My Next Audi: The Self-Driving A2
I love my little A3 TDI but with this week’s NTSB’s recent recommendation to ban portable electronics, I’m yearning for a car that can drive itself. So I was thrilled to read today about Audi’s concept for a semi-autonomous A2. Its the natural evolution from today’s adaptive cruise control systems and Google’s proved its possible.
In order for me to safely take my eyes off the road to read a book or watch a movie we need a fully-autonomous car. In fact, I think in the not-to-distant future we should be able to engineer a car that can drive more safely than a human given that it can be programed to flawlessly react at sub-human speeds (hence why ABS and other safety systems are so effective).
However, I’m convinced that this will never happen in the western world due to both our litigious society and our need for control over machines. In order for Audi, or another car maker, to make such a car their lawyers would want indemnification from lawsuits against them for situations where the car’s piloting system caused an accident. We only need to think back to the Toyota stuck accelerator problem and imagine a headline like “Self-driving car drives family off a cliff” to see how big a deal this could be.
What’s sad is that even if these systems were engineered to be 100X safer than a human driver—society will not be able to accept even the single wrongful death. We’ll focus on the one self-driving “kill” rather than the millions of “saved” lives. It’s an ethical question we’ll have to face sooner rather than later.
Too bad. I really could use one of these.