Automated Vehicles: Technology of Tomorrow or Dreams of the Future?

Compared to the general population I seem to be much more skeptical when it comes to automated vehicles. The initial ideas of automated vehicles spark the imagination and seem to be the path to the future but upon a second look, the future of automated vehicles reveals a struggle that may never end.

Experts constantly throw out numbers on how long we should wait before we expect automated vehicles. Even Erick Guerra in Cities, Automation, and the Self-Parking Elephant in the Room states, “Nevertheless, fully self-driving vehicles that can operate under most road conditions are likely to be commercially available and driving themselves in the next 5 to 20 years.” (Guerra 2). But where do these numbers come from? What specifically will be improved in 5-20 years that we can actually trust this claim? Because once you start listing out what still needs to be done on automated vehicles you will find we will be waiting much longer. Such questions can include:

  • How long, if ever, until AI in vehicles are competent enough to analyze the randomness of everyday life?
  • If it can, then who is willing to create a program that will solve the ethicality of situations like “The Trolley Problem”? (Example: The car knows it’s either going to hit two adult pedestrians or can swerve to hit a child. Those are its only options. Which will it choose?)
  • When situations such as “The Trolly Problem” happen who will be responsible? Who is liable? How will this affect insurance and other social industries?
  • What kind of network system will automated vehicles run on? How will we consolidate the 10 or so different companies creating automated vehicle technology into one network?
  • Will the network be regulated by the private sector or the public sector? How will the public react to their privacy being recorded by the system? (ie when and where they are going at all times)

These are only some of the many problems Automated Vehicles create not to mention the many questions Guerra mentioned in his paper or the more logistical impact automated vehicles will have on cities and transportation.

In my own personal imagination, I believe the best implementation is the use of automated vehicles as a form of public transportation especially in areas of the US which were created post-Ford model T and as a result lack efficiency in the traditional public transport systems. I believe the best situation for automated vehicles would be in their own new form of infrastructure (such as underground tunnels built from scratch designed for maximum efficiency for automated vehicles) built by the private industry (because that’s the only place we’re going to get enough money for such a big project) to create an automated version of lift or uber in a safe, specialized environment. But even this has its own questions:

  • If we are assuming that automated vehicles will never be safe enough to traverse complicated city streets how will the zero-occupancy vehicle get to your house?
  • If you have to travel to an automated vehicles station, does that defeat the purpose of using it in the first place (this is not efficient in the high suburban areas where we would want to use this as the new public transport)?  
  • If it’s controlled by the private sector will this become another form of class stratification by possibly excluding lower-income people (people who need public transport) through high prices and turn it into a highway for the rich?

And so many other problems and questions…

In the end, we might never make it to fully automated vehicles, but we shouldn’t allow us to stop trying. Even if what we innovate might not be used for driverless cars, our ideas and imagination will definitely continue to impact our lives for the greater.

For a more positive outlook on the impact of automated vehicles check out this CP Grey video:


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