When I learned about the first United States death linked to a self-driving car, my very first thought was, “Well, that changes everything!” And it should.
Technologically, self-driving cars are purported to take care of the passengers while the computers run the cars. In theory, this is marvelous. However, when something goes wrong, people can suffer and even die as was the case here. While a passenger in his Tesla Model S, 40-year-old Joshua D. Brown was killed when the car’s cameras did not distinguish the white side of a turning tractor-trailer from the surrounding sunlit sky.
Product development involves a tremendous amount of research, planning, analysis, and unfortunately, trial and error. It is sad that in this case the error was deadly. Because of that, many aspects of the self-driving car model will need to be reassessed.
I am not saying we throw the brakes on it all. I believe our technology must always be free to chart new territory. I am saying what the engineers already know and I’m sure are already doing, and that is that all aspects of how these vehicles recognize objects in their environment must be meticulously reevaluated. Failing to do so will continue to put people at risk.
Self-driving cars navigate within their environment via a constellation of digital cameras, lasers, and radar sensors. They normally do this extremely well. Obviously, in this recent tragic accident when the white side of a trailer “looks like” the sky, they did not perform as well as required. This is where the engineers will be going back to the drawing board on those digital cameras, lasers, and radar sensors.
And this is why I say, “Well, that changes everything!” Because we have this technical knowledge about this product failure, manufacturers cannot push the same products to consumers in quite the same way. Until those algorithms, programs, and hardware are refined sufficiently, consumers will remain at serious risk. This is not good for the consumer and the car companies. Further, it is not ethical.
Well, that changes everything—or it should.