Many experts believe that self-driving cars represent the future of transport. Although the technology has progressed in recent years, a number of high-profile and tragic incidents have proven it still has a long way to go. As a variety of tech firms pursue the level of autonomy and safety that would make driverless vehicles viable, there are other challenges too. We take a look at just what issues arise as self-driving cars start to enter the mainstream.
One of the main factors that stands in the way of autonomous vehicles’ progression is the technology it’s based on. A good summary of how the tech works can be found here. Although it’s impressive just how advanced many of the systems are, there are still some challenges to be addressed:
The safety of these vehicles is the primary issue that needs to be addressed. There have been a number of fatal and non-fatal accidents involving self-driving and semi-autonomous vehicles in recent years. The main focus has since been to improve the systems that govern the cars. Despite being incredibly advanced, issues with incident detection, reading road traffic signs, and account for human drivers remain a challenge.
With the many computer-based systems that combine to successfully pilot a car, there comes a risk of hacking. Many regular vehicles are now connected to the internet, which presents a new threat to the cybersecurity of the auto industry. Any disruption to the functioning of a car’s computer systems, whether intentional or otherwise, could put the passengers at risk.
As manufacturers start including more standardized software, the risk of potential hacks increases. For the time being it remains difficult, but as companies strive to make cars more autonomous and accessible, they will have to address the issue of cybersecurity before it becomes potentially dangerous.
One challenge that may not immediately spring to mind is that of weather. The sensors that assist with autonomous vehicles’ driving have proven to be fairly ineffective in poor conditions. Much like human drivers, fog and snow can seriously impact visibility. Not only this, but adverse weather can make a car far more unpredictable. It’s for this reason that the majority of tests carried out so far have been in optimal driving conditions.
The next set of obstacles facing autonomous vehicles are to do with ethics. Given the nature of the technology, there are some important questions that need answering.
If a self-driving car crashes, who is responsible? Should the person behind the wheel take responsibility for not averting the course? Or should the companies that program and build the vehicles be held accountable. There is no clear answer to this at the moment. Given how sophisticated the technology is, can it be said to ‘think’ in a sense, and if so what does that mean about who is responsible for it?
If a car is driving itself and an accident is inevitable, how should it choose how to act? Can it account for all of the passengers or pedestrians involved? If a fatality is unavoidable, how does it decide who to save, and is this in any way ethical? There are far more questions than answers when it comes to the ethics of self-driving vehicles.
The final point to consider is the legality of having autonomous cars on the road:
Legislators Must Agree
How do governments legislate for such a change in the way we drive? Without knowing exactly how safe self-driving cars are, it’s difficult to make regulations surrounding their use. Lawmakers will have to decide and agree on how the legalities of the vehicles will work as they become part of our lives.
It’s clear that the technology, ethics, and legality of self-driving cars still need a lot of consideration and work. However, it’s evident that progress is underway and these challenges are on the radar.