Tuesday, 11 july 2017 | Redacción CEU
Apple and Google impulse with energy the development of autonomous cars. Their bet is strong and motor business companies do not want to stay still in the back seat. Everyone jumps into the race of driving without a driver. But delegating this function on the cars is a big responsibility. Are we ready for the change? How will the car industry affect this challenge? Will human beings ever drive again?
<<Do you like driving?>> This was the rhetorical question of that BMW slogan that popularized the acclaimed Mano announcement. An arm out of the car window, a moving hand, miles ahead and stimulating music. They would not even show the vehicle. The goal was to capture the feelings that can be experienced by a driver: freedom, happiness, introspection, peace,... Because, who does not like to feel the pleasure of driving? The Toni Segarra's advertisement became one of the most popular and awarded Spanish announces. Times are changing. Self-driving seems to be just around the corner and both passionate about autonomous cars, and detractors that refuse the idea of giving up driving, appear.
No distractions, no tiredness and, of course, without the human factor. The autonomous driving imitates the human ability to drive, but without reproducing its limitations. The own cars take the wheel, control and perceive their surroundings. An experience that relegates to the old need of a driver.
The fictitious future that we dreamed on films, is not fictitious anymore. Google and Apple are one step to make it true. Facing this challenge, and although these companies have announced that they will work hand in hand with the automobile industry, the automotive firms have also reacted and develop their own projects now. Mercedes Benz, Volvo, Chevrolet or Tesla work in the transition from the traditional car to the autonomous car. Meanwhile, driving becomes increasingly assisted by new technological devices that improve the interaction between people and cars.
The Google Waymo have been one of the first cars that move on an autonomous way on a highway, but to a maximum speed of 40 kilometers per hour. Although, the project has now taken an unexpected direction, the successes achieved in the design of a fully self-driving vehicle are undeniable. Apple takes its advances more discreetly but has also made public the 'famous secret' of its work on the autonomous driving. Even Amazon is joining the development of these vehicles. Their intention to carry the transport of goods via drones is very popular, but the creation of a group that works on the development of a self-driving car that can reduce the transport costs not so much.
The experts calculate that the arrival of this technological advance could take between three and seven years. At the beginning, like in any disruptive system, autonomous cars would only be able for a few. But in a few more years, it could be generalized and even replace the traditional driving, whether some people like it or not. What does the future hold?
Autonomous cars are designed to have greater control in unexpected situations and its response capability is faster.
The cost of maintenance will be reduced, due to the use optimization. The autonomous car will, probably, also be hybrid or electric. The initial purchase will be more expensive, but the amortization of consumption and use would adjust the balance.
They cannot get tired or distracted and their calculations are much more accurate. Besides, they will not be programmed to perform inappropriate practices –very common in some human drivers–.
At present, the development of autonomous cars is very directed towards the urban environment. It may be that over the years it extends to the entire population but its initial target is this.
What ethical principles should rule the 'intelligence' of an autonomous car? Companies are working on developing these guidelines, but it is not easy. Who should we save first, a child or an elderly man? A thief or a victim? Can the car discern between them? Can the car decide that sacrificing its occupant is the least bad option? Would we get on a car that can choose self-destruction?
Not only the knowledge of the source code guarantees the good operation of this type of technology. The fast-learning algorithm that uses this artificial intelligence will only be revealed through behavior. Delegating decisions involves "driver" supervision, at least, until the current date, that could change.
The development of the autonomous car is limited by legislation. For the moment, it starts making its way in the USA, four states recognize this type of driving. However, in Europe its development is very limited.
A pedestrian makes us a sign so we continue in a crosswalk, a worker indicates us that we must cross through another route, a delivery person seems like he/she will be spending much time unloading goods,... Can autonomous cars come to understand these situations? Traditional and autonomous cars will be forced to go together on the road and the relationship will not be balanced while the human factor is present.
If the driver does not drive, who should take the blame? Companies do not want to have problems, achieving the highest possible reliability is their goal to avoid this problem.
This is the disadvantage of hyperconnectivity. It is one of the reasons why human supervision is so important.
If a person is not necessary for driving, he or she may lose interest. Choices like collaborative driving and public transportation can replace our way of traveling.
Getting into a car driving itself requires a lot of trust. For its adoption as a mean of transport, people have to believe in it. Only time and work will provide this trust.
It is inevitable to question ourselves about it. If the development of the autonomous car progresses at the same pace as the rest of digital technology, the human driving may be exposed to extinction. Driving is undoubtedly years ahead, but it would not be strange that in the future this function would sit aside to a simple hobby or vintage practice. It all depends on how much we are willing to accept this change.