It’s easy to see how much potential self-driving cars have for improving our quality of life. On top of increased safety ratings — human error is responsible for 94 percent of auto crashes — they can free up a lot of time.
For instance, during a long morning commute, you can take a much-needed rest, read up on current events or answer emails from the day before. All this is possible because the vehicle is controlled by a computer, so you don’t need to touch the steering wheel.
Are they really that safe, though? Do we really need self-driving cars? Should we be more concerned with these vehicles than we are?
The issue has come to the forefront thanks to recent news that a Tesla driver was killed in an automobile crash while autopilot was active.
What Happened During the Crash?
The crash occurred on a Central Florida highway when a tractor trailer drove across the road. Due to a brightly lit sky and the height of the trailer, Tesla’s pilot system didn’t identify the oncoming danger and crashed. Worse yet, the vehicle didn’t apply brakes to slow the impact.
Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, says the system didn’t act because it has been programmed to ignore “what looked like an overhead road sign to avoid false braking events.”
Regardless of who’s fault the accident really was, this brings up one extremely crucial point. Should we be more concerned about self-driving vehicles and these so-called blind spots? Much like the blind spot of a human driver on the road, these are circumstances no programming could ever prepare for.
Tesla’s system assessed the trailer and mistook it for a highway road sign, barreling right into danger. What other situations will we see like this with self-driving vehicles?
There’s also the point that self-driving cars will never be tested enough to determine their true safety ratings. We may never know. Perhaps even more worrying is the fact that these vehicles could be hacked by unscrupulous individuals and third parties. As cars become more connected and more aware, they also become more vulnerable.
Cyberattacks Aren’t Just Aimed at Computers Anymore
Imagine sitting inside your vehicle at a stoplight, when all a sudden it accelerates and propels you into oncoming traffic. While sitting at the light, the hacker can access your car’s system through a smartphone or infotainment system. Then, they take control and tragedy ensues.
It sounds like something straight out of a nightmare or science-fiction movie, doesn’t it? Sadly, it’s possible. Hacking suddenly becomes a much more dangerous problem when you’re traveling down the interstate at 70 mph. Just imagine the harm locked brakes, unresponsive controls or triggered restraints can do.
Many modern vehicles are controlled via a central computer. A hacker could gain access to as many as 50 different systems inside a vehicle during a cyberattack.
Of course, there are car manufacturers working to prevent this. Tesla, for instance, offered a $10,000 reward to anyone that could hack their Tesla Model S during a conference it held in China. Skilled entrants were able to honk the car’s horn and flash the lights, but that’s it. Still, imagine if they had more time to learn the cybersystem or search for vulnerabilities. Is it possible they could have gained complete control over the Model S?
This all points to one conclusion: We should be more concerned about self-driving vehicles entering our roadways. Maybe they are not as safe as we’ve been led to believe.