Self-driving cars: dangerous robots until proven safe

March 27, 2015 — by Nidhi Jain and Rachel Zhang

Google’s self-driving car is a hands-free automobile that allows users to sit back and relax, while it navigates through traffic for them. The car’s potential release date is between 2017 and 2020.

Unfortunately, self-driving cars are no longer a distant fantasy.

Imagine driving to school one morning. As you pass the white Lexus in front of you, you notice something peculiar. It’s moving, but the driver is eating with both hands.

With the release of Google’s self-driving car in the near future, this could be the new reality for passengers.

Google’s car is a hands-free automobile that allows users to sit back and relax, while it navigates through traffic for them. The car’s potential release date is between 2017 and 2020.

Unfortunately, self-driving cars are no longer a distant fantasy. They have already been legalized in four states, Nevada, Florida, California and Michigan, and in Washington, D.C.

Today, robots manufacture goods, and computers supervise efficient softwares. The human race is already significantly dependent on technology, and now, with self-driving cars, we are letting technology take over simple tasks such as driving. If individuals hand over their control of driving, then technology taking over eating and walking seems plausible in the near future.

Currently, Google is using a white model of a Lexus RX450h for the automobile’s basic framework. The small, spinning box mounted on the roof uses light detection and ranging technology to evaluate its surroundings. In addition, there are several more cameras and sensors located above the windshield.

However, even with the technological advances, the sensors and cameras struggle to discern simple objects in poor weather conditions.

According to Forbes writer Joann Muller, as of August 2014, the prototype was unable to “handle heavy rain and snow-covered roads” and used “sluggish speeds” to cross a 4-way stop. Additionally, it was unable to distinguish running over a soda bottle from running over a pedestrian.

Although Google expects to fix these issues by 2024, there are bound to be more issues that will only be found after the innovation is publicly available.

Not only is the car not technologically functioning at an acceptably safe level yet, but the promoted use of the car also may also be impractical.

According to self-driving car supporters, this new technology will significantly decrease accidents because it eliminates human error. According to Forbes magazine, it could potentially avoid 30,000 injuries annually.

In actuality, the driver is still in danger, if not more so compared to a normal car. According to the Daily Mail magazine, the U.K. government would require passengers in self-driving cars to be ready to take the wheel at any moment. Considering this, in the event of emergencies, passengers would not be able to make last-moment judgments that could make the difference between life and death if they are not paying attention.

The car, a seemingly harmless automaton, becomes a new medium for hackers to harm others in a wide-scale attack.  Because all of the systems are based on the same software, one successful hacking can evolve into a fatal threat for all self-driving cars on an enormously wide scale basis.

The risks involved do not justify the expensive price.

According to Business Insider, the sensors Google seeks to install sensors that cost $250,000. Adding on, the retail price of the car and other customer components would result in a car that costs more than $300,000.

Compared to a normal car, which costs on average 10 times less, only a small percentage of individuals can afford Google’s car. Even a chauffeur-driven car at one’s beck and call would be cheaper than this.

Currently, the self-driving car is not at an implementable stage. The risks of potential hackers and unavoidable accidents are already large obstacles, in addition to the hefty price of the car.

In the end, it comes down to a simple question regarding safety. Would you feel safe letting a car take your life into its software-driven hands? In the short term, our answer is no.

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