I'd Rather Have a Half-Driverless Car

Companies like Google are racing ahead on driverless cars development, and technovisionary Elon Musk claims one day manual driving will be illegal. But after watching the concept video for a Bosch driverless car above, I’m curious if what we want isn’t a car that’s part driverless and part old-fashioned.

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The Bosch vision for a “highly automated” car —shown in the video above—balances between manual and automated driving. So, you start up the car and then pick between different routes to your destination. You, the human driver, back out of your parking spot and hit the road. Then when you get to the highway or another part of the road that can be driven automatically, you use a two button interface on the steering wheel to let the car know you’re relinquishing controls.

When it’s time to take control back, the car asks you to grab that two button interface again, and if you don’t, the car pulls over. Throughout the journey you’re prompted to rate the maneuvers the car makes so that the system can learn and get better.

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The video highlights many of the advantages of driverless cars. Texting! Watching videos! Getting work done! It doesn’t quite mention the safety aspect, arguably the most important.

But frankly, and I’m not a car nut or anything, I don’t love the idea of a driverless car that you can’t actually drive ever. Is that ridiculous? It seems like sometimes it might be useful to be able to move your car the way you want to move it. How else am I gonna do donuts in a field?!?! More seriously, though, is a world where nobody knows how to drive really safe or desirable? I don’t know.

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DISCUSSION

ericravenscraft
Eric Ravenscraft

I would bet enough money to buy a self-driving car that this is how it’s going to be, at least for vehicles that consumers can buy. There’s no way in hell that laws governing regular Class C drivers will permit cars that cannot be operated manually on the road. So far, drafted legislation (that, admittedly, mostly covers self-driving car tests) require that someone be behind the wheel. This would be a meaningless distinction if the wheel can’t control the car.

Even if it’s not a legal issue, there’s no way to know for 100% certain that you’ll be able to pre-program a computer for every situation. What if you get stuck and need to maneuver out of the mud/snow/whatever? What if your tire gets a flat and you need to carefully back onto a tow truck? What if you need to pull a stump out of the ground or help move another vehicle? Are we just going to ignore all those scenarios? If something breaks on a self-driving car do we just leave it on the side of the road forever?

Surely there will be a manual mode on these cars. It’s almost crazy to imagine that there wouldn’t be. I could maybe see that happening for commercial vehicles like taxis that aren’t designed to be operated by their customers. Presumably it would be less complicated because the areas it would operate would be more controlled (i.e., you won’t take a taxi to a farm and start tugging on tree stumps). But even then, I’d sort of be surprised if there wasn’t a manual mode for their owners.