The automotive industry appears to be going through major changes, and at the moment, the main focus remains the idea of self-driving cars and how these vehicles could affect our lifestyle for better or for worse. Autonomous vehicles are said to become commercially available in a few years from now, but not everyone is equally optimistic, and some people are of the opinion that self-driving cars are simply not ready for widespread deployment. Such is the case with Missy Cummings, the director of Duke University’s robotics program, who recently shared her worries about self-driving vehicles to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce.
According to Missy Cummings, fully autonomous vehicles are “absolutely not” ready for mass deployment for a number of reasons. Primarily, although these types of vehicles have proven to be able and handle the streets of California fairly well (at least in the case of Google’s AVs), as yet these types of cars operate in a somewhat controlled environment. However, Missy Cummings says that these vehicles are not capable of handling bad weather, sudden downpours and snow, heavy rain, standing water and so on. Furthermore, autonomous vehicles have yet to be equipped with technologies that would allow them to follow the directions of a police officer.
Cummings also touched on the matter of security and privacy, adding that self-driving vehicles are technically “big data-gathering machines” which could theoretically be hacked. There’s no telling what the data can be used for, and of course, gaining control of an autonomous vehicle remotely could lead to serious problems and malicious acts. On the opposite side of the camp, self-driving car supporters including Google and General Motors told the Senate that the federal rulemaking process and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration simply takes too long to set new standards and regulations in place for new self-driving technologies. By the time the rulemaking process is concluded, newer technologies are developed and thus, the process becomes rather inefficient. As a more detailed example, in March 2014, Google requested to patent a technology that would allow autonomous vehicles to detect school busses. The patent was awarded roughly two years later last week, on the 8th of March, following last month’s car crash involving a Google AV and a bus.