A Robotic Conversion Van?
Since technology was developed to make tasks of all kinds easier and safer for humans, the ideal of automation is a key concept. From farming to industry, mechanical automation has made work easier for humans for over a century. Like most areas of scientific discovery, the advance in technology has driven engineers to push the limits even farther and the idea of robotic cars which essentially drive themselves has been a goal of many engineers and the subject of many sci-fi stories since Norman Bel Geddes first introduced the concept in 1939 at the Worlds Fair.
That engineering fantasy took a step towards becoming reality in May of 2012 when Google asked for and received the first state-issued license for an autonomous car in the state of Nevada (Fitting considering that Nevada is also home to Area 51; a site that has been the subject of sci-fi for many years in its own right). Since that time, these robotic cars, equipped with sophisticated engineering and avoidance systems that H.G.Wells would have been hard pressed to imagine, have logged more than 160,000 miles with only a few accidents.
This would seem to bode well for the future of robotic cars but there are a few questions we should be asking. After all, we all know how often computerized systems crash as a result of viruses, faulty programming or other malfunctions. Your home PC or network crashing might be inconvenient. You might lose a few important files or be unable to access your system for a few days. Still, it isn’t likely to result in any fatalities. On the other hand, a robotic car cruising at highway speeds experiencing such a glitch could be quite a different animal.
So, where does the finger of blame get pointed first? In the case of the Google automated vehicles, human error has been the primary issue so far. Currently, the fleet of Google robotic cars provide for human drivers to override the autonomous controls by moving the steering wheel or applying the brakes.
The Google fleet has only recorded a few collisions since the company began testing the prototype vehicles on real-life highways and byways. All of these incidents have occurred when the car was being driven manually, rather than by the automated systems, with the exception of one incident when the Google autonomous vehicle was rear-ended while stopped at a traffic light. So, at least for now, it seems that human error is the most common culprit when a robotic car crashes.
Who Is To Blame When A Robotic Car Crashes? Would you be interested in a robotic conversion van? Imagine, the kids in the back watching a movie and your van robotically driving you to Disney World. It’s interesting to think about, yet still fairly scary. The evolution of the robotic car is going to be very interesting in the next few years.