Autonomous driving is the future, but not anytime soon

Icon courtesy of @Uber, Twitter

Self-driving cars are the hottest trend in the auto industry. These new technologies have attracted the attention of a variety of different manufacturers, with all of them developing their own systems.

These technologies are still very primitive and have room for error. Last week in Tempe, Arizona, a 49-year-old woman was struck and killed by one of Uber’s self-driving test cars. The vehicle was a Volvo XC90, the company’s largest SUV.

This is a groundbreaking case because this is the first time that there was a fatality while the vehicle’s onboard artificial intelligence was in control.

Videos from the vehicle’s camera systems have brought up several important things to take into consideration. The pedestrian was crossing a dimly lit section of the road. The pedestrian was wearing a black hoodie.

The pedestrian was not in a crosswalk while crossing the road. The vehicle was going 40 mph in a 45 mph zone. The vehicle’s human driver was looking down at his phone and not looking at the road.

The AI did not alert the driver that he needed to intervene despite the vehicle coming equipped with Automatic Emergency Braking and Forward Collision Warning as standard features.

This would imply that the car did not see the woman, otherwise it would’ve taken action to avoid her using the onboard situational awareness.

Tech companies and major car manufacturers alike have invested billions of dollars into testing facilities for autonomous vehicles. These facilities help the AI learn how to operate the vehicle and teach a variety of tasks from how fast the vehicle should accelerate from a stop to how to read street signs and react appropriately.

Any car manufacturer will clearly state that although their vehicles may be capable of driving on their own, drivers should still be paying attention to the road, and keep their hands on the wheel. In this case, the driver should’ve still been ready to intervene, especially since the vehicle was driving at night.

Autonomous driving technology is not where it needs to be for drivers to start taking their eyes off the road. While these technologies are very helpful, it can also be rather dangerous.

In this case, it’s not just the physical injuries we need to worry about, but the economic injuries as well. If Uber succeeds in perfecting this technology, they will begin to phase out their human drivers.

This poses a problem, because the same technology that is supposed to make our lives easier, could make thousands of other people’s lives harder. For now, autonomous technologies are primarily being researched for passenger cars, but soon this technology will evolve to assist delivery services and transportation in general. The entire transportation industry could collapse because of these advances in driverless tech.

Autonomous driving technology began with the first throttle locks, the most basic form of cruise control. With Adaptive Cruise Control, the car has the ability to follow and stop based on the vehicle in front of them.

With Tesla’s Autopilot, and Cadillac’s Super Cruise, there’s no doubt that autonomous driving is the future of the auto industry, but until they can ensure that the number of fatalities will not go up, autonomous driving still has a long way to go before the drivers become passengers.