How Boeing May Have Set Back Self-Driving Cars

How Boeing May Have Set Back Self-Driving Cars

How Boeing May Have Set Back Self-Driving Cars

Self-driving cars have conjured up everything from wonder, scepticism and ‘terror.’ Despite the marketing and PR efforts of global automakers, consumer trust has remained stubbornly rigid. In a twist, it’s now Boeing and the aviation industry that are complicating matters further…

A Remarkable Safety Record

Notions of self-driving vehicles seem reminiscent, even today, of science fiction. And whilst the necessary technology is still fairly embryonic in the automotive industry, it’s existed for decades in the world of aviation. Most people might not realise it, but human pilots have very little involvement in ‘steering’ commercial aircraft. In fact, they’re only really needed for a few minutes per flight; usually during takeoff and landing. This is all thanks to advanced gadgets and gizmos that direct the plane automatically.

It’s this technology that proponents of self-driving vehicles often find inspiration in. More importantly, it’s also what they’ve traditionally relied upon to diminish fears of autonomous systems. If someone raises a question about the safety of self-driving cars, advocates simply point the impressive safety record of airlines. And it is impressive. Only one fatal flight occurs out of every three million large commercial flights; that’s down by a factor of 16 since the 70s. But that’s just the point, it only takes one accident to cause disillusionment…

The Boeing Crashes

In the last six months, two Boeing crashes have left 346 people dead. Both involved 737 aircraft that utilised autonomous systems. Whilst the nature of the crashes are still being investigated, it appears that on-board sensors malfunctioned; causing the self-driving features of the planes to malfunction. The result was that they began wrestle with the pilots, forcing the aircraft into violent nosedives. As a result of the crashes, all 737 models have been grounded. Initial consumer response was one of panic; with thousands taking to social media to see if their flights would be on the affected aircraft. But it didn’t take long for the fear to develop beyond the confines of the skies. Eyes soon turned towards other applications of self-driving technology, too.

One Incident Is Too Many

Dieter Zetsche, chief executive at Daimler, recently attended a conference in China. There he stressed the damage isolated accidents can cause. He said, “even if autonomous cars are ten times safer than those driven by humans, it takes one spectacular incident to make it much harder to win widespread acceptance.” He added, “if you look at what is happening with Boeing then you can imagine what happens when such a system has an incident.” The consumer reaction to the 737 faults seems to confirm his point. But is there something more going on?

The first automotives were more alien when they first appeared than how alien driverless cars appear to us. It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like for someone, accustomed to little but a horse and carriage, to stumble across the noisy and unpredictable motorcars of yesteryear. Nevertheless, within a few decades hundreds of millions of people were driving them and often. So why, in an age so saturated with technological developments, have we become so fearful?

A Lack Of Control

Nowadays, with the mass-exchange of information, people are well-accustomed to the misuses of technology. Whether it be via film, literature or general events, we’re exposed to an enormous amount of unpleasant occurrences and are bombarded with the hysteria it produces. When a self-driving car owned by Uber struck and killed a woman in Arizona, the entire world knew about it within hours. The technology involved was said to be advanced, sophisticated and safe. Still, a pedestrian lost her life to it. In response to the accident, Uber rolled back its testing on public roads and went back to the the drawing board.

It didn’t take long for critics to accuse Uber of rushing the technology; neglecting thorough testing and safety features in order to get ahead in the tech race. Similar arguments have now been thrown at Boeing. The airline has faced charges of offering safety as a ‘premium’ rather than a default and deliberately cutting corners in order to cut costs. It’s this perception, true or not, that’s at the heart of the problem. New technologies can intimidate and inspire. It takes time for people to be won over to them. In that respect, it’s not surprising that the idea of getting into cars without steering wheels is daunting to many; why wouldn’t it be? But it’s the pace and zealotry of many companies that are stifling their growth.

Automakers are telling motorists that self-driving cars are inevitable, ‘better’ for them and safe. Tesla is selling driverless features whilst its legal jargon calls for the need of constant driver supervision. The entire industry has rushed into technology that  many critics claim is still decades away from mass-adoption. In doing so, they’ve presented the technology as infallible. That means that when it fails, the shock and horror are amplified.

Take A Look At Our Other Blogs…

Flying Cars: A Childish Obsession Or An Inevitability? –

The Many Reasons Why Driverless Cars Don’t Exist Yet

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