If all the tech sources and newspapers I’ve been reading are right, the self-driving industry is going to explode in a good way. Soon.
I think I’ll stay in the skeptical camp for now for more reasons than one.
Let me begin. First, how much are these things going to cost? I mean, it’s a car (a fancy one no less) and a computer rolled into one. No doubt there will be a wide price range, as at least Apple, Google, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW, Toyota, Volvo and now Honda are in the game to produce an autonomous vehicle. While most of the automakers above boast luxury vehicles (meaning people buying from them will already expect to pay more), how do they expect the use of the car to become more common until the price drops? Or maybe they don’t have a problem just selling to the upper crust. That is for the companies to decide, I guess.
Cost aside, let’s take a look at how they will actually drive themselves. No doubt they will work great in testing areas and even in the wide, straight and spacious roads of Silicon Valley and other test cities, but how about the old cities? As in, cities like London, or Rome, where the streets are cramped and winding and driving is a little difficult. I have no doubt that the tech giants and automakers have something figured out, but it will be interesting to actually see that happen. And how about places where driving is a free-for-all game? I admit, there probably won’t be self-driving vehicles in places like that, but you get my point. For safety reasons, the car might freeze up and just park. Maybe there will be different software for cars in those places, after all, it’s just software. With Apple or Google, you can probably just wait for the next update and voila! The problem is fixed.
But supposing the software didn’t work, and you did get into an accident. Whose fault is it? The car’s? The passenger’s? (You can’t exactly call them drivers, can you?) The company’s? Well, thanks to Volvo, it will be them for them, but not for anyone else in the time being. How can you put blame on a machine? Or do you just assume the guy without the self-driving car was in the wrong? What if they were both self-driving? By the same company? That is something policymakers will have to catch up to in the near future, so I’ll leave that aside.
But the question that keeps me on the skeptic camp is this: are we even solving the right problem? Sure we are, the companies will say. But look at Elon Musk. Look at China. Japan. Singapore. London. They have a different solution, and it seems to work better. And it’s safer.
Yes, its the train. I think it’s much safer, more energy efficient, and much better at connecting the world. The numbers show it. With around 33,000 people killed annually in motor accidents in the US, compared to just 1,000 by trains, it looks like rail is the way to go. And it doesn’t just have to be inside cities, or countries even. Europe is connected wonderfully by rail, which seems to work fine for it, so why can’t America do it too?
I can’t remember my source, so don’t quote me on it, but I heard that America decided on cars over trains due to a political decision. Sounds political-economic to me. In my mind, it looks like cars stimulate the economy more: license costs, petroleum, cars themselves, shipping to move them, factories to churn them out, auto dealers, taxi drivers, mechanics workshops, and the whole works. I wonder how many jobs the automobile created? But that’s just in my mind with no research to back it on. Don’t believe everything you hear on the Internet, they say, especially when the author tells you not to. But it’s just a thought.
Back to trains. Honestly, it’s safer, potentially much faster than cars (Maglev & Elon Musk’s train), and will save time and money. And honestly, it the last three hundred metres from train to office is too much, too bad. Legs are there to move you, not the gas pedal.
Anyway, trains are so much cooler.