Observing Thinking

Observing Thinking
Observing Thinking

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Pros and Cons of Autonomous Cars: Part 1

I recently attended my grandson’s wedding in the faroff state of Iowa and, at a family gathering, I listened to a discussion on the pros and cons of driverless cars.

The elder folks argued that the software required by a system of communicating vehicles would be so complex as to almost insure a disaster.; software engineers know that when a bug is fixed in a program of sufficient size, the odds are that several new bugs will be introduced by the changes. Robot cars would be unpredictable, even dangerous, and the experiment is doomed to failure.

The younger faction responded.that a robot chauffeur would actually be safer from human error (drunk drivers, tired or incompetent drivers..) if all cars were driverless. Of course, there would be a transitional period when there would be a mixture of driverless and human driven cars which would be tricky because the weak link in that scenario is you and me --- the human driver. Also, according to some studies indicate some problematic tradeoffs; especially comfort vs optimization of road capacity. There are virtually no complex solutions without some tradeoffs and autonomous cars are no exception.

But there is more to an autonomous vehicle than its ability to act as a robot chauffeur. Cars would become a part of the “Internet of Things”. If you’re not already knowledgeable about this, here is a definition from Google:

Internet of things

a proposed development of the Internet in which everyday objects have network connectivity, allowing them to send and receive data.

And here is a link to an understandable presentation from Forbes:


And here is a caveat from the second part of Google’s above definition:

"if one thing can prevent the Internet of things from transforming the way we live and work, it will be a breakdown in security"

When we take into account that cars are “things”, we can organize The Pros and the Cons of autonomous cars into three categories: Safety/Security, Time, and Money. Let’s take a look at some of the most interesting and important arguments in each category


Pros: Somewhere between 81% to 99% of car crashes are the result of human error On the other hand, computers are not easily distracted and they don’t drive under the influence so there would be no need for a designated driver.. A computer-driven car should be safer.

Cons: As part 2. of the definition of the “Internet of Things” implies the security of autonomous vehicles would be problematic. If you think viruses and malware are annoying on your cell phones and home computers now, they will be more annoying and dangerous in a self-driving vehicle. There have already been successful experiments in hacking into.the software involved.
(Search on the phrase, “Researchers Hack Into Driverless Car System,Take Control of Vehicle “)


Pros: Speed limits could be increased safely since every car knows what every car is doing and where it is (not to mention where the slowdowns are); thus commute times are reduced;

Cons: Some studies show a tradeoff between time and comfort; saving timecan make the ride herky-jerky.

Gasoline/Battery usage would be optimized as they are controlled by a computer.

Money would be saved on parking as the car can drop you off to work and park itself out of the high-rent district and return to drive you home.


The cost of driverless cars could be too much for many citizens.. Estimates of the cost for design, implementation and testing are in the $100,000+ range.

And, finally, to make the debate even more complicated, driverless cars should be compared with similar modes of transportation that are already in place like passenger trains. For starters, trains would provide a smoother, faster ride than driverless car so some argue we should apply our efforts to driverless trains instead.

Stay tuned.

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