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5 Reasons We're Not Quite Ready for Driverless Cars

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Self-driving cars have become a buzzword for future tech, but perhaps the biggest misconception about them is that we're waiting on the technology to make cars drive themselves.

Self-driving cars are here. Sure - they might still be in the late stages of testing - but the limiting factor now isn't getting the cars to drive themselves, it's creating a functional infrastructure for them.

Removing the human element from our transport network promises to vastly improve safety if we do it right. The problem is, all of the technology required to make the transition is vulnerable. Don't believe us? Here are a few examples of questions we still haven't answered about self-driving cars.

1. Zero-Hour Threats

Today, when your car needs a software update - for example, for its transmission or engine control software - you go to the dealer and they plug it into a machine that downloads the update. That model doesn't work with self-driving cars. Here's why.

The same malware that strikes personal computers every day could potentially be used to access your car, and a successful attack could lead to horrific traffic pileups. That cannot happen, which means that, when a new threat emerges, manufacturers have to be able to update their cars wirelessly and quickly, which they can't do at the moment.

2. A Unified Network for Cars

Another aspect of the self-driving car infrastructure we have yet to perfect is communication between the cars. Nearly all of the safety wins that come out of having all cars on a single network rely on cars being able to communicate wirelessly. But over whose network will that communication take place?

Expect heavy competition on this front from major telecom manufacturers. Great minds throughout history have recognized that standardization is key, and it's likely that the end result of this need will be some type of joint effort between major telecoms providers to build some sort of backbone network, similar to the tier-one Internet Service Providers that exist for the World Wide Web.

3. Law Enforcement

Whatever solution is developed for problems one and two, there will undoubtedly be attempts to thwart the systems in place - and that means law-enforcing bodies must have some power over the network.

What that power is and where it stops, though, is difficult to define. Would you feel comfortable driving a car if you knew the police could shut it down remotely from half a world away? If not, what do you recommend we do about the potential ability for a hacker to hijack your car? It's a difficult problem to solve - and it's directly tied to the next issue.

4. Privacy Problems

This isn't a new issue in the era of the 24-hour news cycle and life-consuming social media, but it is one that becomes much worse when you consider the reality of self-driving cars.

Your car's computer system would have access to a great deal of sensitive information about where you go, and even potentially things like what you buy at the grocery store once such a system's capabilities are more fully realized. We expect self-driving cars to deliver a whole new service economy, but will it come at the cost of any ability to keep things private?

5. Maintenance Issues

Even today, small automotive repair businesses are struggling to stay afloat thanks to proprietary tools and software put forth by manufactures who seek to corner the market on repairing the cars they sell. Self-driving cars could effectively be the straw that breaks the camel's back.

Technicians learning the trade today must be skilled in computer science as well as turning wrenches, and automakers likely won't want to share their one-off software with smaller shops. That means higher maintenance costs that will be unavoidable because only your dealer will have the right people and tools to work on your car's computer system.

Self-driving cars are coming, but as you can see, there are still plenty of hoops to jump through before the world is ready for them. So if you cringe at the thought of never driving your classic muscle car on the road again, breath a small sigh of relief - you've probably got at least another fifteen years to enjoy it.

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About the Author

Kayla Matthews is a tech-loving blogger who writes and edits ProductivityBytes.com. Follow her on Twitter to read all of her latest posts!
Published Monday, May 08, 2017 7:02 AM by David Marshall
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