Driverless Cars Are Coming to an Area Near You and You Should Be Worried

State and local governments are starting to permit the testing of driverless cars. This will likely result in accidents and traffic jams.

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Photo: a_crotty / iStockPhoto
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Driverless Vehicle Testing

Many manufacturers are testing driverless cars and other types of autonomous vehicles on our roads. Most of these tests are occurring with a safety operator behind the wheel who is responsible for taking over the steering, braking, and acceleration whenever they detect an unsafe situation. However, we are also starting to see the testing of driverless cars. California has issued permits to four companies for tests of driverless taxis: AutoX (Alibaba), Waymo (Google), Zoox (Amazon), and Cruise (GM). These initial permits are only for a handful of driverless cars operating at relatively low speeds primarily in the Bay Area. You can find a US map of all self-driving vehicle tests (with and without a safety operator behind the wheel) here.

Edge Cases Are A Barrier to Driverless Car Safety

Most of us have encountered unexpected phenomena while driving: A deer darts onto the highway. A flood makes the road difficult or impossible to navigate. A tree falls and blocks the road. The car approaches the scene of a car accident or a construction zone. A boulder falls onto a mountain road. A section of new asphalt has no lines. You notice or suspect black ice. Drivers are fishtailing, trying to get up an icy hill. An elderly driver falls asleep and his car heads right for you (this happened to me). We all have our stories.

Cars Do Not “See” Like People

Another difficulty for driverless cars is that they don’t “see” like people. Object detection systems represent tremendous victories for deep learning and AI; however, they also make surprising mistakes.

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Reprinted with permission of International Press of Boston, Inc.

Should You Be Worried?

Take a look at these videos of a Tesla making mistake after mistake. While Tesla says it has “full self-driving” capabilities, its website makes it clear that its cars are not fully autonomous vehicles: “Autopilot is a hands-on driver assistance system that is intended to be used only with a fully attentive driver. It does not turn a Tesla into a self-driving car nor does it make a car autonomous.”

Author of “Evil Robots, Killer Computers, and Other Myths: The Truth About AI and the Future of Humanity” published Feb 9, 2021 by Fast Company Press.

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