Are self-driving cars the wave of the future or the past?

A red self-driving Tesla car on a road during foggy weather.

For many years, mainstream media and Hollywood have glorified the rise of technology, especially the self-driving car. Some might even remember fictional self-driving cars from the 70’s and 80’s like Herbie or KITT from KnightRider. For decades, the public sat on the edge of their seats as the rise of technology began to build these fictional ideas into reality. But the hype for self-driving cars is beginning to flop, and here’s why. 

Most people don’t know that the science to build a self-driving car is not a new fad. The media has attempted to hide the fact that different versions of robotic or self-driving cars have actually been around since the 1920’s. The Netherlands still has a successful autonomous bus transportation service that’s been around since 2006!

 Silicon Valley predicted that by 2021 the public would be commuting “hands-free” to their workplaces. However, this journey to self-driving cars has been met with numerous setbacks and continues to face more issues. 

The biggest problem continues to be that artificial intelligence cannot compute and take in the outside world in the way that humans do. Humans can recognize a red stop sign even if it’s a bit orange or covered in stickers. The AI involved in autonomous cars will not be able to if it’s outside of its programming. 

The issue is that autonomous AI cars often don’t know the correct response, and their best efforts to compensate can go awry. Like the Google-owned Waymo car that got stuck at an intersection and proceeded to drive away from its roadside support crew when they showed up. Although Waymo announced they were planning to add up to 82,000 vehicles in 2018, the modern-day fleet of vehicles barely surpasses hundreds. 

Technological hold-ups have pushed back the release date for other autonomous car companies as well–such as Sweden’s autonomous Volvo car that has been postponed for release in 2022. 

Initially, the rideshare service Lyft was paving the way for making self-driving cars available for public transportation. Although Lyft was pioneering this tech, the promotion was bigger than the actual product. The only two cities that individuals could ride in Lyft self-driving cars in the United States were Las Vegas and Metro Phoenix. 

The other issue that big companies like Tesla and Waymo face with attempting to release autonomous vehicles is the public’s lack of trust in their operation. Even though self-driving cars might reduce the number of user error accidents that happen on the road, they still have the potential to injure or kill individuals if used improperly. Although the rate of deaths would supposedly decrease, is the public ready for this kind of change? 

A bigger topic when addressing the long-term issues of self-driving cars is who will be responsible in accidents? What about if drivers are behind the wheel but not operating the car? What if drivers are operating the car and can blame their own actions on the autonomous car? The future of self-driving cars is complicated for the mere fact that justice will be much harder to serve when the recipients are robots. 

So that brings us to the big question: are autonomous cars a wave of the future? Or simply a wave of the past? Even as technology has skyrocketed in the past 21 years to incorporate touch screens, smarter AI, social media, and shockingly realistic video games–the autonomous car still has years to come.