The technology to support self-driving cars is a reality. At this point the challenge is largely economic — it costs around $100,000 to equip a self-driving car with the sensors and other hardware to push it toward autonomy. Another challenge is social. We tie a lot of our identity to our cars and the freedom they afford. This freedom might as well be in our human DNA. There’s no one still living on the planet who knew a time before the automobile.
A third challenge is legal. And it’s much easier to ask the questions than to answer them.
- How will we set the standards for hardware and software performance?
- Should we adjust the speed limit?
- How will we allocate fault when there is an accident?
- Will the cost of insurance go down if there is less risk on the road?
- Are we willing to give over so much information when our self-driving cars join the “internet of things”?
- What protections will we give to automobile makers and the manufacturers of autonomous systems?
On that last question, legislative protection of entire industries is not unprecedented. Gun makers and internet service providers find protection from the unfortunate choices made by the users of their products.
In any event, the self-driving norm is emerging, and is bolstered by new data about how safe and cost-effective it is. There are big savings in terms of dollars and lives. The legal and social issues will have to sort themselves out.