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Richard Hammond: Reality of Self-Driving Cars – Drive Tribe

The concept of autonomous cars has been floating around for a few years now, and old Top Gear has on more than one occasion brought them up as a topic of discussion. I have always viewed self driving cars with a bit of skepticism, and I know my concerns are not limited to just me. Jeremy has expressed his fears of a “man named Keith” fiddling with his own autonomous car, and now Richard is voicing his concerns as well.

In a recent DriveTribe post, Richard talks about his concerns for self driving vehicles (in this particular case, autonomous air-taxis). In Richard’s words:

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“But what if the bloke or woman who designed the battery terminals had just come in from a three-day bender? What if whoever is in charge of making sure that the legions of un-piloted, four-rotor weird helicopter things don’t bump into each other got dumped the night before and spent the night howling at the moon with a bottle of scotch and a foot long reefer in their quivering fingers? And someone has to fuel it. What if they’re coming down with a nasty flu and put diesel in? They won’t be there to explain themselves and neither will there be a pilot to bring the thing safely to the ground. There are too many variables here.

Things go wrong on rollercoasters, with terrible and heart-rending results. And they’re based on technology from the Victorian era. It only needs one tiny, tiny thing to go wrong somewhere along the infinitely long chain of design, build, service and maintenance events that would be needed to make such a thing work for it to end in an almighty catastrophe that will leave the passenger – an until then entirely smug and self-satisfied business exec buzzing their way to a 4pm in Swindon – screaming helplessly as the Honda plant just outside of town looms scarily large in a helicopter windscreen hideously uncluttered by the comforting presence of a pilot of any sort.”

And there lies my entire fear of autonomous transportation. In the whole of technology, both mechanical and electrical, I have never known of anything that works all the time with no errors. It’s a machine with moving parts; pretty much by definition, one of those moving parts will one day go wrong. Nothing works forever. My car makes a weird sound and I have to fix it. My computer freezes up and I have to run scans and clear my browsing history (joking). My toaster stops working in the middle of cooking a bagel and I have knock it few times and buy another.

Stuff just breaks. It always will. The more complex and the more moving parts you introduce, the more likely something will break down. Sometimes stuff just stops working for no good reason at all; my Mustang has so many electrical systems at work at all times that if I don’t drive it for, say, 2-3 weeks, the battery just dies. Seriously!

I would much rather a human being be control of something when that inevitable breakdown occurs than having a non-responsive Skynet sitting there as I explode into a million pieces. Autonomous vehicles: it’s an idea that will simply never work.

What are your thoughts on autonomous vehicles? Is it something you ever see becoming the norm, or no? Better yet, is it something you ever see even passing safety checks at all? And like Richard said, if it DOES pass safety checks and end up on the road or the sky, would YOU volunteer to ride in it? Let us know in the comments below and on our Facebook Page!

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  1. “Autonomous vehicles: it’s an idea that will simply never work.”

    Aside from all the times it is already working right now? Cruise ships, Airplanes, Trains, and cars… all already autonomous. Robots in factories that actually move about, also autonomous.

    Yeah. We’re actually the worst solution to the problem.

    “But what if the bloke or woman who designed the battery terminals had just come in from a three-day bender?”

    That’s why there are Engineering TEAMS. More than one person works on said Battery terminal, it goes through QA processes, and more. Then there are the hundreds of thousands of hours of testing done on the item. Cars are complex and the same people that are designing the one you drive now (that also contains battery terminals) was designed the same way. Lots of people working together.

    Why not be more afraid that Joe Driving Pants is now driving after just getting off of a three-day bender. That is a far more likely occurrence. Every driver out there has the potential to be Joe The Drunk Moron.

    I look forward to Automated cars becoming the dominant vehicle on the road. The less idiot monkey drivers (humans) on the road the safer and faster it will be. [94% of all automobile accidents are due to DRIVER error. We can fix that by going automated.] So, yes I will gladly ride in them.

  2. I wonder if it is really the case that humans fail less than machines. Maybe we just know that humans are not perfect and are used to the risk. We are not willing to accept that risk from machines if our survival depends on it. Or we think we can estimate it more if it’s not a machine which can fail without any warning. But so do humans. It follows that a backup plan is always a must. I think the best backup is at least a human beeing. Which is us ourselves if it comes to less complex issues. As long as we can interact ourselve if it comes to trouble (e.g. taxidriver falls asleep…), we may feel kind of safe. And if we can’t do anything ourselves we start worrying (e.g. fear of flying). But nevertheless there are other people as a backup (co-pilot). So we need people additional to machines. At least for backup. There you have my answer. No idea where that came from. Started writing without any clear opinion. Cheers. Great website!

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