… a common narrative in Silicon Valley: The major engineering problems withcars have essentially been solved, and their widespread adoption is inevitable. Ask “when?” and you’ll usually be told, “Much sooner than you think.”
Some lawmakers are even talking about scaling back investments in mass transit, which they claim will be unnecessary in a world full of robot chauffeurs. …
Motorways and freeways are the low-hanging fruit of autonomous driving; everyone is moving in one direction at the same relative speed, and there are no pesky pedestrians to get in the way. Much of what is passed off today as “autonomous driving” is some variation of this sort of advanced cruise control.
But there is an elephant in the cab with even this rudimentary form of autonomy. Many companies are planning cars that, in the event of an emergency, hand back control to the human driver …The much harder, and still mainly unsolved, autonomous driving problem involves not highways but cities, with all their chaos and complexity. Self-driving cars still struggle with simple potholes; no one has come even close to demonstrating a completely driverless car that could do the work of a Manhattan taxi driver on a rainy day.
The sad reality of autonomous car technology is that the easy parts of have yet to be proven safe, and the hard parts have yet to be proven possible. We’re nowhere close to Silicon Valley’s automotive “Tomorrowland.” ….
In February … a Google car caused its first accident; a bus collision with no injuries. A few weeks later, Google made a significant, if little-noted, schedule adjustment. Chris Urmson, the project director, said in a presentation that the fully featured, truly go-anywhere self-driving car that Google has promised might not be available for 30 years, though other much less capable models might arrive sooner.
Historians of technology know that “in 30 years” often ends up being “never.”