Self-Driving Cars – Complex and Costly for Consumers?
George Jetson had his flying car, and Marty Fly rode in the DeLorean time machine. Tesla promised fully functional self-driving cars by 2017. But, consumers – and manufacturers - are still waiting for the dream self-driving car that we were all going to be operating in Windsor years ago. So, what went wrong on the road to autonomy?
Science Doesn’t Always Move at Warp Speed
It’s all well and good to predict what invention will succeed when. But, science doesn’t always cooperate. And the road to autonomous vehicles has been paved with scientific problems. Sometimes, the technology was too sensitive, responding to the wrong environmental stimuli like overreacting to weather.
Some cars at Level 5 automation will be able to do anything any human driver can do. In Level 4, however, the system fully controls the vehicle, but only under specific conditions called the operation driving domain (ODD). Level 4 cars are usually geographically limited and do not match any current US driving patterns. It might be great if you only drive in Windsor, but that doesn’t fit many of us.
GPS Is Great But . . .
Maps for autonomous vehicles are still in development. While one company claims they are only “inches” away, others say that complex problems such as the development of high-definition mapping are still in the future. Drivers can self-correct if they don’t know where they’re going. A self-driving car has to have maps that cover every factor in the environment to operate safely. As with all new tech, these systems will add to the cost of an autonomous vehicle.
Driving Is a Complex Multiplayer Game
Much of what we learn when we learn to drive is anticipating and responding to what other drivers on the road are doing. Some of this is by learning rules – who goes when at a four-way stop; what’s the yield pattern in a roundabout. Other issues arise out of our personalities. Some are invariably polite drivers, while others are more aggressive or demanding. A self-driving car needs that socially complex thought process to work with other vehicles. Not only that, but there will be pedestrians and other living beings on the road to which the vehicle must be able to respond. Developing this incredibly high-level thinking in a robot is not yet available and, when it is, will likely be expensive.
Hacking Your Car Instead of Your Phone
Many of us have been hacked at least once. Our friends may be suddenly getting friend requests on Facebook. Sometimes, we’ve had a financial account hacked and faced a not insignificant financial loss. Now imagine a hacker steals your self-driving car. Or, even worse, imagine a group of hackers playing a wild multiplayer game with many self-driving vehicles on the highway. Cybersecurity will be essential for self-driving cars and will be expensive.
So What Will It Cost You?
The actual cost will depend on how the autonomous or self-driving vehicle is defined. Today, most operate on a laser mapping technology that is currently very expensive but expected to go down in price rapidly. Tesla and others are working on alternatives to this system, but the results thus far are controversial and still not cheap. Between mapping, complex thinking, and cybersecurity, self-driving vehicles certainly won’t be inexpensive in the near term.