Valencia College, Lake Nona Campus

“Introduction to Innovation” – An Editorial on Autonomous Cars

The idea of giving up one’s ability to drive a car is enough to scare 51 percent of United States and United Kingdom consumers, according to a 2011 Accenture study, but for this 51 percent of people, this fear is soon to become a reality.

Although the idea of moving to a fully automated – and possibly steering wheel-less – car seems to be a scary and far-fetched idea, the reality is that these automobiles are much safer and more of a reality then people seem to believe. In fact, Ford recently released a statement saying that, by 2021, they hope to have a fleet of self-driving, Uberlike vehicles on the road.

There are many mind bobbling questions about these vehicles, many of which involve safety. The main argument against the safety of these cars is based on the fact that technology does fail, but it is hard to argue this one point when,once these cars are 100 percent on the road, society is “looking at anywhere from a 95 to 99.99 percent reduction in total fatalities and injuries on the road,” according to Ryan Hagemann, a civil liberties policy analyst at the libertarian advocacy organization Niskanen Center and fellow on robotics at think tank TechFreedom, who specializes in auto robotics and automation. The other argument proving the safety of these cars is that driver error is believed to be the main reason behind over 90 percent of all crashes, meaning that taking away the human aspect will prevent close to all crashes in the future.

The other main argument against these autonomous cars is based on the ethics of possible accidents. In the case of a child running out into the street to chase a ball, would the self-driving car swerve into oncoming traffic, potentially totaling the car and threatening the life of the passengers and possibly others in surrounding cars, or would the car end up running over the child? Or would it know to simply stop? It is still unclear how these cars will react to situations like these, but Hagemann says that these kinds of incidents would be extremely rare and that “most of those circumstances would probably just be resolved by the computer telling the car to brake instead of swerving one way or another.” But even with researchers backing the technology and algorithms in these cars, split-second decisions still pose questions and concerns.

With this obvious technological advancement, the other threat stands to involve hacking. In July of 2015, a report surfaced stating that hackers were able to remotely disable a Jeep Grand Cherokee. If it was so easy to hack these cars, what will stop people from being able to hack autonomous cars, which rely solely on computers? Although the answer to this question is, Yes, politicians are already pushing to improve and regulate technology to assist in preventing these misfortunes. On July 21, 2015, Senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal proposed a bill to help keep computer-enabled autonomous cars from getting hacked. This bill, SPY Car Act, would force car manufacturers to use “reasonable measures” to protect the software. The Federal Trade Commission would also develop a window sticker to rate a car’s vulnerability to such cyber-attacks. These stickers would resemble the ones used to show a cars fuel economy.

Although these “cars of the future” will face many setbacks, the biggest setback will be society. “The quickest way to slam the brakes on innovation is for the public to lose confidence in the safety of new technologies,” President Barack Obama stated.

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