Owner of BIG TOM Driving School, Tom Ingram considers the fear of the driverless car.
If you find yourself a little anxious at the prospect of driverless cars gracefully floating around our roads then the Sky Atlantic series “Westworld” will be an eye-opener.
In this futuristic, fantasy world with a Western theme, humans pay to enter and engage with robots in a breath-taking variety of experiences. How much the robots are actually controllable is the issue as there seems to be a little gremlin that has entered into their circuitry that appears to be causing behaviour that is not entirely desirable. If you can put aside the obvious limitations on a practical point, like many of the Sky boxsets, it is pretty compulsive viewing.
But the issue it highlights is the often heard concern raised by objectors of driverless cars regarding how reliable the cars will be; how trustworthy will the performance be should there be little gremlins that enter into the internal mechanisms? Could you find yourself stranded in the middle of nowhere due to a software malfunction and how consistently reliable will they actually be in identifying, assessing and responding to objects around them?
There are plenty of recent examples in product failure that gives credence to this concern. The most recent that springs to mind not just for the explosive potential of affecting safety but the sheer numbers involved is the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 which have been literally self-igniting. The cost of the recalls, coupled with the understanding that the replacements still had the same issue will run into billions of dollars such is the magnitude of volume. And there have been recent examples of car manufacturers who have also had to recall vehicles in vast quantities, only to find the “fix” did not actually prevent the error from returning. If the tolerance of some people relating to other human behaviours is rather low at times, it bears no comparison for our tolerance levels of product failure. Customers have no patience with even the smallest glitches that cause minor user experience irritation let alone issues relating to product reliability or safety. We are a society that has great expectations with regards product performance.
The other commonly heard objection for driverless cars is the apparent loss of control or choice that it will inevitably bring to humans. Sitting in a car that travels at a speed not controlled by any of the occupants is not everyone’s idea of a great user experience either. The concept of adapting the timing of our travel or indeed the route taken, in line with the logistical needs determined by a driverless car leave some people feeling quite uneasy. However, we need only compare the amount of smokers or drink drivers these days compared to 30 years ago to appreciate how it is perfectly possible to adapt human behaviours with the passing of time.
Unlike the free-thinking robots of “Westworld” who are seemingly able to adapt their behaviours in uncontrollable ways that are initially hard to detect, currently, it is proving to be a challenge to obtain the required performance levels of driverless cars that will be deemed acceptable with even the detectable flaws. When considering road safety, errors in performance of driverless cars will need to be incredibly low and minor in nature; anything more than that is just for those with their heads in the clouds or should that be “Sky”?
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