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You gotta love technology. Every solution seems to cause a new problem, which then inspires another solution, which causes yet another problem. I’d conclude that engineers are as skillful as lawyers at perpetuating their own profession, except I don’t want to insult the engineers.
Consider text messaging. It’s a great solution for people too busy to answer email or make phone calls, but it’s yet another distraction for drivers who are too busy to watch the road. Google’s solution? Self-driving cars.
Google has made surprising progress on this difficult challenge. The company’s self-driving cars are frequently seen plying the streets and highways of Silicon Valley and other locales. (California is one of three states to legalize these experiments, as long as the robotic cars have human drivers who can intervene.) Semiconductor companies are eagerly watching this progress, because autonomous autos need more processing horsepower to harness their internal-combustion horsepower. Already, conventional cars have upward of 100 microprocessors supervising everything from engine control to infotainment systems.
Auto industry experts tell me the main obstacles are no longer technical. One roadblock is legal: Who is liable if a self-driving car causes an accident? Another is psychological: Will people familiar with the Blue Screen of Death on their PCs ever entrust their lives to a computer-controlled car?
On the second question, I have two theories. Although young people are usually the early adopters of new technologies, I think the elderly will lead the way this time. As their driving skills fade, they will welcome robotic cars that prolong their mobility and independence.
For everyone else, I predict that private-sector regulation will dictate the adoption curve. When (not if) robotic cars establish a superior safety record, insurance companies will begin hiking premiums for human drivers. Eventually, most of us will be priced out of the driver’s seat.