“Self-driving sounds like it’s going to do something you don’t want it to do. Autopilot is a good thing to have in planes, and we should have it in cars.”
According to Elon Musk, what we have here is… failure to market effectively.
In a recent interview with Bloomberg News, the man whose divorce rated a story on Jalopnik offered his opinions on the future of self-driving cars. The most notable talking points? First, Musk likes the idea of camera-based systems more than he likes a Google-style LIDAR scanning system. In a world where camera lenses never get dirty, this should work perfectly. In the real world, one suspects that the owner of said car will have to intervene fairly often. Better not turn away from the road while you’re reading the tenth book in the “50 Shades” series, ladies.
But that’s okay, because Musk doesn’t like the idea of a “self-driving” car. Better to call it “autopilot”, as noted in the above quote. Here, he has a genuine point. The early self-driving cars will almost certainly be incapable of operating effectively in mixed conditions without frequent and occasionally immediate assistance from the tool behind the wheel. If you look at these systems as “autopilots” — that is, something you use like cruise control in limited situations while remaining at least partially aware of what’s happening — rather than “self-driving” — which implies you can take a nap on the way to work — it makes more sense.
The problem comes when autopilot-level cars have to co-exist with an ever more ridiculous set of rules on distracted driving. What will the owner of the “autopiloted” car be permitted to do? Will he be forced by law to look forward and simply watch the wheels go round and round, just in case something happens that the car can’t handle? Can you imagine being forced to watch a car drive itself from Indianapolis to St. Louis? We’ll need the Clockwork Orange eyelid-grabbers for that, methinks. Or maybe you should just stop thinking about it and participate in mass transit. The government would prefer that, and if there’s no mass transit where you live, that’s a clue that you should leave, right?