Self-driving car is hyped up a lot in the recent years. Nonetheless, a car that can drive itself not that grandiose end all-be all solution to our transportation, safety, and convenience needs.
Let’s break down the positives, or so-claimed positives of self-driving cars:
“Self-driving cars will liberate us from the need to drive.”
Ok, not having to drive. How is that different than hiring someone to drive for you, for a very cheap price, even (hint: Uber). What’s the difference between sitting a car driven by another human or a car driven by a machine? Well, none! We can still read our books, write our blogs, make our phone calls, chat with our family.
“But I want to sit precisely in a driver seat and not driving.” OOOK sure! *eye-roll* When (if) self-driving cars are fully in action, there will no longer be any driver seat as they will all be converted into passenger seat.
“Self-driving cars will reduce traffic.”
Uhm, you realize that having replacing a human driven car by a car that drives itself doesn’t actually reduce the total number of cars on the road, right?
Also, as of right now, a car is not only a tool, but a display of status as well. “Ooh I got a promotion! How should I let everyone in my social circle know? Buy a bigger/faster/slicker car (or a house, or a boat… but that will be the topic for a different post)! For once, that’s not really a recipe for happiness as we will always have the need to buy an even faster car.
A quick glance at the rush hour on the highway and we can all see a bunch of cars with only one person in it while we can shove up to 5 person in there. Because each family needs at least 2 cars: one for the daddy, one for the mommy, and maybe consider another for the kiddo as well amirite? No wonder why there is a traffic jam. Now replace 2 normal cars per family with 2 self-driving cars per family. Well, I wouldn’t need to waste 4 years on that Math degree to realize the difference is zero.
“Self-driving cars are safer and more efficient drivers.”
Some people may not agree with this argument in the first place. To those who think this argument has some merit, like I do: the way we are training our car will not create that safer-and-more-efficient result. That’s because right now, self-driving cars are driving on the road among human drivers. What’s wrong with that? As long as a self-driving car has to drive in an environment with human drivers, it has to mimic itself to the way that human drives.
That means it has to keep a good distance with the front car because the machine cannot be sure that the human driver in front of it will not get distracted and then brake hard at some moments. Or, when a self-driving car is performing a light-protected or stop-sign-protected maneuver, it still has to drive slower than ideal because of the possibility that some incompetent human speeds out of some occluding corner without any regard for other traffics. Of course, those situations are small, but in order to be safe, the self-driving car will always take that in as a factor in its driving.
Let’s take this to a deeper level. Traffic signs and signals are purely ways for human to communicate with each other who will go where and their intentions without ever have to roll down their window and yelling from afar. “Oh, I have red light and you have green light? Ok I’ll wait for you to go.” The self-driving cars, on the other hand, have the potential to communicate among themselves without the external visual needs on the road: signs, lights. This way, they have the potential to be extremely efficient with their maneuver. Check this video out for a demonstration. Buttt, because they are on the road with human drivers, the self-driving cars also have to obey traffic signs and lights. What a complete waste of potential for the self-driving cars to be safer and more efficient drivers.
If only we could have a closed-off area, or even an authorized city to have only self-driving cars driving around together and learn the best way to maneuver between themselves. That is not what the major self-driving companies are doing now.
“OK Mr.Nay-sayer! You trash talk this self-driving-car solution so much! What other grand solution do you have, then?”
Glad you asked! Shared transportation.
How does this solve the traffic problem?
Ok. Shoving 2 people in one car will effectively reduce the number of cars on the road by half. Shoving 5 people in one car will reduce the number of cars on the road by four fifth. Shoving 100 people in a train will blow everyone’s mind.
How does this solve the safety problem?
I will admit this argument of mine is lacking.
How does this solve the convenience problem? Imagine a train with 100 people in it, including a train conductor. That’s effectively the transportation of 100 people at the cost of 1 person doing the navigating. Imagine that same 100 persons using 20 cars with 5 persons in each (that’s very optimistic) to travel the same distance in stead: that’s the transportation of 100 people at the cost of 20 persons doing the navigating. So changing from 20 cars to 1 public transportation, we reduced the amount of time that 100 people spend navigating by 20 folds.
BOOM! SOLUTION! BABY!
With all of that, self-driving car doesn’t seem like that good of a solution to either traffic problem, or convenience problem. Unless we can train the self-driving cars without human driver involvement, its only edge, safety problem, will also not materialize. Thus, it’s not the best thing we should care about or dedicating our resources to at the moment. Our resources are better off improving our public transportation systems.