Ask the Experts

Driving Blind

There was a report that a research program for self-driving cars was approved for New Jersey. While I appreciate that my generation is witnessing the advent of revolutionary technology, I also feel that these cars will never be safe on the road. Read this and tell me whether am I right or wrong.

We typically receive questions and work to answer them. You have already done our job, making a persuasive argument against driverless cars. I will take your ideas and present them here, with thoughts and responses from industry observers.

A driverless car receives data from sensors throughout the car. While manufacturers vary in their approach, data can be collected from a roof-top mount, sensors built into the body of the car, and/or video cameras. Let us say you are on the highway, travelling at 55 mph. A newspaper or rubbish riding on the air lands on the sensor. I can name many other examples of something landing on or outright destroying the sensor. If the car is blinded, how can it react safely on the highway?

Experts have a name for this: redundancy. Loss of any one or two systems will not compromise the car’s performance. The future of driverless cars also includes networking, as all cars within a vicinity or network will share data with each other via wireless communication. Even cars with drivers are being equipped with networking capability and will make use of the technology, predicts transportation experts at Easy Car Shipping. The driver benefits from this information feedback with advanced braking systems and other warnings.

The drawbacks of driverless cars can be simple. If I go to the airport or have something delivered, who acts as the porter? Clearly, a porter will not be sitting in the driverless car. While driverless cars are supposed to be safer, it is also labor savings that increase their efficiency and remove cars from the road, explains providers of airport car service. Since driverless cars will serve as taxis and delivery vans, new car models can incorporate a built-in ramp or wider doorway. If there is a large enough market, car producers have every incentive to offer customization, say experts in automotive industry solutions.

Here is a nightmare scenario. There is suddenly something in front of my speeding car. Consider these: a brightly colored beach ball, a pile of bricks, a cardboard box or my ex-girlfriend. Does the computer decide to run over it or veer away? Only a human can discern the differences. In Australia, for example, the ever-present kangaroos were confusing the self-driving cars. The engineers gathered information and video on the roos’ behavior in order to teach the computer how to react.

Remember, our questioner is ignoring that we are still developing driverless cars in both hardware and software applications. The industry still has years of development ahead. However, I will support our questioner in this regard. Who pays the price when the computer has to be taught something new? We only discover the driverless car’s limitations through accidents.

I hope they do not automate everything, some things are better with a human.

John Regan is a former Director of Sales for equity research.