Why you should be scared of driverless cars

Almost all the major car makers are working to cut down the role of the stupid human in some way or the other. While I am a fan of technology, I am a bit skeptical about this one. It is all good as long as the manufacturers are testing these vehicles on tracks and closed roads, but it will get a bit weird when you don’t see a driver in the car next to you. Various US states have already allowed the testing of these autonomous cars on public roads and other countries are considering the same.

google driverless cars
Google’s attempt at making a driverless car (By Driving_Google_Self-Driving_Car.jpg: Steve Jurvetson derivative work: Mariordo [CC BY 2.0])
Japan has set up a research partnership to release fully autonomous public transport very soon. Singapore has got similar plans. Public testing of autonomous cars is beginning in UK and we will soon see Volvo testing their tech laden driverless cars on Swedish roads.

Essentially the whole automobile industry has gone mental behind driverless cars. And it is not just the automobile brands. The tech giant from Cupertino, Apple is also trying hands on making a car now. A lot of things wrong with it but as I already hear a lot of swear words from Apple fans, I will skip the jokes.

Brands like Volvo, Mercedes, BMW and VW make semi-automatic cars already. Even with an idiot behind the wheel, they can pretty much keep the occupants and pedestrians safe. Putting such idiots away from the controls is the only reason not to hate these vehicles. Otherwise I have got a list.

1.     The Chinese will try to make one

If you are making something, the Chinese people will make the same thing, exactly like your thing, with extra features and a lower price tag. Fake iPhones, fake BMWs, fake Range Rovers, that is a Chinese thing. Once the driverless cars arrive, it won’t be long before someone in China wakes up one morning with a plan to do the same. I am sure we all know how that is going to end.

2.     The world is full of DIY fans

It is not just in our country that people make sure a minor issue turns into a disaster before seeking professional help. People are lazy and they delay maintenance. On top of that, people try to fix things after taking lessons over YouTube. There will be a day when someone will think, ‘I think I can fix my driverless car myself’ and there goes the reliability down the drain.

3.     No steering

I was terrified when I experienced the automatic parking feature in VW Passat for the very first time. Things didn’t get better even after a dozen tries. Now imagine being driven on a highway with no controls for you to tinker with. Forget reading a book, people will chew their fingers out.

And yes, no handbrake turns. If you are a Jeremy Clarkson fan, you know what that means.

4.     Sensors get you in trouble

Automatic headlamps sound so good in theory but they never light up until you are halfway through a tunnel. Rain sensing wipers scrape your windscreen off even in light rain and decide against working even in heavy rains. Adaptive cruise control goes ballistic in rains and often scares you enough before slowing the car down if an idiot decides to enter your lane.

All these technologies have been around for decades and still don’t work well. The driverless cars will rely on some of the sensors used in these technologies only. How exactly will they work in a better way in that case? If there are better sensors available, why do I still have to manually turn on headlamps while entering a tunnel?

5.     Hackers are curious

Did you read how some hackers showcased that they can take over the steering and brakes of many cars using a laptop? With the dependency on computers and all those chips, they are even more vulnerable. Imagine what your Google powered car would do when the ‘IT security consultants’ decide to have some fun.

6.     Manufacturers screw up

Some say that modern cars are more reliable. Well to some extent yes but then according to the book, more components reduce the reliability of a system. Engineers can make mistakes and their mistakes are often taken care of by recalls. At times, couple of people die, some cars burn, some kids are locked inside. Just saying. Not drawing any inference here.

Well I don’t know when the transition will start but I am very sure our cars aren’t going away anywhere soon. Even if the crazy cars come sooner than expected, it will be long before our government will manage to provide an infrastructure for them.

Update- So the Chinese are doing it after all. Came across this link Baidu to launch driverless car later this year

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