With the constant introduction of new stuff into our everyday lives, it’s easy to get excited about new technologies and opportunities without thinking about the possible flaws or problems that come along with these new technologies.
One of the most recent technological advances are semi-autonomous cars -- or cars who drive themselves. Recently, there was a car accident that the auto industry knew was bound to happen, but feared. On May 7, Joshua D. Brown died in an accident in Williston, Fla. He was driving a Tesla Model "S" and using it in semi-autonomous, or "autopilot," mode. The car's cameras failed to differentiate the white side of a turning tractor-trailer from a bright, light colored sky and didn’t activate its brakes. Brown didn’t activate the breaks either.
Automakers and analysts have spoken about the need to be cautious when introducing more semi-autonomous features, like automatic braking and adaptive cruise control. It’s easy for people to quickly become dependent on these features and assume they work better than they actually do. The developers and workers in this particular auto industry were always concerned about the possibility of an accident like Brown’s.
Bryant Walker Smith, a law professor at the University of Southern Carolina and expert on autonomous driving issues spoke about the understanding of these new technologies. “For years people have been saying that the technology is ready and it’s one of my pet peeves, because no it’s not,” he said.
Tesla has stressed the newness of the autopilot system, declaring that drivers have to manually enable it and “must maintain control and responsibility for your vehicle” while the system is in use. Tesla released a statement saying, “Autopilot is getting better all the time, but it is not perfect and still requires the driver to remain alert.”
Karl Brauer, a senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book, spoke about the consequences of this accident for Tesla’s reputation. “They have been touting their safety and they have been touting their advanced technology. This situation flies in the face of both,” he said.
There is still much skepticism regarding semi-autonomous and autonomous driving, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Walker Smith spoke about the inevitability of a car crash involving these self-driving technologies. This accident can help to bring forward a necessary discussion of regulations on this technology and its future limitations. Smith also said that it would be unfortunate if this accident turned the public’s opinion to be against driver-less cars and the potential for these cars to save lives.
When it comes to new technologies, it’s important to be somewhat cautious about them but to also remain open minded. The potential of these driver-less cars to save lives is amazing, and the public should not become closed-minded to this technology because of this accident, but rather maintain awareness of its limitations. Technology will never be perfect and we cannot depend and rely on it to be. Smith summarized his thoughts by saying, “Driving today is dangerous... Every solution creates its own set of problems."