Cars: The driverless era approaches

The self-driving car craze has shifted into high gear.

The self-driving car craze has shifted into high gear, said Jacob Kastrenakes in Ford last week announced a new research project involving a modified Fusion Hybrid designed to “drive on its own by detecting the world around it.” Equipped with a 360-degree camera and distance sensors, the car creates 3-D maps to navigate on its own, promising “to reduce traffic congestion, correct driving errors, help avoid collisions, and cut down on fuel costs.” Ford’s efforts compete with those of Nissan, Tesla, Audi, and -Mercedes-Benz, among others. “It’s likely still a long way out before any of these manufacturers have a self-driving vehicle on sale, but it’s increasingly clear that automakers recognize the technology as something worth investing in.”

The law is not ready for these cars, said Doug Newcomb in Even though the technology is rapidly advancing, “some of the most decisive decisions—everything from licensing to liability—will come from lawmakers.” Self-driving cars are legal for research purposes in several states, and federal regulators have started to think about them. But the prospect of fully automated cars is just now popping up on the radar screens of legislators, who have to consider everything from safety and insurance issues to whether the rise of automated cars will put old-school mechanics out of work. Will they get “up to speed on self-driving technology” or decide to “slam the brakes”?

I’m not that worried about the safety of these cars, said Bradley Berman in “The margin of error for computers, I believe, is much lower than what results from human fallibility.” But when I consider Google’s driverless car, for instance, “what does bother me is how Google, once it has us in its vehicles, will ‘optimize’ our in-car experiences.” This company and its ilk already collect massive amounts of data about our lives, as do car manufacturers via their GPS and onboard computer systems. Tesla can already update software in its smart cars remotely, and if a French driver of Renault’s new electric car falls behind on payments, “Renault can remotely disable the battery pack, immobilizing the car.” Is that a good thing? We’re entering “an age where all cars can have their core functions and onboard computer data accessed and manipulated by automakers, governments, and hackers.” This new technology may save lives, but we may not be better off when “we relinquish the steering wheel and the routes we take to corporate-owned machines.”

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