Someone was extolling the virtues of driverless cars to my brother. He said our family had a driverless vehicle over a century ago. If our great-grandfather stayed in the bar too long, all he had to do was stumble into the buggy and the horse would find the way home.
They have been in the news after one hit and killed a pedestrian. Rather than focusing on a tragic accident, I would like to look at the technology itself.
Given the technological marvels of our age, it is easy to see an unlimited future. However, many advancements go down dead-end roads to oblivion. Fifty years ago, we were working to put a man on the moon. Now we have to hitch a ride with the Russians to get into space. Supersonic airliners were going to revolutionize transportation. We gave up on it and the European Concordes are now in museums.
High tech is just like any other product. It must satisfy a need at an acceptable price. It may or may not be a need for which buyers are aware of. Few of us could imagine using the internet. Now a day without it feels like reverting to the stone age.
There seem to be three main appeals to driverless cars. It’s a really cool technology. It will be safer (presumably). It eliminates the burden of driving. The first reason will attract some buyers. People buy electric cars and recharge them with electricity from coal fired power plants. Many people respond to safety. Taking their hands off the wheel and trusting a machine is a different matter. Most of us like to drive. Just sitting there is boring.
Trying to replace the decisions of the brain and actions of the body is extremely complicated. I would guess that it would more than double the cost of a car. It may eventually be cheap enough for the typical car buyer but that will likely take many years.
I don’t see it as a dead-end product like the Concorde. Nor do I see it reaching the general public. Tesla is an apt comparison. It takes GM around 10 days to sell the number of cars Tesla does in a year. People will buy driverless cars that don’t mind forking out high five or low six figures. If you want your car to drive you around, you had better be rich.