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driverless car

Everybody loves cool technology, at least that much I can say for the few thousand people I have met. More specifically automobile freaks love their cars and they love them when they come nerdy. Many carmakers and automotive technology companies, including Volkswagen-Audi, General Motors, Nissan, Continental and Google are all fighting for a spot at self-driven cars market. Funny enough there isn’t a market for driverless in actual reality. Driverless cars or Autonomous vehicles as you may like to call it , sense their surroundings with such techniques as radar , lidar , GPS, and computer vision . Advanced control systems interpret sensory information to identify appropriate navigation paths, as well as obstacles and relevant signage. From Google’s self driven cars, Volkswagen’s robotic Passat, general motor’s firebird II to the good old RRL ‘s modified 1960 Citroen DS19 classic, everyone one of these cars have one thing in common; a false sense of safety. Driverless cars exist only as prototype and demonstration systems since experiments where first conducted on it on 1920. its been well over 85 years now without any commercially viable models, and the reason is not far fetched; we all suck at making them.
Apple's driverless car
Very soon we might be seeing cars with Apple’s logo navigating autonomously on our road and higways.
Image credit: the drum.com

As if there weren’t enough experimental prototypes to occupy the whole of the atlantic, tech giant Apple Inc are seriously trying to add more prototypes to the dump pile.Last month, the Guardian disclosed that Apple had looked into booking a secure car testing site in California to road-test its autonomous vehicle, codenamed Project Titan. Apple may be good at churning out good iPhones, but I for one seriously doubt their ability to change the status quo of driverless car acceptance and safety concerns.

Safety concerns
driverless car
A driverless Volkswagen Passat on display at Boston university
Image credit:Wikipedia
So much of the enthusiasm for self -driving cars has focused on their potential to reduce accident rates and of course ensure saner highways, but who is fooling who?. Don’t get it twisted, I personally love the concept of autonomous automobile but postulating safety theories and being practically applicable are two aliens from two different worlds. A truly autonomous car is one that can, without any intervention from the “human” occupant, go from point A to point B and perhaps B to A again. Going by these rule, the occupant of an autonomous automobile would have to take a back seat and let the driverless car do the driving calculus.

crashed driverless car
Image credit: Marcin Szala

What happens if the driverless car finds itself in a situation were an accident is innevitible? Humans make split-second judgment calls in accidents everyday, deciding in splits of seconds whether to hit the brakes, take a swerve or just collide might become a herculean task for a robot, no matter how intelligent. Artificial intelligence which is the bedrock of autonomous cars basically work on provided data in form of a knowledge base, if a robotic driver is faced with a situation alien to its knowledge base, then we can only expect the worst.

driverless car on the move
Google’s driverless car on the move…
Image credit: AVG

Hacking threats
Industry specialist have time without number speculate that there will be well over 20 million driverless cars on our roads( a figure which I so strongly dispute), even if these were to be possible by some voodoo magic, it will but only increase the possibility of hacking. Imagine doing a 90km/h and suddenly your presumably safe car is hacked and your robot driver starts taking orders from a remote station manned by a hacker? Imagine your car being diverted to a wrong destination? Imagine been locked in your own car? . The possibilities are endless, and the thing about hackers is that they always have very cool ways of making you suffer. A hacker could even remotely kidnap you or take you hostage, demanding for huge ransoms before being released without even moving a limb!. Talking about making crime easier for criminals, this is a perfect example.

Of course there got to be relevant laws in place, at least in saner climes. Questions like who foots the bills when Mr.robotic driver knocks down a pedestrian or collides with another vehicle? Speed limits ? etcetera may arise. Let’s say we got the issues of accidents and hacking covered, legal pitfalls will almost certainly be abundant and might as well be its greatest limitation. From insurance cover to jurisdiction in different areas,precincts, states and nation which may likely not be uniform, will cause endless legal ddebates and ultimately put the future of driverless cars on hold. A good example is The united States which have made noticeable and significant strides in these sector, yet over the years haven’t been able to put endless legislative debates on this topic to rest. Developing nations will definitely have lots of migraines sorting these out. Even in the US laws covering driverless cars are either too vague or virtually nonexistent.

Price Tag
Creating a car that autonomously moves and navigates through the populated physical world doesn’t come cheap. Nonetheless no body is willing to pay for an overpriced automobile, driverless or not.Velodyne LIDAR system, visual and radar sensors used in driverless cars are estimated to cost about $10,000, and a nearly $200,000 GPS array. Not to mention the cost of the driving computer and software needed for the driverless cars to fully automated. A rough estimate pecks the price at well over $320,000 , that’s more than the price of an exotic Ferrari 599 and can easily fetch 20 fairly high end cars at prevailing market prices. So who are driverless cars really meant for? The extremely rich? Or the middle-class?. All these questions and more must first be answered by driverless cars markers if there is to be a viable Market for autonomous cars at pocket freindly prices.