Smart technology has been finding its way into the automotive industry for many years, and by the looks of things, the concept of self-driving vehicles is no longer as far-fetched as it used to be. Several large companies including Tesla and Google are heavily invested in the idea of creating fully-autonomous cars, and Google has already been testing the concept on public roads for quite some time. In fact, Google’s self-driving cars have been around for enough time to have been involved in several, minor car crashes, all of which have been caused by human error as opposed to the autonomous system itself. However, this changed last month when a Google AV (autonomous vehicle) was involved in a crash that wasn’t caused by a human driver, but rather by the AV itself.
The US transport secretary, Anthony Foxx, was recently interviewed by the BBC during the South by Southwest Interactive festival in Austin, Texas, where he announced that seven cities in the US have reached the final step in a competition to obtain government funding for smart technologies, worth $40 million. The list of cities includes Austin, Columbus, Denver, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Portland, and San Francisco. More to the point at hand, during the interview Anthony Foxx also discussed the recent events surrounding the car crash involving the aforementioned Google AV and a bus (image below), adding that the event was “not a surprise”. According to the transport secretary, accidents involving autonomous vehicles are not inevitable. The system is not perfect and the concept of self-driving vehicles should not be compared “against perfection”. They should, however, be compared to regular cars, and statistics show that the number of car crashes caused by human error is very much greater than the number of “fender benders” caused by Google’s system. At one point or another, self-driving cars will be susceptible to errors as well, but generally speaking, the rate of error is much lower in autonomous vehicles than it is when human drivers are involved.
The secretary also admitted that the technology could lead to unemployment of professional drivers, adding that “driverless technology presents a lot of potential for disruption on a number of fronts”. There are also several legal issues that need to be addressed “over the next several months”, such as figuring out whether a passenger in a self-driving car should be liable in the event of a crash, or if the company behind the autonomous driving system should be held responsible instead.