Are We Really Ready for RoboCars?

By the end of the year, Waymo plans to release upon the world (in Arizona specifically) robotaxis that can be summoned with the press of a button. Are we ready to forgo our personal vehicle and step into a transportation pod that controls us in an intimate and even perhaps a provocative way?

Probably not.

Of course, Waymo has over 10 million miles of driverless car driving under its tires…far more than any other contender. The company is currently testing in 15 to 20 markets. Experts say that by 2030 Waymo could capture up to 60 percent of the market with $2.3 Trillion in revenue.

When more robocars become deployed under the Waymo flag, will the roads be safer overall? Will drivers be able to handle the almost exactitude of how a driverless car handles the road?

This past week the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society or HFES came out with a statement stating that there is a flaw with current AV software. The software ignores how humans interact with technology. The society is made up of designers, engineers, psychologists and other scientists who say that humans perform more poorly when using automated systems. Overreliance on technology will cause more distracted driving and due to this, robocars that still need to be monitored by humans less safe. HFES recommends the following to guide regulators in their ongoing work on regulating AVs:

  • Careful testing across a wide range of driving conditions is needed before deployment on public roads.
  • AVs should support the needs of human drivers and other road users.
  • AVs need to be safe and understandable to humans including the limitations of the vehicle.
  • Detailed training should be provided for drivers who accompany AVs. This includes additional training when updates are issued.

Let’s face it—this is the Wild West here. Pronouncements like these from well-meaning societies, associations and groups are fine but they will make no difference ultimately. The war to get us out of our cars and into robocar pods is real because at the end of the day there is money to be made at the end of that rainbow.

Companies are more concerned about being first and making money for their shareholders. This full on frontal to push driverless cars down consumers’ throats as quickly as possible has nothing to do with transportation.

Selling a car is a one-time only sale—the real money that the new “mobility” companies want a slice of is the ongoing access to a captive audience inside the driverless pod car.

For example, GM has already worked on a radio-tracking program during three months in late 2017. They monitored the listening habits of 90,000 drivers in Los Angeles and Chicago in their quest to uncover data for the future of targeted advertising in cars. In-car data scooping for the eventual targeted ads we all know is coming (we’ve seen Minority Report) will in the end be much more lucrative than selling cars.

Even though it is our personal data, we will probably not own the rights to it. This month, the European Parliament Committee on Legal Affairs wrote in an amendment to a draft statement:

Data generated during autonomous transport are automatically generated and are by nature not creative, thus making copyright protection or the right on databases inapplicable.

On October 10, the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee voted against this amendment which essentially opens up the possibility that any data gathered in an autonomous vehicle will be subject to copyright. This means that not only will your marketing preferences not be owned by you but so will the information about where you went, what time you went and how fast you went. The copyright holder, probably the manufacturer, would then be able to sell your data to insurance companies, marketers and the highest bidder who would benefit from the information.

Fortunately all of this is a draft of a non-binding resolution. No doubt this data copyright debate will continue.

At least for now I can drive my car without worrying about my personal data being used in ways I don’t want it used. If driverless cars eventually make it my direction, I will have to deal with that I suppose.

I’m not really ready for that though! Are you?

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