Chauffeurless Transportation? Don’t Hack My Ride!

Posted on July 10, 2013 by - Also by this author

Would you ride in this driverless car, in the back seat?Most of us will likely see the advent of widespread self-driving vehicles in our lifetimes, maybe sooner rather than later. One operator I speak with believes it will happen and plans to be among the first to invest in a new strata of chauffeured, err, driverless, app/cloud directed transportation.

Monday's Information Age column by L. Gordon Corvitz in The Wall Street Journal makes the case for self-driving vehicles in five years.

Would your clients feel comfortable getting into a Lincoln MKT Town Car with no chauffeur, programmed to take them to their destinations? Corvitz’s article states technology is safer than error-prone humans.

What kind of customer service would you get? Same as you would in Disneyland’s former “People Movers?”

I must admit, I’m not entirely convinced. After all, we are still human, no matter what the technology. We instinctively feel more comfortable with a skilled human at the helm of anything, whether plane, train, boat, subway, or bus. Maybe younger generations will be more flexible, but there is a major psychological barrier to driverless vehicles. It’s one thing to sit in the driver’s seat of your own car and let the computer take over, since you can disconnect it in a split-second.

But what about riding for extended periods in the backseat of a self-directed, programmed vehicle that doesn’t follow a track? I suppose you could have an emergency override switch, but how would that work while the vehicle is on a freeway or in heavy traffic? Stop suddenly and get rear-ended? I’m not sure auto-chauffeur vehicles  can succeed (psychologically) beyond very limited GPS geo-fenced areas.

And here’s another major factor: Airplanes now can essentially fly based on computer guidance and calculations. When you consider the recent Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 crash in San Francisco, think what would have happened if there had been no pilots to notice the slow speed and low landing path. Although the exact cause is still being investigated — was it computer error or human entering errors into automated controls? — the human pilots would not have been able to take last-second evasive action and all 307 passengers would be dead.

Call me cautious or old fashioned, but I’ll take a chance on a quirky but trained chauffeur before I’ll put my safety in the hands of a computer prone to glitches. No one’s going to hack my ride, just yet.

— Martin Romjue, LCT editor

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