While many of us may have envisioned flying cars and teleportation in the 21st century, the current reality has seen advancements primarily in autopilot and autonomous vehicle technologies. Despite the benefits they offer, several significant drawbacks have emerged, prompting caution.
Last month, California regulators authorized the expansion of autonomous taxi services in San Francisco. However, this approval followed a disruptive event involving 10 autonomous vehicles operated by Cruise, a subsidiary of General Motors. These vehicles suddenly came to a stop on a busy North Beach street, leading to a 15-minute traffic jam. Subsequently, another Cruise vehicle was reported to have entered a construction site and became immobilized in freshly poured concrete. A few days later, another Cruise car collided with a fire truck in the city, resulting in injury to a passenger.
“Clearly the events that occurred in San Francisco should give California regulators pause when it comes to potentially expanding the use of autonomous vehicles,” added firm co-founder Miguel Custodio. “This issue brings a catch-22 situation where the best way autonomous vehicles and autonomous driving will improve is by putting them in real life driving conditions. However, doing so can also put a lot of lives in serious danger. Technology needs to dramatically improve before they’re let out into the wild.”
In response to these incidents, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) requested that General Motors’ Cruise robotaxi business reduce its San Francisco fleet by 50 percent.
“Some human drivers are already a liability behind the wheel, adding robots into the mix could become a recipe for disaster,” Miguel said. In fact, autonomous vehicles have faced significant challenges in recent years. In 2018, the backup driver of an Uber self-driving car that struck and killed a pedestrian was charged with negligent homicide.
Tesla, led by Elon Musk, faces lawsuits due to accidents caused by its Autopilot driver assist software, including a fatal incident involving a teenager in California. Another trial is set to commence in California this week, centering on a case alleging that Tesla’s Autopilot system caused Micah Lee’s Model 3 to suddenly swerve off a highway just east of Los Angeles. The car was traveling at 65 mph when it collided with a palm tree and burst into flames within a matter of seconds. Lee died and his two passengers suffered severe injuries.
Cruise asserts that none of its autonomous vehicles have been linked to any fatalities or life-threatening injuries. Similarly, Waymo, another self-driving car company, reports that its vehicles have not been responsible for any injuries, with only 18 minor contact incidents recorded.
As we navigate this evolving landscape, vigilance, patience and adaptation remain crucial as we travel the road toward a driverless future.