Every day it looks more and more like self-driving cars are going to be hitting the road in our lifetime. The technology is getting close, so close that some are saying that self-driving cars could be available as early as 2020. Others say that 2025 is much more likely. Between now and whenever that future gets here, there are other things that we need to figure out. Things that don’t really have much to do with creating driverless vehicles and everything to do with how business, and society in general, are going to handle them.
Take legislation for example. What are the laws going to be around who can use a driverless vehicle and when? Hypothetically, a ten-year-old could get in the car and take themselves to grandma’s house when they want to run away from home, and at the moment there wouldn’t be a law against it because the kid wouldn’t actually be operating a vehicle. We can assume that kids wouldn’t be allowed to operate a self-driving car any more than they can drive one now, but right now there’s no laws on the books to stop them. And, it’s safe to assume that a self-driving car would help someone who’s had a little too much to drink get home safely, but what happens if they’re too drunk to give an address or take the necessary precautions to operate the vehicle. The person wouldn’t be driving, and therefore a DUI not the right charge. So what do we do, arrest the car?
Then there’s the boring things like insurance. Would self-driving cars get safe driver discounts? There are probably insurance underwriters out there who are jumping at the chance to untangle the mess that’s sure to come up when it comes time to figure out where the driver’s responsibility ends and the computer’s responsibility starts.
Some believe that most self-driving cars would be electric, or hybrids at the very least, because it would be easier for all the electronics to work together. If that’s the case, we’re going to need a lot more charging stations to keep these vehicles on the road. Imagine being caught in traffic somewhere and your self-driving vehicle just runs out of juice. Will the police and tow truck drivers start carrying some sort of fast charge device that will give you just enough power to get off the highway and to the closest outlet? There are all kinds of new business opportunities for power and batteries that we haven’t even imagined yet just waiting to be explored.
And here’s scary thought, hackers. Instead of the kids down the street egging your house or slashing your tires, they could hack your car instead. You’d be a mile from work when all of a sudden the radio turns all the way up and changes stations, the windshield wipers turn on and the horn starts honking. And then just before you reach your destination, the car gets new directions from the hacker and takes you to the nearest body of water and drives right in. (Though one would hope the car’s safety features would prevent it from actually taking the plunge, if not keep the hackers out altogether.)
It’s great to see the speed at which technology is evolving. Living in the future is pretty awesome. We’re moving closer and closer to the reality depicted in science fiction and cartoons for generations. Let’s just make sure we plan ahead for the trip.