Car wreck
Roger Bara

Since we last blogged about the future for driverless vehicles, almost exactly four years ago, we thought it worthwhile to reflect on our opinions back then, and perhaps to update our views.

Four years ago, I concluded that driverless vehicles were decades away from being the norm, and nothing I have read or heard since has made me feel any different.

Yes, there’s always sunny optimism around the autonomous car industry. There has to be, because progress is not happening at any pace at all. Four years ago, even the UK government shared that positivity to the extent of declaring our self-driving future was not far away. Guess what, many of their predictions have failed to live up to expectations and the promise that driverless cars would be on British roads as early as this year have proved unfounded. (Dean, take note!)

The road to full driverless cars is wracked with huge technical and regulatory challenges, and even in four years’ time, if we revisit this subject, I simply don’t see much progress being made.

Autonomy will always have some constraints. Fully self-driving cars with nobody behind the wheel, where robots are in charge, is decades away, I tell you again. As I hope to once again in 2025.

To drive or not to drive? Part 2

Our Rusuk Blog writer Sergey

Four years ago I wrote in the blog dedicated to driverless cars:

‘…now I happily drive a ’95 Grand Cherokee Orvis, an old but brilliant vehicle, full of charisma and a full-time four-wheel drive, so important in Moscow in cold seasons. Sometimes it breaks down so I fix it. It is not about fuel economy at all. And it is old.
But I like it. It is stylish. It is comfortable. It is safe. And it is very powerful with its 5.2L V8 Magnum engine and its roaring sound. It’s fun driving it. It is a part of what I am.’

Well, I sold my Jeep. Had to do it because it was time; my Jeep was breaking down all the time. I found a guy who was a fan of such monsters, just like me. With one difference; he was ready to invest his working time, his auto repair skills and his money to give it a third life. 

’95 Grand Cherokee Orvis
’95 Grand Cherokee Orvis

This is how a big part of having fun when driving has gone away to me. 

The other funny thing is that I still believe that the whole concept of driverless cars still looks too alien to me. Yep, it looks good for a sci-fi novel. It doesn’t to me. Driverless cars are good for some technological enhancement. There is a possibility that some freaks would enjoy it: soulless moving robots. The whole thing looks like a cab without a cabby.   

Wait… I don’t like cabbies in Moscow: they either talk too much and you’ve got to encourage them trying to be polite, or look so gloomy like they’d just been told of terminal lung cancer. 

So maybe there’s still something in an idea of a cab without a cabby?

Driverless cars – four years on

Photograph of Dean Lewis

Thankfully they are only pixel words on a glowing screen. Otherwise I would be eating a verbiage salad on paper. So, four years ago I said self-driving cars were just around the corner. What happened?

What always happens: Lawyers.

Magazine Headline (text)

According to an article from the website InsideEVs, “Cruise Automation’s autonomous Chevy Bolts have been involved in more than a few accidents recently (13 to be precise, according to the California DMV). Fortunately, no one has been hurt (until now), and it seems that the Bolt hasn’t been at fault in any of the incidents.”

Of course, Tesla has many thousands of self-driving cars on the road; as in every last car they make. Except they are marketed as assisted driving and these cars seem to have an attraction to parked Police Cruisers. That makes me smile.

Self-Driving Chevy Bolt Ad
Self-Driving Chevy Bolt Ad

According to the National Highway Traffic Administration, car accidents happen every 60 seconds. That equates to about 5.25 million accidents across the nation on a yearly basis. Of course, these accidents almost never make the local evening news, let alone become a national story. But, let a self-driving car hop a curb and it’s a really big deal. The result is most people think self-driving cars are dangerous when the exact opposite is in fact the case.

Big corporations have deep pockets and attorneys need big boats. It seems these things go together. So multi-million-dollar lawsuits are normal in these cases. From what I can tell, bad press and lawsuits are the two main factors limiting the wide availability of truly self-driving cars being marketed as such. 

Of course, as we Cowboys would say: “I’ve been to this rodeo before.” The very first cars were accompanied by crazy laws. People had ridden horses for thousands of years and along come these noisy contraptions that scare every horse in sight. They were expensive, dangerous and didn’t work for long. 

Here’s another one for your consideration: The airship appeared only a short time before the first airplane. When a biplane crashed, only one or two people were hurt but an airship was a different thing: they were massive and made for great film (video) and the News ate it up. The airship got a bad reputation even though the airplane was more dangerous. Today both are perfectly safe but only one is common.

So, we have two examples of bad, undeserved press. The sensational articles killed one (the airship) but not the other (the automobile). The lawyers and press will not kill the self-driving car. I say that as a statement, but how can I be so sure? Because these cars are already here, you will see one today if you live in most advanced countries. Except they are called Assisted Driving and have warnings for the driver not to use the feature in the way the driver will.

As always, the 800-pound Gorilla in the room is Apple. Yes, that Apple. They have been working on a car for years and being Apple, they will not fool with tradition, lawyers, steering wheels, or pedals. It sounds like they are going all in.

This is very much like Apple. They were not the first to develop a smart phone but when they saw a market, they went all-in and made the first iPhone. They destroyed Blackberry and Nokia. Both are still in business but have been decimated. Oh, and the word Windows, yeah, an Apple term.

Apple may be the only company on the planet that can do this: they have piles of cash, the technical chops, a reputation for excellence, and most importantly a Marketing Department that can counter whatever bad news may happen. Oh, and apparently a world-beating legal department. Lawyers may be well advised not to make any docking slot payments until the cash is in hand.

Yes, I was too optimistic four years ago, but that doesn’t mean I was wrong. The self-driving car is here, just don’t call it that.