Planes, trains and autonomous cars

Our View // Editorial

Illustration+by+Grace+Reyes+%2719

Illustration by Grace Reyes '19

Editorial Board

We have had two World Wars, multiple economic recessions and 19 presidents of the United States since the first Model T rolled off the assembly line in 1908. But one thing has stayed consistent throughout time: cars have always been operated by a person, never by a computer. With the recent advancements in technology and self-driving cars, the possibility that driving may be a thing of the past is something that shouldn’t be laughed at.

Maybe it’s in the next 20 years.

Maybe five.

According to crainsdetroit.com, a bill has graced Michigan’s Senate and House of Representatives that could allow self-driving cars to be tested without someone present in the vehicle.  We won’t be seeing one of these cars rolling around the Pointes anytime soon; the bill limits the testing to areas surrounding the capitol in Lansing. The bill is waiting on Rick Snyder for it to go into effect.

The reason why this bill is being pushed, according to usnews.com, is to not lose out on research and development of self-driving cars. If the bill doesn’t get passed, companies will test in states such as Arizona, which have less restrictions on autonomous cars.

As of October 2015, the overwhelming titan in the self-driving car market is Tesla. In all three of their cars, Model X, Model S and soon the Model 3, they all feature ‘Autopilot’ mode. According to tesla.com, “Enhanced Autopilot enables Tesla to match speed to traffic conditions, keep within a lane, automatically change lanes without requiring driver input, exit the freeway when your destination is near, self-park when near a parking spot and be summoned to and from your garage.” It’s important to mention that the ‘Autopilot’ isn’t a true self-driving car, it’s classified as a driver assistance feature. The driver is still responsible for remaining in control at all times. As of right now it’s the closest we have on a commercial scale that is available to the public.

We were unable to find an exact number of Tesla crashes that are associated with the ‘Autopilot’ function, but the ones we did find were chalked up to be due to a lack of driver awareness by Tesla.

The evolution of cars driving and turning themselves isn’t anything new. Back in 2003, Toyota introduced the Prius in Japan with the ability to parallel park itself.

Parking isn’t the only thing cars can do by themselves. Nowadays, cars come with a plethora of safety features: blind spot monitoring, lane keep assist, cross traffic alerts and cars that even stop themselves if individuals don’t. With all of these sensors already in place to make sure we don’t swerve out of our lane and making sure we don’t rear-end each other. How far are we from being completely autonomous?

According to businessinsider.com, there will be 10 million cars on the road with self-driving features by 2020. As of right now, all the cars on the market are categorized as semi-autonomous due to the inputs the driver still has to make. Fully-autonomous cars would be defined as cars that do all of the work.

Recode.net hypothesis that in 2030 if the automotive companies only produced autonomous cars there would still be a mix of normal and self driving cars up until 2045 or later. Which is interesting, most of us will have kids in 2050 and some of us will have kids that will begin to drive. So will they learn like us with two or three pedals and a steering wheel? Or with keyboard and a destination search tab? No one really has the answer to these hypothetical questions. We believe that it is a far stretch to believe that cars will drive themselves, safely and securely by the time our kids are driving.

With the explosion of self-driving cars in the near future, the big three in particular are playing catchup to try and corner as much of the market as they can.

Ford has been testing autonomous vehicles for 12 years, according to Harrison Weber from venturebeat.com. The Ford Fusions that Ford currently has outfitted for autonomous driving are extremely cautious. At a four way stop the car doesn’t move for multiple seconds if another car is approaching. Another example is that if a pedestrian is close to the car it will automatically stop.

General Motors (GM) is also investing in autonomous cars. According to wired.com, GM recently bought a San Francisco startup, Cruise Automation, for $600 million to speed along their development.

We believe that just because all of technology is available doesn’t mean that we should put all of our eggs in one basket. The only way we will trust this technology fully is if the companies prove beyond a doubt that it is safe and is impossible to hack. Therefore, as of right now, it is perfect as a driving aid and not something that should be relied on at all times. Just because nothing has happened as of right now doesn’t mean that it won’t ever happen. That isn’t a privilege we can take. Especially when we are dealing with 3,000 pound battering rams.

We think it’s a big step up for automotive companies to incorporate all of these safety improvements, some of them will save many lives. But it still isn’t enough, people are known to abuse powers and we are concerned that individuals will wreak havoc by putting their trust into something that isn’t completely ready yet. Don’t get us wrong we are all for advancements in technology but we are for advancements that are completely stable and safe.