We’ve all been intrigued by the idea of self-driving cars for a few years now. Once thought to be the stuff of science fiction, autonomous vehicles are quickly becoming a reality. These days you’d be hard-pressed to find an informed individual who doesn’t think that we’ll all be riding along in self-driving cars in the near future. Plenty of tech companies and car manufacturers have already put certain autonomous features into place like Tesla’s “autopilot” cruise control mode or the ability of some cars to parallel park on their own.
What is it that’s actually holding us back from fully capable, robotic cars? Some would say nothing. Uber has already tested self-driving fleets in Pittsburgh, and numerous other companies have also experimented with road-ready autonomous vehicles. Still, we’re clearly not quite at a point where these vehicles are the norm, or available to consumers. Here are a few reasons why.
The Crash Decision Quandary
Inevitably, programs will have to be written into self-driving cars’ AI telling them how to act under dangerous circumstances. Slate called this problem “the ethical quandary of self-driving cars,” and pointed out that these cars will have to be told with whom to collide should the situation arise. Do they act in the best interests of their own passengers? Or do they strive to save minimize the risk to human life in general, even if that means endangering passengers to save pedestrians in range of the accident? These are unsettling questions, and it’s hard to imagine them being answered definitively. Yet they’ll need to be before these cars can safely hit the road in any sort of mass rollout.
Recognition Of Human Signals
The nature of self-driving cars is that they’re connected to all of their surroundings. Make no mistake, these cars will be devices that fall under the “Internet of Things” umbrella, connecting to other cars and traffic lights while sensing other surroundings as well. What they can’t necessarily sense are human expressions, gestures, and emotions. Telogis pointed this out in an article that quoted a computer science professor as saying that one of the biggest problems facing autonomous vehicles is nonverbal communication. Humans use eye contact, hand gestures, and other subtle movements to communicate all kinds of intentions on the road, and these same intentions are not always evident by the movement or positioning of their vehicles. This is something that autonomous vehicles are not fully equipped to deal with yet and will need to be before they can become available to the public.
Regulatory Hurdles To Come
Like many other new technological developments, autonomous cars operated for a while with limited interference from government. Sometimes these things develop so rapidly that regulation is essentially an afterthought. It stands to reason that before self-driving vehicles are sold to consumers on a broad scale and are fully legal on the roads, the government will need to have its say. As The Verge wrote this fall, the government finally woke up to the self-driving car movement and introduced policies suggesting that manufacturers will need to share significant data before selling the vehicles. This is probably only the beginning of a series of regulatory hurdles. Autonomous cars likely won’t become a widespread reality until manufacturers and government committees have struck up a number of compromises.