Self-driving cars were all the rage a few years ago, with certain manufacturers bragging about how their cars would soon revolutionize car travel and car ownership, through autonomous driving.
Not only would your car take you from A to B without you interfering, you would even be able to run your car as an automatic taxi at night or at other times when you don’t use it, and actually make money from it.
None of that has happened. In fact, what has happened, is that we’ve seen an alarming number of accidents and incidents involving self drive features of cars that are said to be close to self-driving, even if they still require monitoring.
But it can’t be far off now, can it? Actual self-driving cars are waiting for us, just around the corner, right?
No, probably not. In fact the autonomous and self-driving car is probably further off than the enthusiasts would like to think.
Driving is hard
The explanation? Well, driving a car in the real world is damn hard. Especially in cities navigating and driving quickly gets very complex and it will take a very long time to build the software that can master the complexity while still being safe and efficient.
It’s one thing to run down the highway, keeping within the speed limit and not changing lanes at the wrong moment. That’s easy. Still it isn’t apparently as easy as you may think. The accident reports are a clear indication of this as accidents occur and will continue to occur because of basic miscalculations done by the cars’ computers.
In the city it quickly gets worse. Suddenly, keeping in the right lane and avoiding collisions with other vehicles is not enough.
Stumped by the rules
Autonomous cars are programmed to follow the rules and while that works well on the highway it could spell disaster for your car and for the overall traffic situation.
People break rules. Many times they break the rules slightly, for the sake of efficiency and sometimes they break them not so slightly for much the same reasons.
Sometimes, in some cities, you may be driving on something that isn’t, strictly speaking, the road at all. Sometimes you need to signal or even talk to other drivers to make things move along at all.
Would autonomous vehicles be able to do this? Yes, if there were no humans driving and the cars could all communicate, that would probably work out well and be very efficient. However, this is not the situation we’re in today and we won’t be there anytime soon.
The truth is that driving is hard and the computers aren’t ready yet. They’re not even close.