Can Technology Fix Our Driving?
The arguments for self-driving cars are pretty clear-cut; computers are better drivers than humans (it’s hoped), fewer accidents will be caused by distraction, tiredness and inexperience, people will have free time to work, sleep, play and eat during their journeys. Some experts even claim that better and more efficient computer driving will lower congestion on our roads and reduce their impact on the environment – win win, surely.
In fact, still years away from the full release of driverless cars, the benefits of driver-assisting technology are already plain to see. Many modern cars now roll off the production line fitted with more gadgets and computing power than the average home, and the statistics show that it’s already saving lives.
It might be too early to prove conclusively, after all the tech has only been commonplace in our vehicles for the last few years, but collision avoidance, collision warning, and automatic braking systems, the three most common technologies in use, do save lives.
All three most common systems work on similar principles – using radar, lasers or cameras, or sometimes a combination of the three, to detect imminent crashes, alert the driver and then slow or stop the vehicle. Back in 2013, CNN reported that many collision avoidance systems were failing in basic tests, and many did a poor job of reacting to impending collisions – but despite that early falter, the technology has only become more prevalent over the years.
Plenty of other tech has become commonplace too, all designed to make motoring a little safer and hassle-free. Lane detection, blind-spot monitoring and self-turning lights have all played their part in the ongoing reduction of road accidents, whilst things like self-parking and cruise control have been making driving a little easier for years now.
Over the decades, technology has become one of the major selling points of cars, whether for safety or fun. Utilising the latest tech can add thousands of pounds to a vehicle’s price tag, and can mean all the difference when undergoing safety rating – so to many it only makes sense that driverless cars, a combination of all the available tech, should be a good thing for us all.
With so many potential positives, it’s hard to believe that anyone would be against the idea of a self-driving car. But the more you dig into the negatives, the harder it is to come down clearly on either side of the argument.
Would you own a driverless car?
A survey done by Adrian Flux recently revealed that more than 70% of people think they might never own a driverless car. Just over five per cent of the motorists asked said that they would embrace the new tech when it finally rolls out, with 24% undecided.
You can find out the rest of the results by visiting the post on our driverless cars blog.
What's stopping you?
Do you trust your car?
Perhaps the most commonly predicted problem with self-driving cars is one of trust. ‘Man versus machine’ has been a common theme in books and film for decades now, from Terminator’s Skynet to Asimov’s I, Robot, but what threat do driverless cars really pose?
Even in a digital, technology-packed world, there remains a great number of us who don’t trust even the most commonplace of technologies – from internet banking to aeroplanes – so how likely is it that people will be willing to put their lives in the hands of a first-generation driverless car?
If the most secure parts of the internet are not safe from hackers – how can we know that our cars will be safe? Many manually-operated cars (we’re going to have to come up with a name for those eventually, aren’t we…?) are already connected to the internet, and several have fallen foul of hackers in a series of high-profile cases.
Most recently, a Jeep Cherokee had various security flaws unveiled by hackers in a stunt for wired.com. From 10 miles away, hackers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek demonstrated how they could wirelessly disable the car’s transmission and brakes, adjust the radio and windscreen wipers, and even track the location of the vehicle.
Other vehicles have been similarly hacked, and in almost all cases it is an in-car entertainment system that serves as the car’s Achilles’ heel. Many modern vehicles come fully equipped with sound systems, Bluetooth, GPS, and, as in the Cherokee’s case, a Wi-Fi hotspot. It was through this hotspot that Miller and Valasek managed to hack the Jeep remotely, having learned the car’s IP address, and this one tiny chink in the armour has Jeep and others recalling thousands of cars worldwide.
It seems that even non-internet-enabled cars can be vulnerable to hacking too. Researchers from the University of California recently discovered that it was possible to hack into any car using a dongle plugged into the vehicle’s OBD slot. The dongle used was provided by an American insurance company, designed to track location and speed, similar to the ones used by haulage and freight fleets.
Simply by sending a couple of coded SMS messages to the GPS dongle, the researchers were able to take over control of several of the car’s systems, including, most worryingly, the brakes. While the dongle’s software has already been patched to remove the vulnerability, the relative ease with which it was hacked raises some serious questions about old technology – are things designed before the age of hacking robust enough to stand up to modern threats?
A tour of the Mercedes driverless concept
Legislation is currently being drafted in the US to require all vehicles to provide adequate protection from hackers, but many people have acknowledged the reality that cyber security is only going to be harder-fought in the future – and some have their doubts about driverless cars ever being truly hack-proof.
Hacking and the prospect of malfunctions and bugs are major sticking points for those untrusting of technology – and it seems entirely possible that just one or two high-profile crashes could have us all turning our backs on the promise of self-driving cars.
The Price of Progress
There are two main visions for the future of driverless cars: that current cars will be slowly superseded until we all own new self-driving models, or that private car ownership eventually ends completely, with cars being housed in central depots to be sent out to us like taxis when needed.
Both of these scenarios raise issues with car ownership, and potentially herald big changes in the motor industry.
Firstly, the legality of car ownership and driving in the future is something of a grey area, and many more questions have been raised than we have answers to. If a car drives itself, do you need a driving licence? If a car crashes itself, who is at fault? Will we need car insurance in the future, or will vehicle manufacturers bear that burden?
Recently, some big name manufacturers have clarified their position on liability, with Google, Mercedes and Volvo all coming out to say that if their driverless technology fails, they will take responsibility. It’s no surprise that it has taken years to reach a point where any one company has felt the need to clear up this question – after all, as anyone will tell you, one of the first rules of a car accident is ‘don’t admit fault’.
But, throwing legal caution to the wind, all three manufacturers have said that they will accept full responsibility for an accident caused by one of their cars whilst it is in autonomous mode. Volvo went a little further too, saying that they regarded car hacking as a criminal offence – something which will undoubtedly be enshrined in law before too long too (if it isn’t already).
Six Failed Motoring Technologies
Introduced in 2002 amid bold promises of transportation revolution, their prohibitive cost and ridiculous looks meant that Segways were quickly relegated to use by American mall cops, and as Hollywood comedy props.
Think KITT from Knight Rider, only less cool, less advanced and frankly a little irritating. Limited by 80s technology, a miniature record and turntable played alerts including “doors are open” and “lights are on” – novel, but instantly annoying.
Though not automatic in the modern sense, the 80s and 90s brought seatbelts attached to pulleys on car doors that would buckle around you as they shut. Not only did you risk an oily mess from the mechanism, but also, as this video shows, the occasional strangling – good riddance!
Dreamt up by the fevered minds at Chrysler in the early 60s, it’s a shame that turbine engines for cars never took off. Sure they were loud, but the engines were notoriously reliable and could be fueled by anything from petrol to kerosene, jet fuel to tequila – as the President of Mexico once famously demonstrated.
With a meagre 20-mile range, 15mph top speed, plus no protection from the elements or other road users, it’s not hard to see why the C5 became one of the biggest tech flops in decades when it launched in 1985. Having acquired cult status over the years, the tiny electric tricycle can go for decent money these days, but, unless you’re setting up your own motoring museum, you’re best steering well clear.
Frankly, if any of these failed inventions deserved to succeed, it’s fifth-wheel parking. By dropping a fifth wheel down from the rear axle, a car can spin round on its front wheels, making parking a doddle. Check out this 1950s promotional advert from its inventors, Cadillac