Self-Driving Cars: A Discussion

Selina Hsu - 1A Mechatronics Engineering
Posted on: September 26, 2018

Forget about jet packs and flying cars; the future, today, is more drones and self-driving cars.

Google put their first driver-less car on a public road in 2015. It had no steering wheel, no pedals, and was unaccompanied by police. It captivated the public, sparking new questions, new discussions, and new ideas about what the future would look like. Google’s project began back in 2009, making it older than the release of the first iPad (and the formation of One Direction). Sure enough, almost a decade later, autonomous cars in 2018 are a big deal. Waymo (Google), General Motors, Tesla, Ford, Volkswagen, Toyota, Uber—the list of companies interested in autonomous vehicles goes on and on. Tech companies are spilling into the auto industry for the first time, pushing established car companies to keep pace and innovate fast.

The self-driving car has become a popular tech buzzword in recent years. We’re told that the technology is right around the corner and ready to cause massive disruption. We talk about how automation will change our transportation methods, our infrastructure, and eventually the jobs in our society. The ethics behind it has become an especially common topic of discussion; what will happen when the car needs to make a life-or-death decision? What privacy concerns will come along with connectivity? Can automating everything possibly be human-centric design?

There are naturally a lot of opinions against self-driving cars. Or at the very least, arguments against their widespread deployment. Just because the technology is ready doesn’t necessarily mean that people are ready to want or use it. It still feels odd to trust an algorithm to do better than a human driver, even if the data can show us otherwise.

Moreover, encouraging the use of cars for personal commutes just isn’t going to work for future cities. As long as cars are the better option when compared to public transit, people will continue to rely on them more. Electric-powered self-driving cars definitely are going to be more energy efficient, but there’s so much more to long-term sustainability than cutting down on fossil fuels. Self-driving cars will inevitably contribute to traffic and take up more parking space, even if they could someday be a public-use system; it’s impossible for them to be in constant circulation, as they would always be more heavily used during the morning and evening commutes.

At the end of the day, public transit simply moves more people with fewer resources. It also clears up the roads for those who need to use a car for a specific reason. Lowering the number of cars on the road would make transportation better for everyone. Unfortunately, improving public transit usually gets stuck in a feedback loop, where people avoid transit because it isn’t convenient, and so the systems are never encouraged to improve.

The best thing about the future might not have to be the new technology, it might be better, faster, and greener transportation for everyone.

There are no comments yet, add one below.

Leave a Comment