?

There are few things in our lives as regulated as how we get from point A to point B, partially because we’re so dependent on the ability to do so, and partially because when things don’t go
as planned, human lives are at risk. There are major cities in this country where legislation was proposed for Segway use, and while that may have been a publicity move, it shows how involved our governing bodies are in the many ways we move about. As the technology moves forward, it’s perhaps not incumbent on the manufacturers to anticipate government concerns, but it probably doesn’t hurt. How will the public object to complications, and what will be the civic response?

A handful of other issues must be considered as development of autonomous vehicles approaches everyday reality (the reasonable timeline of which we will discuss another time), and we hope to cover the big ones in the near future.


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Technology Trends: Issues With Autonomous Vehicles, Part 1 - Executive Leadership Articles

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