By Robert A. Vella
“Call me old, call me grumpy, but I don’t want no self-driving cars!”
Such sentiments are typical of elderly people who are stuck in their ways, resistant to change, and generally unhappy with themselves and the new world unfolding around them. It could also signal a warning for profit-driven society unable to keep up with technological advances evolving at a breakneck pace.
In the case of self-driving cars, both interpretations would seem to apply. Computerized automation is a fact of life in the modern world, and it is increasingly prevalent in transportation systems. From maritime shipping to airline travel and high-speed rail systems, moving people and products from place to place and around the globe would be far more difficult without it. Along with the efficiency provided by automation, safety is an added benefit. Today’s aircraft technology, for example, has made piloting, navigation, and threat avoidance so much easier that some critics have blamed it for creating pilots who don’t know how to fly a plane anymore in the conventional sense.
However, there is a big difference between automation in air, ocean, and rail systems – which are heavily regulated and require intensive training and certification of its operators – and vehicular automation along the countless roads which crisscross much of the world’s land surfaces. The more complex nature of road traffic particularly in cities, and the lower overall skill level of driving for personal use, poses greater technological problems for computer automation. More uncertainty means more errors, and more errors mean more tragic malfunctions.
Arizona’s Republican governor repeatedly encouraged Uber’s controversial experiment with autonomous cars in the state, enabling a secret testing program for self-driving vehicles with limited oversight from experts, according to hundreds of emails obtained by the Guardian.
The previously unseen emails between Uber and the office of governor Doug Ducey reveal how Uber began quietly testing self-driving cars in Phoenix in August 2016 without informing the public.
On Monday, 10 days after one of Uber’s self-driving vehicles killed a pedestrian in a Phoenix suburb, Ducey suspended the company’s right to operate autonomous cars on public roads in Arizona. It was a major about-face for the governor, who has spent years embracing the Silicon Valley startup.
It’s been a brutal month for Tesla: Analysts are worried about delays shipping its new Model 3, and say it will soon face a cash crunch. Plus there’s a government investigation into a recent fatal Model X crash.
The stock has now plunged 25 percent in March, following sharp declines this week.
Because the company is investing in expanding its production and car lineup, its costs are high and its revenue hasn’t yet caught up. The result: Tesla will burn through about $900 million of cash per quarter in the first half of 2018, according to UBS Securities analyst Colin Langan, who has a “sell” rating on the shares.
Even hitting its production goals won’t save the day, according to Langan, since each car will be a money-loser after accounting for spending on research and development and other costs.
Tesla is also under scrutiny after the fatal crash of a Model X in California on Friday. Tesla blamed a missing safety barrier for the severity of the crash. The National Transportation Safety Board said on Tuesday that it was opening an investigation into the crash, noting it was unclear if Tesla’s automated control system was active at the time.
Tesla pointed to a blog post about the crash, in which it said it’s working with authorities to recover the car’s logs.
“We have never seen this level of damage to a Model X in any other crash,” Tesla said in the blog post.