Self-Driving Vehicles are the Future (But Not My Future)

Self-driving cars have been getting a lot of press these days. The enthusiasm around them is totally understandable; who wouldn’t want their own personal, robotic chauffeur to get them safely from one place to another while they focus on other things?

Though I love the idea of turning my five-hours of commuting time each week into “me time”, I’m still firmly in camp “I’ll-drive-it-myself-thank-you.” Not a very techie opinion for an engineer, but I have my reasons.

#1 I Enjoy Driving (and the Control that Comes With it)

First, not only do I genuinely enjoy the art of driving, but I’m also a bit of a control freak in the driver’s seat. I think about it like this: being in a self-driving vehicle will be like when you’re on an airplane. You’re just along for the ride. Nothing more to do but sit back and watch the world speed by.

On an airplane, that’s fine. However, the driving environment is far more complex, in terms of obstacles and obstructions, than flying through the air at 30,000 feet. I’ve been driving for more years than I care to count, so naturally I feel more comfortable being able to handle any situations that may come up while driving.

#2 Technology vs Humans

Second, not every car on the road is self-driving. That means the more advanced self-driving cars have to share the road with their human-controlled counterparts. The problem here is that as self-driving cars become more and more advanced, some of that technology is finding its way into regular vehicles. As the technology gets better in regular cars, people start to rely on it to save them from their own mistakes. The cars are getting smarter, but the drivers are getting dumber!

I’m convinced that this is one of the reasons automobile deaths in the US have started to increase (it ain’t all texting, folks!). So, until self-driving cars are able to predict stupidity, I’d rather rely on my own experience and try to predict it myself.

#3 They Look Goofy

Third, and most superficially, these vehicles look pretty ridiculous. I grew up with muscle cars – cars that are sleek, powerful, and fun to drive. Yet as goofy as they look now, I’m 100% sure that as we move forward self-driving cars will look less and less like Rick Moranis in Honey I Shrunk the Kids, and more like Bumblebee from the recent Transformer movies.

Pretty goofy, right?

Full Speed Ahead!

Pandora’s Box has been fully opened and the auto industry is careening full speed ahead in this direction. I have no idea when the concept of the self-driving car will reach “adulthood”, but until it does automakers will keep adding more sensors and more technology to make these cars safer. And as long as drivers aren’t getting dumber in the process, more power to them!

However, there were a couple of highly-publicized fatal crashes involving self-driving vehicles this year. In both cases it could be argued that the self-driving vehicle should have shown its superiority. I don’t condemn the technology, I can just see they’ve still got a long way to go.

As for me, at the moment, I’ll keep driving myself. Unless, of course, the open container laws change. That alone might be enough to get me to switch sides!