Accidents involving driverless cars have been repeatedly making headlines for the past few months. Nevertheless, businesses like Apple, Google, Uber, and Lyft continue to invest in the technology.
Frustrated consumers want to know: When will we be able to purchase our own self-driving cars? What is the hold-up?
While most analysts predict that driverless cars will be widely available for purchase by 2020, some speed bumps are keeping self-driving cars from hitting the market. Legislators and car manufacturers must cooperate to determine what needs to be done to ensure that driverless cars are ready to hit the roads. Here are some of the key concerns about safety:
Hacking and Glitches
Like a laptop or a smartphone, a driverless car relies on the internet for information. Also like those devices, a driverless car is susceptible to hacking. There are many ways that automated cars could be exploited by hackers.
Consider, for instance, how ransomware works. Specific data or applications can be locked behind paywalls by fraudsters. Driverless cars can be attacked in the same way. The thought of turning on the car in the morning, only to see a demand for payment on the dashboard might seem like science fiction — but it could happen in our near future.
Even more alarming are the potential problems of wireless carjacking. In an article on Wired, a writer volunteered to participate in an experiment in which two hackers wirelessly interfered with a car he was driving. They were able to change the air conditioning settings, radio station and volume, and the windshield wipers. They were even able to stop the car in its tracks or remotely disable the brakes. Malicious hackers could cause serious harm to property and life with self-driving cars.
Even seemingly trivial actions triggered by hackers could be life threatening. For instance, if a car is remotely started while parked in the garage, carbon monoxide poisoning could be a serious consideration. If any function of a car can be remotely tampered with, consumers should be wary.
In what might be the most legitimate concerns about the emergence of automated cars, critics frequently raise questions about the safety of such vehicles. Is the technology sufficiently advanced to avoid making errors on the road?
Thus far, the answer to that question has been a resounding “no”. A few months ago, Google reported that one of their driverless cars were involved in a major accident — though no one was seriously injured. More recently, driverless taxis in Pittsburgh have been seen driving recklessly. Uber, the first company in the U.S. to pilot a self-driving taxi service, has acknowledged only one incident. Residents contest this, reporting taxis driving the wrong way down one-way streets.
There are several things that can cause an autonomous car to drive erratically. Hypothetically, any automated system would need to anticipate every possible variable in order to work flawlessly. Changes in weather, road conditions, and sudden movements by fellow drivers make flawless automated driving impossible. For example, driverless cars often mistakenly scan potholes as shadows, and will often drive directly over them. Complex inner-city roads and severe weather conditions may also throw curveballs that automated cars are currently incapable of handling.
There are clearly some issues that must be addressed by car manufacturers before driverless cars will be fit for the market. While eager technophiles have been clamoring for self-driving cars for years, it is essential that the cars are safe. If even a few deaths occur as a result of faulty manufacturing, the future of the industry will be at jeopardy. With any luck, these issues will be solved in the years to come.
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