Aggressive autonomous expansion: a recipe for disaster
Well, here I am again, ranting about Tesla, following the breaking news of the first autonomous (albeit, semi-autonomous) fatality. This has shaken the ‘self-driving movement’, which will inevitably see authorities call for further testing and development before autonomous vehicles are allowed anywhere near a public road and, in my opinion, rightly so. I may be biased, being dubbed a driving ‘enthusiast’, however I have always felt apprehensive about the aggressive and unpredictable race of autonomous roll-out. Unfortunately, it has taken this tragic loss to finally highlight the sheer magnitude of this issue. The technology sector has a lot to learn from the industry.
According to reports from the NHTSA and Tesla, the Model S was “on a divided highway with Autopilot engaged when a tractor trailer drove across the highway perpendicular to the Model S. Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied. The high ride height of the trailer combined with its positioning across the road and the extremely rare circumstances of the impact caused the Model S to pass under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S.” Now, in this circumstance, you feel that this was a tragedy that could have involved any semi-autonomous vehicle, a freak accident that happened to involve a Tesla. Most importantly however, once the industry stops pointing fingers, this is a major warning to autonomous developers who are rushing their self-driving software in order to capitalise on the new market segment. On the other hand, this fatality signifies a greater need, more than ever, to move forward into fully-autonomous vehicles. We just need to find that balance.
Tesla’s Autopilot was one of the first self-driving softwares made available to the public and it is pretty good, although ‘good’ is not really sufficient is it? The software can stay in its lane on the motorway, keep it’s distance from the vehicle in front and can swerve to avoid another car or object in the risk of a collision. This is a revolutionary innovation, but it is an unproven technology still in the early stages of development, much like any autonomous software seen today. There is no doubt in my mind that autonomous vehicles will eventually eliminate any accidents on the road, though, for now, it needs to be monitored at all times in case the vehicle needs to be taken over in an emergency. The industry must achieve 100% reliable autonomous vehicles; no exceptions.
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