Dylan Hong

December 8, 2017

Don’t Believe Everything You Hear About Self-Driving Cars

It seems like every day we are hearing news about a company’s plans to put self-driving cars on the road within X amount of time.



These two stories were just some that I saw on my news feed within the past week. Most of the headlines are pretty misleading, but there’s a constant trend in these articles. They all highlight the enormous pressure for companies to be the first on the road with fully-autonomous self-driving cars. Everybody knows that selling autonomous vehicles is going to be extremely lucrative. If you are the first manufacturer to market, any tech company looking to build a self-driving car network (companies like Uber), trucking companies, or transportation companies (like Greyhound), will have no other options if they want to implement self-driving into their businesses to secure their chunk of marketshare. There are billions of dollars at stake, but that big cash grab seems to be affecting the mentalities of many tech leaders.

Earlier this year Elon Musk as stated “November or December of this year, we should be able to go from a parking lot in California to a parking lot in New York, no controls touched at any point during the entire journey” (electrek). He also expects people to be able to sleep in their cars within 2 years. This is a huge claim from the CEO of Tesla and it caused people to rethink their timeframe expectations for self-driving cars. But even Tesla engineers don’t quite seem to agree with Mr. Musk. Around the same time of his announcement of the coast-to-coast trip, it was reported that some engineers on the team do not agree that the system is even designed for full autonomy at that level (Business Insider). Elon Musk has a track record of promising dates that he misses by miles, but these events aren’t necessarily Tesla specific incidents. 

In that first link posted above, Larry Page, the CEO of Alphabet, had been pushing for a self-driving car launch back in 2016. The article then points out all of the troubles that plague the car and its automation software. The Waymo cars have trouble making left turns, they can’t navigate cul-de-sacs, or large mall parking lots. Out of the 100 cars they have in their pilot program, only around 50 are in operation because the others have “technical issues.” These are huge problems in the development, and it doesn’t seem that executives of the companies have the patience to wait for the technology to catch up with the hype.

It seems like technology executives are just making statements to excite people. To ride the wave as their stock prices rise every time a CEO makes a new promise about how superior their technology is. Generally, the worst thing that happens when you release a half-baked product is you annoy a few costumers. Releasing a half-baked self-driving car could kill people. I’m just saying that it’s better for everybody overall if we release self-driving cars when they are ready, not just when news outlets want them to be.

For fun, here’s is a video of Intel trying to get people to trust self-driving cars by using LeBron James: https://youtu.be/8VzoqU5IQT4

http://www.businessinsider.com/tesla-autopilot-engineers-clashed-over-self-driving-car-plans-wsj-2017-8, https://electrek.co/2017/04/29/elon-musk-tesla-plan-level-5-full-autonomous-driving/, https://arstechnica.com/cars/2017/10/report-waymo-aiming-to-launch-commercial-driverless-service-this-year/, https://www.cnbc.com/2017/10/02/gm-to-launch-self-driving-cars-uber-competitor-soon-deutsche-bank.html
Dylan Hong
Human Factors Engineering