The phenomenon of fully autonomous cars has begun. “Self-driving cars without a human behind the wheel could run freely on UK roads from 2021, the chancellor is set to announce”, according to AutoCar. Unfortunately, by replacing human drivers with robot drivers, the end of a rather emotional relationship that we are having with cars, will begin.
Cars, for many people, are more than a just means to an end. “The type of car you drive tells a story about your personality. It may not be obvious, but people do share a lot of things in common with the cars they drive, and will choose a vehicle that represents their own particular talents and interests and reflect their values in life” suggests Joel Wong in TOC.
I wonder what autonomous cars can reveal about my personality?
Wikipedia defines an autonomous car (also known as a driver-less car, self-driving car, robotic car, autos) and unmanned ground vehicle, as a vehicle that is capable of sensing its environment and navigating without human input.
Just like us, self-driving cars need to have sensors to understand the world around them and a brain that collects, processes and chooses specific actions based on information gathered. Therefore, autonomous cars are fitted with advanced tools to gather information, including long-range radar, LIDAR, cameras, short/medium-range radar, and ultrasound (Chris Giarratana, ReadWrite.com).
The data collected are analysed and by using complex algorithms and digital maps, the autonomous car is steered clear of mishaps and hopefully reach the destination it was programmed for.
The use of autonomous cars can have the following advantages and disadvantages (Paul Goodman, AxleAddict):
|No driver means more space and more entertainment;||Driver-less cars would likely be out of the price range of most ordinary people;|
|No bad drivers, thus less road accidents;||Truck drivers and taxi drivers will lose their jobs, as autonomous vehicles take over;|
|Traffic could be coordinated more easily in urban areas to prevent long tailbacks at busy times;||A computer malfunction, even just a minor glitch, could cause worse crashes than anything that human error might bring about;|
|Sensory technology could potentially perceive the environment better than human senses, seeing farther ahead, better in poor visibility, detecting smaller and more subtle obstacles, more reasons for less traffic accidents;||If the car crashes, without a driver, whose fault is it: Google/the software designer, or the owner of the vehicle?|
|Speed limits could be increased to reflect the safer driving, shortening journey times;||Hackers getting into the vehicle’s software and controlling or affecting its operation would be a major security worry;|
|There would be no need for drivers’ licenses or driving tests;||Reading human road signs is challenging for a robot;|
|Autonomous cars could bring about a massive reduction in insurance premiums for car owners;||How would the police interact with driver-less vehicles, especially in the case of accidents or crimes?|
|Efficient travel also means fuel savings, cutting costs.|
So, there are many pros and cons that we have to consider when we decide to buy autonomous cars. But sadly, there’s a lot that we will leave behind, like the feeling of driving a car…
Real cars and the joy of driving them
The ribbon of shimmering asphalt curved between the mountains of the Peloponnese and the azure Aegean, which glittered in the late afternoon sun. The engine of the Audi A3 growled – a satisfying, syrupy growl – as I pressed the accelerator. As the car started to shift, I realized in a moment of clarity that I was very, very happy…
Pirelli & C
The nice feeling that you get when driving a car, as the narrative above of Pirelli & C suggests, may soon only be a faint memory because of autonomous cars. “Where’s the thrill?” asks Giancarlo Perlas in BenzInsider. He later proposes: “Self-driving systems will likely be optional at first, and mandatory later. By that time, the only way to feel the thrill of driving will be through VR simulators (that will become mainstream by the time) and casual games like the AllSlots’ Racing for Pinks.”
That’s scary – we’ll lose the sensation of driving a car because of robots doing it. And, wait for it – we then have to rely on robots to simulate the feeling of driving a car that we are craving for. It’s a strange place, this digitize world.
Cars and humans – like men and their horses…
A very long time ago, before cars and trains even, people had horses to get them from A to B. There were horses of all shape and sizes, most with an owner and many with a name. But it was how humans bonded with horses. “Both the horse and the human become attuned to each other’s physical and mental ways, thus developing the state of co-being” according to Horsetalk.co.nz. Then cars started replacing the horses.
“Car consumption is never simply about rational economic choices, but is as much about aesthetic, emotional and sensory responses to driving, as well as patterns of kinship, sociability, habitation and work” suggests Sheller, (2004). Sheller, in explaining the “feeling of cars” proposes that pleasure, fear, frustration, euphoria, pain, envy (i.e. emotional responses), to cars and feelings about driving are crucial to the personal investments people have in buying, driving, and dwelling with cars.
So, as previously with horses, humans did found a willing emotional partner in the form of their cars. And now the robot is starting to replace the car, and it is impacting on business. Viereckl, Ahlemann, Koster and Jursch (2015) had this to say about the ‘promise of autonomous driving’: “It’s a disruptive technology that will upend traditional auto industry structures, usher in new business models, and change the nature of the business. “
It’s not easy to comprehend an emotional bond between robots and humans. Maybe it’s because robots can be learned to predict your behaviour. After all, who better than to ask Jeremy Clarkson for an opinion on autonomous cars: “I drove a car the other day which has a claim of autonomous capability and twice in the space of 50 miles on the M4 it made a mistake, a huge mistake, which could have resulted in death”, reported Holly Christodoulou, The Sun.
Like horses had to make way for cars, so will cars have to make way for autonomous cars. What a pity…
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Sheller, M., 2004. Automotive emotions: feeling the car, Theory, culture & society, 21(4-5):221-242.
Viereckl, R., Ahlemann, D., Koster, A. and Jursch, S. 2015. Connected Car Study 2015: Racing ahead with autonomous cars and digital innovation. Strategy& http://www. strategyand. pwc. com/reports/connected-car-2015-study