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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Horny Teens, Driverless Cars, and Forgottonia

Last night on the news a banner headline scrolled across the screen: Google driverless vehicle travels 300,000 miles without an accident (er, well, there was an accident but it was while the human tender hand taken over control of the vehicle).

According to this federal site passenger vehicles traveled about 2 trillion miles in 2009.

With about 40,000 traffic deaths a year we expect a death every 50,000,000 (50 million) miles driven.

So in order to see how well a driverless car performs we need to see a lot more miles of testing: 166 times more than 300,000 in order to get to the average number per highway death.

But good old California can't wait for this kind of testing and recently signed into law a driverless car law (see this).

Driverless cars have all sorts of hightech gadgetry like radar, computers, GPS, live internet connections, and so on to make them work.

Many dozens or thousands of additional "points of failure" in addition to things like wheel lug nuts and tires which can fatally fail.  (The car "constantly scans Google Maps" for updates while driving according to the article - let's hope there's no mistake on the road leading along the quarry.)

I wrote "Death by GPS" a couple of years ago.  It covered a couple that followed a GPS right off a cliff into a quarry where they died.

Perhaps there are more than a couple of thousand points of failure to consider???

So by 2015 California will have a set of regulations for driverless cars.

I expect that the California Bar Association is rubbing their hands together in delight over this.

You have to understand that each year 250,000,000 cars drive a couple of trillion miles.  During that time there is a relatively low fatality rate with humans at the controls.

No doubt when the driverless car is working well it too will have a low fatality rate.

But that's not really an issue.  Its getting to that point that I see problematic.

What happens when the engineers at Google (the service provider for this blog) make mistakes?

Agile development will no doubt come into play and I am quite sure there will be details that no on will think of.

Nails on the road blowing out multiple tires on a tight, busy, rainy road.

Solenoids, radars, Google maps and mechanical contrivances sticking, failing to work as designed, or reporting incorrect values.

What will happen should the car lose "connectivity" on a busy highway?  Will the couple in the back seat have time to get dressed and take control? 

Once horny teenagers discover these cars there will be no need for "parking" any longer - simple tell the car to drive in a big wide loop around town and hop into the back seat.

No doubt there will be "Law and Order" episodes about sabotage - the jealous husband or wife tinkering with the autopilot to kill the unwanted spouse.

For kidnapping you'll just have to tie up your victim, program the car and set it off running around the city - that way the police dogs won't be able to find them...

Of course there will be accidents.

Whose fault will those be?  Google's?  Your's?  The car's?

What if your car is out driving without you?  Will you be at fault?

You can bet that Google will never take any blame for software or hardware failures.

It will likely take the insurance industry and the court systems twenty or thirty years per state to sort out.  And, like gay marriage, some states will have more forgiving laws than others.

Then there will be the terrorists.

Want to screw the entire city?  Just jam the GPS or internet signal and all the cars will come to a stop.

Or just send out "bent" GPS information that makes a giant loop out of everything.

Generations of children will grow up not knowing how to drive or take life-and-death responsibility for their own or their friends and families lives.

 Need to get rover to the groomer - just stick him in the car and program it to take him there.

Place unknown to Google maps will simply be forgotten: Like Forgottenia - a section of western central Illinois which was bypassed by the Interstate road system.  If your street isn't on Google maps there won't be any "going home" either.


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