Are You Ready For Driverless Cars?

Driverless cars are in the news as customers look forward to their arrival in the showrooms. But their success in the mainstream market will depend on their safety record.

The hype

Proponents of driverless cars laud the benefits and job creation opportunities of bringing the first models to market. Claims about their arrival are made at regular intervals and suggestions that roads will be transformed are made with the sincerity of evangelists. Customers anticipate the day when they order their first vehicle and enjoy its freewheeling automation. Providing a different experience plays a part in the fervour although there is an increase in concerns about safety. The belief that driverless cars are about to hit the streets is partly driven by the media hype that surrounds their early development and a public appetite for a car that requires little input from the driver. The aim of manufactures is to combine the driverless experience with the sharing economy to create a new type of product that gathers rich and detailed personal information about us as we travel.

The difficulties

One difficulty is that there is still significant work to be done to prolong the life of batteries that enable longer journeys between charging points. Another difficulty arises from the fact that the current enthusiasm comes in large part from the companies pouring billions into turning the hype into reality. The companies want to attract money to the fledging industry, so there is a need to promote good news stories and minimise any setbacks. But the real tests are yet to appear, as has been the case recently when a driverless car caused a death as part of early stage trials, thereby highlighting the fact that fatalities will occur. Such incidents increase levels of concern as the result of on-going trials raise questions about safety and security. Whether or not such issues will delay the introduction of driverless cars is difficult to predict but the current levels of investment will need positive feedback from the trials.

The challenges

One of the biggest challenges is the possibility of hacking and security breaches given the amount of technology needed to make cars driverless. The public is aware of issues caused by hackers in relation to stealing personal information and cyber crime, not to mention national security and election tampering. But the effect of such breaches is difficult to estimate, as is the effect on the investment needed to bring the dream to life. Another challenge is that the topic absorbs the best brains and resources of technology companies, which detracts from other work in medical research and climate change. For the moment, however, the race to bring driverless cars to market is on and will only be derailed by mishaps from the rounds of tests in relation to safety and security.

So, driverless cars are getting ready to enter the market with the promise of a better driving experience and the reality of gathering vast amounts of our personal information.