Friday, November 23, 2012

The Robot Cars Are Invading!

I grew up watching the Transformers (as well as the hopelessly inferior GoBots) and so from an early age I have a positive association with robot cars. Night Rider was also part of my ultra-healthy diet of mindless television, which also helped prepare me for the future of automobiles.

Yes, that's right folks, the future of automobiles will be robot cars. Like it or not, states like California are helping usher in a new era in motoring (as my friends across the pond like to say) where the human behind the wheel is not the only one driving the car. 

What baffles me is the massive opposition to robot cars. There are throngs of people who are upset, saying robot cars are dangerous (these people watched the Terminator and the Matrix a little too much), that they take away our freedoms and that robot cars will create the ever-dread "nanny state" I keep hearing about. If you don't believe that robot cars are a hot-button issue, check out this real (I swear it is real) political ad from Florida:

Back in the day windshields were called "not commercially viable" by people who irrationally were fighting any kind of change. Considering how many deaths and serious injuries are caused by car accidents, and how many people who want to do everything but drive when they're behind the wheel, I think the benefits of autonomous cars are immense. How many times have you been in a near car accident that was due to another person talking or texting on their phone, or doing something else that completely distracted them? A robot car would prevent the damage to property and loss of life that comes from car accidents (which are altogether too common). In fact, according to the United States CDC, the number one killer of teens in the US is car accidents! 

Of course, not all autonomous car tech is created equal, so the debate should really be about what is the best way of going about it.Having a system where all the cars are controlled by a central group of servers can be a recipe for disaster, since one glitch could cause thousands of cars to drive out of control, leading to catastrophic car accidents. Instead, tech like Google's self driving cars is far better, since a glitch would only affect one or just some of the cars on the road. 

To those who bristle at the thought of a computer driving a car, since computers won't be as careful, consider that humans have proven to be quite careless behind the wheel. Most of these robot cars will allow drivers to take control at any time, so in the event of a malfunction the human driver can still maintain control. This could also mean that people could drive without using the robot aids, just like how you can turn the traction control system off on your car (and let your tires spin uselessly as a result). The point is people would have the robotic aids, just like how people have backup cameras and other technology that makes driving a car a safer and easier experience.