Eyes on manufacturers at dawn of autonomous vehicle

Published: November 25, 2015

Updated: July 24, 2018

Author: Luke Jones

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Humanity is on the cusp of giving unprecedented control to machines in the form of autonomous vehicles (AVs), and the implications of this shift are currently hot topics. Many aspects of the dawn of the AV have been oft discussed, but in the wake of recent scandals sweeping the automotive industry, can we trust manufacturers to keep us safe?

Think of it like this, until now we have wondered whether the machines will live up to their billing and deliver a driving environment that is hugely safer than what we are used to with our fallible human operated cars. However, as is usually the case, it is not the technology we need to worry about but the people and/or companies that created it.

We are so quick to think that machines will turn against us that we have forgotten that we are perfectly good at turning on ourselves. Volkswagen, the giant German car producer, has recently been found to have fixed its software to pass emissions tests, disguising the real output of its diesel engines. This software allowed the engines to pass emissions control standards, but later it was discovered that the motors were pumping out emissions far above accepted levels.

In other words, Volkswagen pulled a good old-fashioned con, the company cut some corners in the pursuit of profit. So, what if a company decided to do that with an autonomous vehicle? Can this technology afford to have a series of problems from a technical standpoint? The results of companies cutting corners or merely messing up could be disastrous, and car companies messing up or getting things wrong is a common occurrence.

In Canada there will be record amounts of vehicle recalls in 2015, while it is a similar story across all major automotive markets. Can these technical mishaps afford to happen when we will be relying on the technology more than ever. With the rise of the AV tech will stop being a conduit to be controlled by the driver and will instead become the controlling force in the vehicle, the “driver” being no more than a mere passenger to step in if needed.

It should be noted here that true vehicular autonomy is still some way off. Leading companies in the AV sector say that the first autonomous cars will become available within the next five years, maybe as soon as 2017. However, these nascent years of the technology will not bring full autonomy, which is still around a decade off according to most respected commentators.

It has already been widely said that vehicle manufactures will have to take responsibility for auto insurance liability, instead of the consumer as is now the case. The planet is on the cusp of a seismic automotive shift that has not been since the invention of the car over a century ago. With the Volkswagen Emissions Scandal in mind and numerous other issues that still plague cars, we just hope that companies can truly get things right.