When the title says “protests” pictures of angry mobs in the streets come to mind, and that’s not exactly what’s happened yet. Instead, Autonomous Vehicles are being outright attacked or vandalized by individuals, but in numbers that indicate more than something random. Though the media has yet to sensationalize it, they are reporting it, and you might be surprised by who that upsets most.
Before diving into that aspect lets make the case that these attacks are significant. Do they, in fact, indicate that the public isn’t embracing this whole notion of computer-driven vehicles? If you were in an AV, how many times would someone have to attempt to intentionally ram you before you decided John Q Public is not quite ready for this kind of technology?
Another example involved a taxi driver exiting his car and slapping the windscreen of a General Motors self-driving car.
This came to a head in Chandler, Arizona in December 2018 when police were informed of members of the public slashing tires, throwing rocks and pointing guns (thankfully so far no bullets fired) at driverless cars.
It seems that this kind of behavior happens nearly every day and just isn’t being reported, to the police or the media. Waymo, who have created a fleet of self-driving cars, also had vehicles attacked in October 2018. They expressed doubt that a police presence on the issue would reduce attacks, in fact, they felt it generally not a good idea to popularize the idea that you can attack a self-driving car.
Not unsurprisingly the police take a dim view of rock throwing and tire slashing and likely desire a solution to the heightened tensions. But it seems unlikely these protests will do much to change the march of tech in places like California, which since March last year has allowed driverless cars to operate without anyone in the driving seat. Other states which approve driverless cars are Alabama and Washington.
Surely someone should do something! Maybe the marketers of these cars should worry about this strength of feeling they face instead of sticking their heads in the sand? AV makers seem focused on the inevitability of their product and not very focused on consumer sentiment.
That is the problem with self-driving cars though; it is easier to get annoyed with a person in a car. A self-driving car is a bit more removed.
Think about when robotic answering services took over answering your phone calls. Ten years ago when you’d have a problem with a product you’d call the helpline and spend an eternity of hold listening to music. Sometimes when someone answered they’d pass you around to different departments but eventually, someone helped.
Then came the automated service that pre-sorted your call based on your needs. Push one for “X,” push two for “Y.” It felt efficient. And they could take some basic information while you waited. Companies jumped at the chance to lay off extra help desk employees. Then they turned the automated system into an automated runaround. When a human finally answered they usually asked for all the same info you already gave, proving that it was just a delay tactic to waste your time.
If you’re a maker of AV’s think about that angry guy who just hung up on the automated answering device because he’s the same guy who isn’t excited to share the road with automated cars.
Maybe people are right to protest, the ability to drive is all about complicated algorithms or programs in order to be safe and the driverless car has yet to learn all these algorithms. Humans make mistakes, sure, but robots with a systematic error will make the same mistake over and again until a human fixes their programming. John Q. Public maybe doesn’t have much faith that companies will even bother to fix these problems. Not based on their last call to correct a utility bill.
The driverless car industry is valued at 100 billion dollars so it may need a massive PR campaign in order to get people to change their mind about using it. Makers are throwing money into attempts to get the government on their side, but the Senate isn’t planning to launch a self-driving bill until either 2022 because they don’t think there is enough public support for a bill any earlier.
Poles and sales data indicate that 25% of all cars will be driverless by 2030, yet they also say that 15% of the public don’t see a fully autonomous car as ever happening, despite “forever” being a hell of a stretch. This might simply be the product of cynical minds and may even change over time, but fixing all the safety issues and a PR campaign faced toward the public would help in that effort.
The big players such as Uber want driverless to be the way of the world but it’s yet to be carved in stone. In addition to the safety issue, they might want to consider making these cars less like something from a sci-fi dystopia.