Automated cars, if only they had a brain

It seems that the not so distant future will soon resemble a scene from I, Robot with everyone from car manufacturers to tech companies developing their own model so they can take a stake in an industry that is expected to be worth $2.81 billion by 2022.

While the prospect of a sci-fi fantasy becoming reality is whipping up excitement for many, the driving industry has been thrown into uncertainty with many predicting that fully automated vehicles will push millions into unemployment, but how realistic is this vision?

Considering the current roadblocks ahead, it would appear that the idea of implementing automated only vehicles will soon be parked.

The Bottom Line is Top Priority

Fewer accidents, lower running costs and the removal of drivers’ wages are offered as reasons for businesses to take up automated technology, but how much will automated vehicles cost? While Tesla’s cheapest automated-ready car has been reported to have an eye watering price tag of $420,690, Mark Field, CEO of auto giant Ford, has already established that affordability is a key priority in the brand’s automated vehicle development, telling Tech Insider: “We want to make sure when we come out with an autonomous vehicle that it will be accessible to millions as opposed to maybe just folks who can afford luxury vehicles."

Ford’s dedication to providing self-driving cars to the masses does give us hope that other brands will follow a similar approach, offering consumers a wider range of options. However, there is still an expectation that initial costs will stretch budgets. The IHS Automotive has forecast that automated technology ‘will add between $7,000 and $10,000 to a car’s sticker price in 2025’ and this figure will slowly decrease over time to ‘about $3,000 in 2035 when no driver controls are available’. This indicates that the implementation of automated technology will be a gradual process. Undoubtedly cost will be a determining factor in businesses’ adoption of automated vehicles and, considering that Honda’s new Civic LX Sedan, which comes with automated capabilities, is priced at a reasonable $20,440 there’s evidence that partial automation may offer a more rapid solution to businesses looking to cut costs.

Trust Issues

The question of how far we can trust automated technology is complex. Robotic drivers are designed to calculate the safest course of action and are free from the impairments of alcohol or exhaustion. It is this reason that has caused many to predict that the multi-billion motor insurance industry will see significant losses.

John Leech, head of motor at KMPG believes that “premiums could could halve once we have vehicles which communicate with each other and [enter] an 'autopilot mode' when driving on the motorway.” The opportunity to significantly reduce cheaper costs will certainly prompt businesses to move towards automated technology. The catch is that this technology is human-designed and so the design itself is vulnerable to human oversight.

Despite Volvo boldly claiming that by 2020, no one will be killed or seriously injured by one of its cars, the question of liability remains. Graeme Trudgill of the British Insurance Brokers’ Association (Biba) has highlighted the potential catch-22 situation automated vehicle liability poses: “If we eliminate accidents caused by human error, we could move towards a model where people pay much cheaper insurance rates as the cost is shifted towards ‘product liability. However, if manufacturers are paying for the crashes that do occur, they will need to claw that cost back. This could be reflected in a higher cost for driverless cars.”

The Modern Transport Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech earlier this month, outlined the Government’s commitment to ensuring that insurance is available to users of driverless cars. However, the details of how these policies will work are yet to be confirmed, and, until responsibility is made clear, businesses should be wary about investing in technology that has no legal precedent to follow.

Automated underperformers

Undoubtedly new technology has transformed our lives over the past 20 years from the way we work to the way we find a love interest, but we can’t ignore the fact that it’s not the technology alone that has helped improve our experiences with brands. Michael Horrocks of Expert Market notes: “New technology has transformed industries over the past two decades and we’ve seen many examples of companies who have suffered hugely after being left behind. However, technology should be a tactic within a wider strategy that seeks to enhance the customer experience with a brand and strengthen its reputation.”

Uber offer a shining example of how technological and human effort combined can help provide an outstanding customer service.The feedback model that requires both drivers and passengers to score each other gives incentive for both parties to interact and work towards creating a positive and, more importantly, personalised experience. This very human exchange is enabled by an easy to use app. The technology provides the platform, but the emotional connection between brand and user is strengthened by an exchange between humans working together to make the trip home as pleasant as the night out.

It’s easy to get caught up in the next big thing and predict the end of life as we know it. However, when it comes to automated vehicles, the facts offer a reality that is far from our favourite sci-fi scenes.

Automated vehicles will undoubtedly transform industries by offering them more choice and efficiency, but this technology can’t operate alone - it hasn’t got the brains.

Image Credit: Shutterstock / chombosan