Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Driverless cars deadly until perfected

As existing technology advances, we continue to creep closer to the seemingly inevitable future of driverless vehicles.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto has given Uber the green light to use the city as a testing ground for autonomous vehicles. Along with Peduto, President Obama has also expressed approval of autonomous cars.

“Safer, more accessible driving. Less congested, less polluted roads. That’s what harnessing technology for good can look like,” Obama said. “But we have to get it right. Americans deserve to know they’ll be safe today even as we develop and deploy the technologies of tomorrow.”

Although self-driving vehicles may significantly reduce car crash fatalities, they also present a potential danger for users.

Tesla already has an autopilot mode available that continues to be patched for improvement. The technology, which is still in its early stages, notifies users that it’s an assist feature that requires two hands on the steering wheel at all times. In May, a Tesla driver died while using the vehicle’s autopilot feature. The program failed to detect a white 18-wheel tractor-trailer crossing a highway due to a brightly lit sky. Afterward, it was discovered that a movie had been playing during the accident which the driver may have been watching.

An autopilot feature that still needs improvement shouldn’t be available to the public. The feature leads drivers to believe they don’t have to worry about the road. In actuality, drivers must watch attentively, with both hands on the wheel and be prepared to regain control if the system fails.

Companies, such as ones that deal with computer systems, release patches for their programs, which are pieces of software designed to update how they operate. Technology in the hands of consumers that is continually patched is nothing new. When Apple releases system updates for their products, users can choose whether to download them. These patches are often minor and include design and layout changes. Apple’s latest upgrade, iOS 10, allows users to send messages with effects that activate when receivers open a message. You can receive a message that has confetti falling from the top of your screen or fireworks bursting. Apple patches are primarily for user convenience and enjoyment. An Apple patch determining life or death is highly doubtful.

A Tesla patch determining whether a user lives is reality. Tesla released a system update in response to the user’s death in May in order to prevent a similar incident. Since the May incident, there has been only one reported death related to Tesla’s autopilot feature, which occurred in China in September.

Our need for safer transportation doesn’t mean unperfected technology should be prematurely released to the public. There’s clearly still more work and testing to be done. Let’s not rush into the future. System flaws in driverless vehicles are fair reason for concern among today’s drivers.

However, auto-mobile related fatalities occur much too frequently not to pursue this alternative. For now, the technology may not present the laid-back luxury consumers desire, but it has the potential to save thousands of lives over a relatively short period of time. Until steering wheels are done away with, the future remains in our hands.

Email Steve Levy at cp@cardinalpointsonline.com

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