Are fully autonomous cars a utopia?

Amador Palacios
3 min readNov 28, 2022

There is not a day that goes by without reading news about self-driving cars. A new advance that is achieved, a new accident that occurs, a company that begins to operate in a new city, etc….

But the background situation has not changed much for a few years. A few big companies that seem to dominate the technology, Waymo and Cruise in the US, and Baidu in China, and many others that are trying to gain a foothold, perhaps thinking of being bought by one of the big ones.

The largest ones are spreading to more cities, but they do so in a very controlled manner and without losing the support of online “assistants” to solve the problems that occasionally occur in autonomous driving.

Furthermore, these self-driving cars are very expensive, and the companies that manage them generally do not make a profit, and what they do is invest to accumulate experience and achieve a leadership position in the future market.

But that future is slow in coming, and it still seems a long way off, with some doubting it will ever come. I’ve read that Cruise’s CEO (Kyle Vogt) has stated that he’s not sure he’s interested in doing away with human aid in the future.

There is no doubt that today’s autonomous cars have fewer accidents than normal cars with a driver, and safety is one of their important advantages. What the car’s computer does, it does repetitively, and it doesn’t get distracted or tired.

But the possible eventualities that can arise are so many that it is very difficult to consider them all. And that is why it seems that the autonomous car is being limited to its use in large cities, and for the taxi service, since the cost of a driver is not required, and that is an undoubted saving.

On the other hand, there are more and more cars that offer autonomous driving aids, but the driver is still ultimately responsible for what the vehicle does, and there seems to be no easy solution to this.

In a study carried out by the European Commission on the confidence of citizens in autonomous cars, only 2% answered saying that they would buy an autonomous car. I suppose that when they improve, confidence will increase, but surely looking for the total autonomy of the car will not be a success, due to the enormous complexity of the process.

I think autonomous taxis will be seen in city centers, supported by an online operator. And private cars will have increasingly powerful driving aids, but under the supervision of the driver.

Some companies like Waymo (and others) have been working for many years, many billions invested, and it is not clear when they will have positive economic results.

Sometimes what might seem the best is the enemy of what is good. And maybe (just maybe) seeking the highest level of autonomous driving in any circumstance is not the most practical goal.

But I imagine they should know what they are doing.

--

--

Amador Palacios

I am an electronic engineer with more than 40 years working in industry. I like to reflect on Technological and Social issues