The self-driving car — it’s the new buzz word in the automotive industry, poised to revolutionize everything from ridesharing to conference calls to the commercial shipping industry. But are we getting a little carried away? Have we considered the potential drawbacks of self-driving cars?

The idea of self-driving cars is wonderful. You get in, perhaps utter a voice command, and the car whisks you away to work, practice, a date — wherever. That reality is a long way off though, and we’ve got quite a few hoops to jump through before we get there. Before we relieve our hands from their place at ten and two, shouldn’t we ask what the critics are saying?

Security and Privacy

This is one of the biggest challenges in bringing self-driving cars to America’s highways. While the idea of never looking at directions again sounds luxurious, it takes powerful network technology to direct traffic across the country or even the globe.

As we’ve seen in recent years, computer systems are vulnerable. The never-ending stream of breaches and cyber-attacks is only going to get worse as network technology and cybercrime become more commonplace. An overarching network is required to realize self-driving cars, but it could also represent a threat.

Such a network would allow all cars to communicate with one-another, but it would also require regulation from law enforcement. Should a car be stolen, the government would need a way to shut it down, and should a car be hacked into it could potentially cause a major accident, hold you hostage, or even divulge your personal info.

Keeping your car from being weaponized or used against you could be the greatest challenge of the self-driving era. This is a big part of the reason it will be an evolutionary process, not an overnight switch to self-driving cars.

Standards and Regulations

Here is one place self-driving cars have a chance to shine. Regulating the actions of a conscious human being can be difficult. Controlling the actions of an autonomous car should be relatively straightforward.

Take the trucking industry for example. Truckers are required to follow certain protocol and keep detailed logs, and in many cases, have an obligation to use computerized technology to do so. There are, however, holdouts among the crowd and depending on the state. Some truckers are still driving long hours on the honors system.

Self-driving technology could change all that and get your things delivered quicker. Although the price is that hundreds of thousands forfeit their jobs.

Cost

Right now we have cars that say they can park themselves. Not all of them can, and for a good one, you’re going to have to shell out. You can imagine, then, what it will cost for a car that can do the whole nine. The first fully automated cars will not be cheap, though prices may come down in the future.

Maintenance

Updating software in self-driving cars will become just as critical as having your running gear intact. That means that mechanics will need to become computer technicians too and that could lead to an increase in the cost of the average service.

Conversely, it’s possible that you could see new features introduce wirelessly while you’re driving. How cool would it be to download an updated while you’re on the road and immediately resolve an issue with your climate control or window switch? It’s possible.

Fun

People like driving. Not everyone, but those who do take it seriously, and not everyone is eager to give it up. For self-driving cars to realize their full potential, no human can drive on the road. The safety benefits of the system only come when our meat-bag emotions can no longer cause 20-car pileups and burn through fuel egregiously.

In the future, any car that has a steering wheel and pedals may be considered a “classic.” Going driving will be a pastime that only former gearheads will indulge in and sports cars will become obsolete, unable to stretch their legs in the crowded hive-mind freeways. Self-driving cars aren’t here to have fun, but maybe down the road, we’ll get “fun mode.”

Despite the efforts of Google, Tesla, Uber, Apple and more, we still have a long way to go before we realize the birth of self-driving cars. Promising as they are, a few of the drawbacks are going to require some real thinking before we can confidently deploy this new technology on American roads.

Photo: Driving_Google_Self-Driving_Car.jpg: Steve Jurvetson derivative work: Mariordo [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Kate Harveston
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