According to Axios, 54% of Americans are unlikely to use self-driving cars, with a further 21% neutral on the issue. Though the article doesn’t go into a ton of detail, I’m sure that a big reason for this lack of enthusiasm is a legitimate concern over safety as detailed in this article from Transport Topics. Can a machine and its myriad sensors ‘see’ what humans see? And more to the point, when it comes time to make a life-or-death decision for yourself or another motorist or pedestrian, can a machine make that decision for you? Should it? Recent research by The Institute of Cognitive Science at the University of Osnabrück, suggests that machine based moral decisions are, in principle, possible.
I actually believe that in some driving situations, especially those involving slow, stop and go traffic, this technology could be a life saver. Imagine you live in Los Angeles or Beijing, and you waste an hour or more of your life every day glued to the bumper in front of you, back sore from sitting in one position too long, your right calf muscle aching from alternating robotically between light dabs on the brake and accelerator. That’s almost 10 full days of your life per year or just under one and a half years assuming a 45 year career, wasted. Imagine getting that back by taking your eyes off the road and your hands off the wheel. Imagine being able to wrap up your emails and meetings before you get home, or watching a documentary or reading a book in order to unwind and fill your brain with facts and interesting topics with which to amaze your family at the dinner table.
But the facts are the facts, and at least at this point, safety is a real concern and barrier when it comes to the mass adoption of self-driving cars. Now, ever the amateur anthropologist, I have another theory that might complement concerns about safety. It’s something most of us forget. We forget it during a brutal commute. We forget it when we’re ferrying kids back and forth from their activities on week nights and at weekends. We forget it when we are 5 hours into the drive between San Francisco and Los Angeles and all we want to do is to escape the metal box and do anything, anything else at all. Gnawing off your own arm would be a refreshing change! Yes, what we forget is that we actually like driving! Do you remember that sense of freedom when you first got your driver’s license? That rush of adrenaline the first time you pressed the accelerator pedal and felt this massive object around you surging forward at your command? Do you remember the first time you drove through a corner and felt your body want to go straight while the car veered left? And what about the time when you screeched off the line, rowing through the gears, redlining the engine before every change up?
Most humans love going fast, and by that I mean going faster than we can move under our own steam. We call a subset of those humans ‘Drivers’. Drivers love the sensation of interacting with a mechanical device. They love the sound of an internal combustion engine, the whirrrr of an electric motor, the meshing of gears, the lovely tactile experience of turning a steering wheel and feeling the resistance build through their wrists and hands as the front wheels of the car grapple with the surface of corner.
At JPS, we believe that no matter what advances come in self-driving technology, no matter what age you are, no matter what you drive, the Driver will always exist. We believe that there will always be room for a pure, unadulterated driving experience the quality of which is down to the driver and the driver alone. And that’s our inspiration. To continue building beautiful, tactile, thrilling cars that remind us that driving is an art form. Cars that remind us that WE are autonomous, intelligent, sentient beings. Cars that remind us we’re alive.