In 2010 Google responded to rumors by confirming their plans to create the world’s first self-driving cars. Since then, the self-driving cars have completed over 700,000km of testing on public roads in Nevada, Florida, Texas, and California. The technology, which combines cameras, radar, a 64-beam laser, GPS and high-resolution mapping is overseen by Anthony Levandowsky, the team’s project manager.
Speaking in a recent meeting for the Society of Automotive Engineers, Anthony said the technology they’re working on could be ready for the consumer market within five years. “I can’t tell you you’ll be able to have a Google car in your garage next year. We expect to release the technology in the next five years. In what form it gets released is still to be determined.”
Speeding ahead of the law
Google has been insistent that they have no interest in becoming a big player in the car manufacturing business. Their sole interest remains in the development of the technology itself. For now, Google’s focus remains with making the technology as safe and reliable as possible, a quality they’ll have to convince the lawmakers and car manufactures with when the technology is ready for distribution.
While the five-year figure Anthony cites will inevitably increase anticipation for the final product, there won’t be any movement on a commercial level until driving laws are changed. And how long will this take? We all know that while technology speeds ahead, the law is slow to move. And surely the big car manufacturers are only going to take serious interest when self-driving cars are permitted on a large, national scale.
When that will happen is incredibly hard to tell. Even if Google can prove that self-driving technology is statistically safer than conventional driving, it isn’t going to sway legislators in one fell swoop. Why? Because legislators will be left with an ethical anomaly. Since the error is an inescapable feature of all humans, instances of error are morally permissible. In driving, therefore, human error is a variable that is allowed to exist.
On the other hand, since computers can be programmed to avoid error, it becomes morally impermissible for a computer to make a mistake. Especially when it threatens something as precious as human life. But can Google ever achieve this level of perfection? Is perfection even attainable? Surely computers will make some mistakes, they are an invention of human minds after all.
You Win Some You Lose Some
For those unable to drive, like the physically and mentally impaired, they would have their own method of transportation which could get them from point A to point B, independently and self-sufficiently. Freed from the constraints of others, it would be life-changing.
Then again, while self-driving cars could bring new benefits to the impaired, it could result in the lay-off of hundreds of thousands of employees who depend on driving as a profession. Self-driving cars could remove the need for taxi drivers, lorry drivers, courier men, and coach drivers—a whole host of professions. But change is an inevitable consequence of technological progress.
On The Roads By 2018?
Bringing together what’s been discussed, there are a number of unavoidable reality checks that stand against Google’s self-driving technology. The first is the law. When self-driving cars breach the legislation books, to achieve commercial success, legislation is going to have to be on a scale large enough to attract big car manufactures.
Even then, car manufacturers won’t move until there is sufficient demand. This begs another crucial question. Even though the technology is remarkable, does anyone really want a self-driving car? A great majority of cars are sold on the thrill of the ride. Will any of those be equipped self-driving technology any time soon? It’s unlikely.
In sum, self-driving cars on the road by 2018 is a tangible but unlikely prospect. Google’s technology is going to require a huge shift in the hearts and minds of legislators, manufactures, and consumers before it becomes a commercially viable project.
Maybe that’s why, for the meantime, Google is just focusing on what they do best, being innovative.I
This article is brought to you by Hugo, a writer at Transport Innovation who specialise in taxi contract tenders. Hugo is not only a writer, but he is also a keen rally driving fan.
Image Credited: stanfordcis