Even though there has been some bad press lately concerning the autonomous car, the dream of the self-driving car is far from being quashed. As science fiction as it may seem, driverless cars are a passion that both consumers and car manufacturers want to happen. From the looks of things between General Motors and Capitol Hill, this push for innovation is not only real, it is moving really fast. The Department of Transportation earlier this year is in discussions to grant GM a Safety Petition, that will let them deploy a no-steering-wheel, pedal-less autonomous car.
General Motors has not only revealed their development of a Level 4 self-driving vehicle—Level 4 means it is completely autonomous—but they have also revealed what it will look like. Now comes the next step for the car manufacturer: a Safety Petition. With a government-issued Safety Petition, GM can deploy its completely driverless version of Chevy Bolt to the general public. This new innovation is called Cruise AV, coming soon in 2019. Best described as “the first production-ready vehicle built from the start to operate safely on its own, with no driver, no steering wheel, no pedals and no manual controls,” the Cruise AV treats you as a passenger no matter where you sit. No manual controls whatsoever. The Cruise AV can even open and shut doors on its own.
General Motors are not alone in their pursuit of autonomous vehicles. Mercedes and Waymo also plan to release cars with no steering wheels of their own.
Now here is the problem, Americans—especially in light of the earlier-cited headlines—are still skeptical about driverless cars. There is a severe lack of trust in this new technology, and the numbers cannot—not should not—be ignored.
Pew Research Center reported only last week that before the Arizona incident involving Uber’s autonomous car, the American public was less than enthusiastic over the driverless car. In their survey, 31% said they would be very concerned to be in a driverless car while 33% said they would be somewhat concerned. The majority of those polled—63%—said they would not support a mass exemption from federal motor safety standards for self-driving cars. There was also a strong support for government intervention, especially in the speculation of who actually has the last word on your vehicle. A whopping 75% of those involved in this survey expressed concerns with automakers holding the power to remotely disable vehicle controls, and another 75% of those surveyed believe the US Department of Transportation should develop new standards specifically related to driverless cars.
Presently, Congress is considering legislation to give the automobile industry wide latitude to deploy autonomous vehicles on public roads. This latitude would not require manufacturers to adhere to current safety policy. There is a good amount of intense lobbying pressure by technology firms and the automobile industry to take a “hands-off” approach to the autonomous vehicle. This is a real concern from the general public.
So while the self-driving car is an innovation with great potential, the transition ahead will not be a smooth ride. That much is certain.
A research physicist who has become an entrepreneur and educational leader, and an expert on competency-based education, critical thinking in the classroom, curriculum development, and education management, Dr. Richard Shurtz is the president and chief executive officer of Stratford University. He has published over 30 technical publications, holds 15 patents, and is host of the weekly radio show, Tech Talk. A noted expert on competency-based education, Dr. Shurtz has conducted numerous workshops and seminars for educators in Jamaica, Egypt, India, and China, and has established academic partnerships in China, India, Sri Lanka, Kurdistan, Malaysia, and Canada.