I still believe that Driverless Cars / Autonomous Vehicles are quite certainly the biggest development since the invention of the very first car itself. We can believe in the future of Self driving vehicles or not – But we certainly cannot ignore them.
However, the Driverless vehicle industry may be moving on, but it is certainly much slower than many predicted for this stage. It is most definitely a work in progress and the end goal, of level 5 Autonomous driving, is not yet in sight, for many. Predictions from various well known pundits from the Automotive industry, did think otherwise about earlier timescales, but that has turned out to be “slightly” inaccurate. This was either due to wishful thinking, but more likely an underestimation, of the sheer work involved to get a car to “safely” drive by itself, whilst interacting with other cars, vehicles, human beings and infrastructure.
Sadly, the safety factor has indeed made an impact and there have been some tragic incidents in 2018, which have rightly caused many of the key autonomous vehicle organisations to pause for a period of reflection and to rethink their future strategy. The accidents included an Uber vehicle, killing a pedestrian in Arizona and the death of a Californian Tesla Model X driver, whilst in Autopilot mode.
Following these tragedies and other incidents and injuries, the inevitable questions concerning the safety of self-driving vehicles, were again, quite naturally raised to a high level. One thing that emerged from a report, were the concerns about a perceived rush to release driverless technology to the market too soon. Could it have been the case that commercial pressures on Autonomous vehicle technology development, were influencing a hasty and insecure route to market? We have certainly seen a slowdown of public road testing by various players, including Toyota, Nutonomy and Uber.
However, it is notable that Waymo indicated no such slowing down – rather it seems they are proceeding full steam ahead, with a total faith in the safety of their own technology. They have even started a paid Ride hailing service in Phoenix, with an eventual plan for a fleet of 65,000 autonomous vehicles just for Arizona.
Frankly speaking, given the paramount need for safety above all other considerations, I am certainly in no rush to see the transition to full level 5 autonomy on our roads. I do firmly believe however that Driverless cars can be beneficial and despite the inevitable accidents, these will be far less with autonomous driving, than we currently witness due to human error.
But to me, it is apparent that we need a far greater understanding of the current and emerging technologies. Something that only time can bring to this process.
Maybe full scale Self driving vehicle technology is only a case of “not if, but when”, but let us not rush the “when“.