By Owen Corrigan
Self-driving cars are the future of the automobile, right? Well, maybe.
A few weeks ago, though, Ford Motor Company invested one billion dollars in Argo Al, a startup focused on developing self-driving automobile technology and artificial intelligence.
This investment was made as part of Ford’s goal to develop a fully self-driving car by 2021, a big step for one of the leading members of America’s automotive big three (Ford, General Motors and FCA US/Chrysler). Ford’s CEO Mark Fields even stated that, “the next decade will be defined by the automation of the automobile, and autonomous vehicles will have as significant an impact on society as Ford’s moving assembly line did 100 years ago.”
While major auto executives, such as Fields, believe that cars will become completely autonomous over the next decade, I am hesitant to agree.
At this point in time, we have only seen the tip of the iceberg in self-driving technology.
Whether it’s the adaptive cruise control found in today’s Honda Civic or Tesla’s autopilot system, we have yet to see a fully self-driving car available for purchase in the automotive market.
Surely, some of the technology is there, but the driver still has to pay attention and intervene while behind the wheel (crazy right?).
I’d hate to see companies rush developing self-driving technology and fail perfecting the equipment before releasing it to the public, resulting in crashes like those that occurred with earlier versions of Tesla’s autopilot system.
On whom would the blame even be placed if a fully autonomous car crashes in the future?
The manufacturer? The guy behind the wheel watching Netflix? Also, wouldn’t self-driving cars command a substantial premium over normal vehicles?
In today’s market, features such as lane-keeping assist are considered optional luxuries on a vehicle.
However, this feature and similar safety features are gradually trickling down to become standards on automobiles instead of being optional extras.
Once an autonomous automobile hits the market, there’s no doubt that a fully self-driving car would likely be a pretty expensive purchase.
There are certainly a lot of kinks to work out before a completely safe self-driving car is sold to a customer, and I don’t think there should be a rush to get an autonomous car off the production line before another manufacturer.
If I were Mark Fields, I’d be wondering if my billion-dollar investment would be that useful for speeding things along.
Will this investment really guarantee a thorough production of self-driving automotive technology? That is what really matters, not how fast this new technology is in the public’s hands.
Personally, with manual transmissions and eight-cylinder engine blocks already on the verge of extinction in today’s automobiles, I couldn’t be more thrilled to take a nap in a self-driving car. The opportunity sounds so enticing.
I mean, come on, what happened to enjoying driving? Today’s BMW M3 even has fake engine sounds pumped through its speakers as a replacement for engine displacement. That’s right, the M3! The same performance benchmark that is still regarded by many as one of the greatest drivers’ cars of all time.
What happened to the driving experience over the past few years? Unfortunately, it pains me to say that for petrol-heads and automotive purists like myself, manufacturers are gradually taking the pure joy out of driving.
I hope you like counting sheep behind the wheel and trusting a computer with deciding between life and death because that’s where we’re all eventually headed.
Will the United States ever get to a point where all cars on the road are self-driven? Possibly, but I don’t think we will in this decade. Perhaps not even in my lifetime.
After all, the real truth is that no one knows. And I think that’s a good thing.
Owen Corrigan, GSB ‘20, is a marketing major from Spring Lake, New Jersey.