When I was a child I used to dream about autonomous cars but not really in the science fiction manner; probably because I tend to think more in physical space and I was a child. Computers were magic, wifi had not been implemented/introduced, and you take what you have experience with. As we should not laugh at my idea but we should still reflect on it, here is what I was thinking: a mechanism similar to car washes, where the car is locked into place and ferried a distance. There was this thought for large highway drives. Like a train almost but it would have a mechanism to get on an off without stopping. A blending of express lanes and a train. There was also this idea of wireless charging cars on the expressway which has equal amounts fantasy and problems.
Sure, let’s stick with that.
But then the future showed up and technology was opening doorways for people and concepts that we only science fiction mere years before. But beyond that it was changing what our world was. And it continues to do the same today.
But let’s get back to autonomous cars and some nitty gritty details. There are levels of autonomy with different companies working at different spots within the scale.
- System just issues warnings, no control, just to perhaps brake soon
- Shared control between system and driver (adaptive cruise control)
- Car takes full control of driving but driver is meant to maintain full attention
- Driver can divert attention but should be ready to drive
- Self-driving is very rarely supported and only in specific circumstances
- Wikipedia says this is called the wheel optional level, which I think is just a fun marketing blurb in 20 years when I try to buy a new car.
There are a couple companies working within this space with various levels of autonomy and various levels of publicity. And there are even more working here without making a splash in an ever growing pond. Here is a graphic I found about the companies involved.
Ok, so, lots of money, lots of people involved, lots of attention on things. The news has been mixed; the propaganda has been pointed about the downsides of a computer making choices for us (death and all). This blog post could be incredibly long about such concerns and rather than subject you to my ramblings, go read The Oatmeal’s take on things. http://theoatmeal.com/comics/tesla_model_s
Now, let’s get to the meat of why I wanted to bring this up. This technology is looking to be different than any other technology we have had experience with. Now perhaps I’m missing the forest for the trees but this technology needs to be fully functional before it launches. We can’t really do a minimum viable product, he can’t half ass this. It is millions of lives who could be affected. Now I know what you’re thinking, how is this different from when we invented cars or planes? But in those situations, we started from scratch. We didn’t launch fully built 747’s without 60+ years of iteration and improvements. We built pieces and suffered losses and eventually have improved it enough that we can say ubiquitous. Sure they have been testing it and some more publicly than others but that threshold for perfection is not any lower. The requirement to be flawless is ever present and ignoring that for the sake of ‘First’ would only sabotage the entire concept, not that some aren’t trying.
But it isn’t just that we have to be perfect when we launch this, there is another interesting aspect to this. Something that I find interesting and quite frankly the entire reason I wanted to write about this.
We have to be perfect from the get go but then it doesn’t matter.
See, with every car that hits the road the road gets safer for the rest of us without the new technology. It is extremely similar to herd immunity and vaccines until accidents will be accidents and won’t be distracted driving, or poor driving, or any number of human elements.
That blows my mind.
We start with perfect and go from there.
It’s almost like that first date with your soulmate. Almost.
Additional Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autonomous_car#Classification