We fear the hacker who might corrupt the software system of our vehicles. What is the risk to automated vehicles? Maybe they will subvert our brakes or steering. And Volkswagen gave us a new scare. Maybe we should fear the car manufacturer. Cn we trust vehicle OEMs faor the safety of self-driving cars?
Before we buy a vehicle, most of us read reviews and test drive the vehicle. In a short drive, we can judge the peppiness of the engine and handling around corners. We can’t test the reliability of the vehicle software, a particular concern when it is going to be driving our car.
Tesla just released Autopilot, a $2,500 optional software upgrade which, in a blink, enables autonomous driving. Model S owners wirelessly download the software, and voila, have a self-driving vehicle. This isn’t the first semi-autonomous vehicle. Volvo and Mercedes-Benz have these features, but at lower speeds or with the requirement that the driver touch the steering wheel at prescribed intervals. Toyota is playing catch-up, and announced a target to commercialize semi-autonomous cars in five years. Later this year, Toyota plans to launch three new car models in Japan with sensor technology and vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication.
Tesla has been out in front of these efforts in speed and hands-off control with Autopilot able to drive at 70 miles per hour. A driver must have faith in an automaker’s testing, quality control and honesty to put himself in the hands of new software for such a ride. Aaron M. Kessler of the New York Times recently drove a Tesla with Autopilot. Within 20 minutes, he felt comfortable enough to withdraw his hand from near the steering wheel to his lap. He was confident in what he observed in those 20 minutes. Smart? I’m not convinced.
With Consumer Reports dropping its recommendation of the Model S, Tesla is faced with public outing of problems that plague any new car model. In a survey of 1,400 survey Model S owners, Consumer Reports discovered noise, motors and door issues with the car. Shares of Tesla fell 10 percent with news of the pulled recommendation, and perhaps will lower confidence in the reliability of Autopilot.
Road & Track magazine recently sounded off to their readers that despite concerns that driving will no longer be fun, autonomous vehicles will arrive, wanted or not. Readers were warned of a future where self-driving would be allowed only on designated roads and would entail a higher insurance premium. The bet is that software from companies (VW?) will be more dependable than we humans.