The Future Is So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades…Or Blinders

I see autonomous vehicles being introduced in a serious way in the next 15-20 years. I don’t think they will be wide-spread per se but i think they will be on the roads. I think this will spin off a fair number of competing/collaborative technologies.
I don’t think the vehicles will be like KITT in Knight Rider but I don’t think they’ll be far off, after a while. Initially, your car will be waiting for you in the drive way. When you come out, it will start itself, position itself to pick you up if necessary, and ask your destination. After you tell it, the vehicle will check road conditions and plan the optimal route for you to get to work, taking considerations such as your love of Starbucks drive-thrus or cell phone reception into account. While you take a nap or talk on the phone, or conduct a meeting, the vehicle will navigate the streets, avoiding pedestrians, other vehicles, and various obstacles. The vehicle will drop you off at work then park itself, waiting for you to call for it again.
This idea has been around for decades.
And yet, I see some potential problems with the rollout. Most people like the idea of the vehicle driving itself so that they “don’t need to.” But people seem to be in two camps about these vehicles as they currently exist: they either love the idea and can’t imagine that anything might go wrong, or they imagine the vehicles will lead to Terminator type robots in the near future. On the first hand, people are already suggesting that insurance companies will go under once the autonomous vehicles are common because accidents will be so rare. And in the other, people are afraid we may end up with a fleet of machines like the movie vehicle, Christine, bent on killing us all. The truth is somewhere in between there, I imagine. On a slightly more serious note, sooner or later the vehicles will be forced to make a bad decision when confronted with a no win scenario, such as hitting one of several objects. If an accident is required in heavy traffic on slick roads, will the vehicle hit the vehicle in front of it let the one behind it hit it, or swerve and hit an oncoming car or pedestrian? How will the vehicle make the determination which is the “best thing” to hit? One potential solution would be to allow the vehicles to talk to each other so that they know the relative worth of each player. A vehicle with four people in it might be considered more valuable than a vehicle with only one occupant, according to the insurance people who would pay out the medical claims. Of course, if the vehicles are communicating like that, you know there will be an aftermarket device/mod that reports the vehicle has 10 people on board and therefore should not be hit!
And, as the machines become more “responsible”, they may report information to waiting police sentries concerning your health/sobriety, the vehicle’s health/maintenance, or number of “registered people” in the vehicle and whether they are wearing their seatbelts. Ack!
There might be some interesting activities which may occur if the vehicles are successful. Bus transportation (and other delivery type activities) should be easier to set up and maintain. Fewer vehicles may end up on the road as individual vehicles get “loaned out” during their idle times, meaning that an individual wouldn’t need to have exclusive rights to the machine if it is acting as a taxi/chauffeur. And if the vehicles become successful, the marketing will be about how relaxed you can be in the vehicle, how comfortable the seats are, how good the internet connections are, or how nice the stereo (or equivalent) is.
Or we’ll end up with machines working like a conveyor belt following predetermined routes like busses do. Any maybe swerving to run us down since pedestrians won’t have the aftermarket “no hit” devices. 🙂