Is the Reality of Self-Driving Cars Safe ... Yet?
Who is driving safety checks and regulations as auto companies rush to deliver the latest vehicle innovations?
I’m an unashamed “stick-shift”, petrol-head kind of guy, so the idea of driverless cars and taxis makes me scoff. But I’ve got to admit, after musing on the impending arrival of Uber’s first self-driving fleet in Pittsburg, I’m considering ditching the socket set and trading in the turbo.
It’s Going to be a Bumpy Ride
Well maybe not just yet. But even for a skeptic like me this pace of innovation is kind of mind blowing. Like MobileEye and Delphi aiming to bring self-driving cars to market as early and 2019, or Ford’s vision of—wait for it—shipping self-driving cars without steering wheels, brake or gas pedals by 2021. Better add my driving gloves to the trade-in list.
“Driverless systems are being fueled by agile development and DevOps capabilities—only on high-octane gas.”
— Peter Waterhouse, Senior Strategist, CA Technologies
But all joking aside, it’s pretty obvious that technology and software innovations are driving a driverless world. For Pittsburg Ubers, that’s dozens of sensors using cameras, lasers, radar and GPS receivers, but in a broader sense, it will involve processing millions of data miles to constantly improve self-driving systems.
Driverless systems are being fueled by agile development and DevOps capabilities—only on high-octane gas. With so much processing needed to detect, classify and predict data from software-infused altimeters, gyroscopes, GPS systems, tachymeters—(it’s a long list), there’ll be dizzying rates of software releases. Think 1000s of updates per second, across millions of cars … globally.
The Fast and the Furious
As we iterate away our drivers, what if the end result becomes, well, an automated version of a drunk-driver? What if the four-wheeled, blended physical-digital wonder has a buggy autopilot system that’s a little shaky on highways? What if an OEM manufacturer of a critical motion-sensor and prediction subsystem has placed patching critical OS security flaws on the backseat—driverless road rage, anyone? Or what if some ‘clever’ designer decides to split-test a hurried but buggy braking function—using school drop-off times as the testing window?
Color me cynical, but whenever there’s a buck to be made innovation follows. With driverless taxis it’s obvious; take away the driver and you remove the biggest cost. And with competition increasing and margins eroding, it’ll be economic reality that accelerates driverless car adoption—so fast that legislation and safety concerns could be neglected.
But with software-driven systems increasingly interacting with reality—at every busy intersection, on every bridge, at every school crossing—fast iteration has to be coupled with a safe and secure experience. Until then, and like the passenger in Total Recall, we might prefer to take the controls.