The new reality when it comes to automotives is autonomous driving but is it all that it really seems. While I am optimistic about driverless cars, skepticism abounds about whether driverless cars can actually work and, even if they are technically possible, whether they should be allowed.
In the interest of facilitating a robust conversation, I want to offer seven of the most pressing concerns. Effective decision making, as Peter Drucker observed, depends on the dialogue between different points of view and a choice between different judgments.
The following differing points of view and judgments cover a wide range of potential issues, including technical viability, operational resiliency, and even fears that driverless cars might work too well and thus unleash a host of unwanted secondary effects.
Please feel free to reiterate, refute or add to the items on this list.
- There are too many “corner cases.” While driverless cars have demonstrated remarkable proficiency in many aspects of driving, some contend that many driving scenarios will remain unsolved. MIT’s John Leonard, for example, points to left hand turns into heavy traffic, adverse weather, changes to road surfaces, and eye and hand gestures as open technical questions for which solutions “might be a very long way away.” Leonard should know, he has been a central figure in the field for years, including a stint as the leader of MIT’s autonomous car team in the famed 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge. (Watch this excellent presentation for Leonard’s detailed assessment.)
- The technology is not robust enough. Even if theoretical solutions are found, it might be hard to reliably translate them to the real world. Robustness would depend on a myriad of electronic, mechanical and software components operating with little tolerance for error under adverse (freezing, wet, boiling) conditions, long duty cycles, less than perfect maintenance (car owners being human), fender benders, network and electrical outages, and so on. Dr. Louise Cummings, for example, made a well-reasoned argument along these lines during a recent U.S. Senate committee hearing.
- They will cost too much. The cost of sophisticated electronics, including lidar, radar, sensors, cameras, computing and networking devices, on top of the cost of additional development, maintenance, and liability, will price driverless cars out of reach of most consumers.