Self-Driving Cars: Just Because We Can?

by James Heller

We’re big fans of Tesla and Elon Musk, the current patron saint of American entrepreneurs. As car guys, we’re intrigued by the future of electric cars, and believe their increased popularity will be great for the planet.  They're fast too!

So we were extremely sorry to read about the fatal accident that killed one of the electric car brand’s best-known evangelists, Navy veteran Josh Brown, while the vehicle was in autopilot mode on a Florida state road.

Though it was only reported yesterday, Brown was killed back on May 7th when his black Model S Tesla ploughed into the side of a tractor trailer truck that was turning at an intersection, shearing off the roof of the vehicle as it traveled underneath and out. You can see the police diagram here.

According to a Tesla blog post entitled “A Tragic Loss”:

Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied. The high ride height of the trailer combined with its positioning across the road and the extremely rare circumstances of the impact caused the Model S to pass under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S.

Ironically, Brown became Internet-famous in early April after posting a YouTube video that showed his Model S avoiding a collision while in autopilot mode.

But, as the Tesla blog suggests, not all potential collisions are created equal, and just because the car’s on autopilot doesn’t mean the former driver can turn his attention to a Harry Potter movie.

The tragedy brings up a point we’ve made several times on the Wrapify blog about technology: just because something can be done, does that mean it should be done? We’re 100% on-board with electric vehicles — they reduce our nation’s reliance on oil and make the air cleaner. Better yet, more racing fuel for petrol heads like me 🙂

But do these electric vehicles need to then evolve into self-driving cars? If, once you turn the car to autopilot, you need to keep paying attention to make sure the AI doesn’t mistake “the white side of a tractor trailer” for “a brightly-lit sky,” is that really simplifying your life? Or does it inspire a white-knuckled ride where you’re constantly second-guessing the vehicle? Also, how much of the human element can we remove from being on age-old public roadways and freeways?

And that’s not even getting into the whole “Minority Report” potential of driverless cars.

Personally, we like driving. A huge part of the pleasure of a car is the thrill of operating and controlling it, understanding how it handles and turns, knowing its intricacies and uniqueness. It’s like a good friend — and we’d always rather have a good friend than the best robot. At the same time, sipping a cup of coffee while we crank out morning emails on our commute sounds pretty damn cool too. What do you think?

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