Are autonomous cars just hype? Or is there hope?
Each year, industry analyst firm Gartner publishes the latest version of its emerging technology ‘hype cycle’. Gartner’s contention is that all new technology goes through much the same path to becoming an accepted and useful part of people’s lives.
First of all, hype builds up around a new tech as it starts to enter people’s awareness, rising to a peak. Then it quickly slips down the other side of this peak into the romantically named ‘trough of disillusionment’, as people realise the new technology probably won’t deliver everything the hype-merchants said it would, or at least, not as quickly as they said. Gradually, as the technology evolves and people readjust their expectations, it comes out the other side, an everyday, accepted part of the world.
All of this is interesting to us because the latest Gartner hype cycle places autonomous cars and the Internet of Things at the peak of over-exaggerated expectations.
Atmel reports: “While autonomous vehicles are still embryonic, this movement represents a significant advancement, with all major automotive companies putting autonomous vehicles on their near-term roadmaps.”
However much or little hype there is around new vehicles, there’s no denying that cars are going to change a lot over coming years.
Analyst Benedict Evans provides notes on three changes he thinks will be particularly important. More electrically powered cars will make it easier for new players to enter the auto market, he believes, since this will lead to more modularity. First-time carmakers could simply order a bunch of parts and then put them together in a box, much as PC-makers now do.
Second, he thinks the trend towards ‘on-demand’ services will change the car market, leading to large fleets temporarily hired by drivers who have realised that owning a vehicle is no longer a necessity.
The third change is autonomous vehicles, which in some ways, are a natural fit for the idea of on-demand, short-term rental fleets. Have a read of Evans’ blog post and see what you think.
Doubtless, to survive the ‘trough of disillusionment’, autonomous vehicle manufacturers will have to come up with good answers to a bunch of hard questions.
One of the main ones is ‘How will such cars be programmed to handle ethical decisions?’ For example, drivers sometimes face a scenario where they have to choose between endangering others or suffering harm to themselves e.g. they decide to swerve into another lane to avoid a dangerous obstruction in their own. How would or should a computer value the lives of their passengers versus those of other road users?
Stanford’s Ian Chipman offers some insights into this and other moral dilemmas on the road ahead.
Civil liberties are also a consideration. Should the police have the power to remotely deactivate your autonomous vehicle, for example? Or scan it for information about its passengers? Slate considers the issues.
One sector that’s certainly following the progress towards autonomous cars very carefully is the insurance industry. Questions here are about liability if they are involved in an accident, the economic impact on the industry of a projected 80 per cent fewer accidents and the mass adoption of short-term rentals instead of ownership. KPMG has published an in-depth report on the implications.
Once we’ve got answers to all those questions, then maybe it’s time to look at the psychology. Will drivers actually feel comfortable with their hands off the wheel? Will they trust their automated pilots to do a competent job? Fortunately, HERE vice president of connected driving, Ogi Redzic is on hand with the answers in this interview for Automotive News.
What questions do you have left for the future of autonomous vehicles?
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