The auto industry is rapidly moving toward a future of driverless cars. One of the main arguments in favor of this new technology is that it will make driving safer.
Well, here is a reality check.
“Our driverless future is starting to look so distant that even some of its most fervent believers have turned dissenters... You’d be hard-pressed to find another industry that’s invested so many dollars in research and development and that has delivered so little.”
— Anthony Levandowski, Google self-driving car researcher
Google parent company, Alphabet's, self-driving vehicle, Waymo, quietly laid off staff this week. In October 2022, Argo.ai, an autonomous vehicle company, shut down business — they burst on the scene in 2017 stacked with a $1 billion investment before being absorbed by Ford and VW. Sadly more than 2,000 employees lost their jobs.
Chinese company Baidu cut jobs from its autonomous driving unit as prospects for profits were small even after years of investments. Many of the industry’s most promising efforts have met the same fate in recent years — including Drive.ai, Voyage, Zoox and Uber’s self-driving division. Many others companies have met a similar fate.
Tesla’s Auto Pilot was supposed to be the first self-driving production car. In truth, it is a suite of advanced driver-assistance system features offered by Tesla that amounts to SAE International Level 2 vehicle automation.
Mercedes Actually 1st Self-Driving
Many car manufacturers offer (what they call) Level 3 automation and can make driving safer for many drivers. However, this is NOT self driving. Only Mercedes Benz has been approved for Level 3 with the Drive Pilot system and is testing it in Nevada. The Drive Pilot system will only be available for specific cars, and Mercedes is not allowed to retrofit its present vehicles with it.
Level 5 automation is self driving with no steering wheel or pedals, and we are nowhere near that. The $100 billion investment in self driving cars is starting to look like a scam.
Why exactly? Let’s look a the facts.
There is a ton of media on autonomous, driver-less, and self driving cars. The pressers, news, and marketing machines from Google, Apple, and car companies are turning up the heat making promises of self driving cars that are all-electric and are going to safe lives and change the world.
Now to the facts:
Automobile crash sensors do not work when they are covered in ice, snow, or are obscured by other bad weather conditions. I live in an area that has frequent snow, some sleet, and hail. This makes even active cruise control and other common, modern safety features not function. That means that all the amazing safety features and crash sensors can’t do their job and save you from a crash.
This is why self driving cars were always tested around Southern California and Arizona where good weather conditions are common. A friend was riding in a self-driving Uber recently. It started raining, and the vehicle pulled over and he had to call for a Uber with a human driver to pick him up to get to his destination.
All computer hardware fails at some point. It develops bugs or glitches, or just plain slows down to the point where it does not handle the task as it was built. There will be failures, the first time an customer's autonomous vehicles runs someone over; which has already happened with test vehicles; it will likely be caught on multiple video cameras from multiple angles, the technology will be shelved for another 10 years.
Insurance companies are concerned when it comes to getting paid for losses, because autonomous car and software companies will not want to take responsibility in a crash. Someone has to be at fault and take responsibility for the failure of the car. Tech companies will just blame each other. This is certainly an issue that has not been resolved and will remain a problem. Driverless cars are an enormous liability and challenge because driving is simply dangerous due to massive number of variables.
Susceptible to Hackers
As cars become more like computers, they can be hacked like computers. The future risks to self-driving cars range from data breaches to hijack critical systems, backdooring the car network, extortion, and more. Criminal hackers could target the car itself, the back-end servers supporting it, or the outside systems that communicate with the car, like "smart" traffic lights. The possibilities are endless. A criminal could steal personal information by hacking the car’s WiFi or cellular network, or compromising a third-party service provider.
Ransomware could seize control of a car’s functions, or disable it altogether, until the owner or automaker pays the ransom. It’s also possible to carry this out on a larger scale, if an attacker is able to find a model-specific vulnerability. This may sound like I’ve gone too far but this type of ransomware happens daily in other industries. Remember, driverless cars will rely heavily on Vehicle to Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle to Grid (V2X) communications to navigate, any successful breach of one of these outside systems could be used to manipulate the car.
In an interview from Autoblog, past Google self-driving researcher, Anthony Levandowski said, “Our driverless future is starting to look so distant that even some of its most fervent believers have turned dissenters... You’d be hard-pressed to find another industry that’s invested so many dollars in research and development and that has delivered so little... Forget about profits—what’s the combined revenue of all the robo-taxi, robo-truck, robo-whatever companies? Is it a million dollars? Maybe. I think it’s more like zero.”
While Tesla has argued that its current system represents a working prototype, CEO Elon Musk has continued to blur the lines between demos and reality. Now with claims of falsifying a video showing a Tesla self-driving itself, the courts and the federal government will have to decide the truth.
While the industry’s biggest names continue to project optimism, the emerging consensus is that the world of self-driving vehicles might have to wait decades longer, or an eternity.
There is so much more to discuss on this, put your comments below and let’s start the conversation.
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