How should we feel about corporate approach to autonomous vehicles?

With 2016 at a close, we have officially entered the last third of this decade! As 2020 creeps around the corner, it leaves us wondering, what tech will boom as we approach the 2020’s? Plenty of what is being worked on now is to set us up for the next decade, and one of the front runners for 2020’s appears to be – *drum roll* – autonomous vehicles!

First, a little background check.

Autonomous cars (driverless cars, self-driving cars, robotic cars) are vehicles with capabilities of sensing its surrounding environment and navigating without any [or little, as is today] human input. Techniques such as GPS, radar, computer vision, lidar, and odometry, can be used in autonomous cars to detect surroundings. This technology utilizes an advanced control system to interpret sensory information to accurately identify navigation paths, obstacles, traffic, etc.

Now, let’s look at corporations working on autonomous vehicles and their approach to making the technology readily available to the public! There are several companies working on autonomous vehicles at the moment, but today we’ll focus on the few making headlines as of late: Tesla, Uber, and Google.

Let’s begin with the leader (at the moment) of the self-driving car wave as they’re already selling their autonomous cars for the public streets, Tesla. You may have heard of Tesla’s fatal self-driving accident this past Summer of 2016. It was heavily covered by the media, created a PR nightmare for Tesla, and pushed Elon Musk to declare that “Tesla is not liable for driverless car crashes unless it’s design related.

Uber has been making noise in the autonomous world in several ways. Most popularly,  Uber’s autonomous car experiment was covered and criticized after an Uber computer-controlled SUV continued to drive through a pedestrian crosswalk about four seconds after the light turned red. Uber defended itself by releasing a statement that the blame fell on humans, two Uber drivers whom have since been suspended, not a computer. Then there was a conflict between the state of California and Uber, as California regulators asked Uber to acquire necessary permits for their autonomous vehicles experiment, in which Uber denied and has since moved to Arizona to begin road tests of their self-driving car service.

And then there’s Google, who as of recent, has made headlines for slowing down progress on their self-driving car projects, and possibly go as far as halting development of their self-driving vehicles. This is almost absurd because, just a few years ago, Google was the innovator and predicted leader to lead the wave of autonomous cars for the public.

From a far eye, Tesla, Uber, and Google appear to have approached the development of autonomous vehicles and services in a rather sloppy, disorganized way. However, given the benefit of doubt, when it comes to grand innovation like this, mistakes are expected since no one else has clearly paved a path yet. Nevertheless, these are cars we’re dealing with, therefore hundreds of thousands of people can be at risk.

Uber’s defiance against California DMV regulators was more of a technicality than disobedience, but it still leaves a sour taste. Tesla’s accidents, although ultimately caused by human error, reveal that autonomous vehicles are not perfect – yet. And, well… Google’s recent moves may display that self-driving cars aren’t ready for a heavy rollout as the tech is not refined yet – sort of like 3D television a few years back.

I can’t say I agree with the way Uber defied California’s DMV, although I understand Uber’s reasoning. Autonomous transportation is a new industry that’s yet to be given a set structure and guidelines, therefore the process of getting to that point (a process we’re currently in) will have its jagged edges before we reach a conclusive way of approaching self-driving vehicles and services. I believe companies should better understand this – and if they do, put more effort – in an attempt to reach a balanced solution both sides can settle on. Not necessarily agree with, but settle on, to continue the progression of autonomous vehicles and the evolution of our cities.

Sure, Uber may have moved states to continue testing and refining their services, but what about when they want to release the service nationwide? The company will face the same or similar problems, therefore by switching locations, they’re simply prolonging an inevitable problem.

As for Tesla, do a simple google search of “Tesla accidents” or “Tesla self-driving problems” and you’ll find several stories on varying incidents. However, what Elon Musk stated isn’t wrong. The Tesla self-driving accidents I have read so far have always included a distracted driver. And Tesla, – every autonomous vehicle company actually – does warn to pay attention to the steering wheel and road when using a vehicle’s self-driving features, because, well, self-driving cars aren’t perfect right now. In a way, the technology is still in ‘beta’ form even after public release.

Eventually, through trials and tribulations, we’ll reach a point where autonomous vehicles can be utilized with little-to-no supervision from the driver. Until then, Corporations need to do a better job of cooperating with City, State, or Federal Law to ensure a smooth transition into a more autonomous society. Now, as for if it’s a good path to pursue all-together is a different topic.

What’s your opinion on the corporate approach to autonomous vehicles?

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