Self-driving vehicles: To be or not to be—that is the question

Autonomous vehicle start buttonTwo headlines in the March 6 edition of the Phoenix Business Journal struck me as rather dichotomous.

The first headline read, “Tempe faces $10M suit in Uber self-driving death.” A woman who was crossing the street (not in a cross-walk) was killed last year when an Uber driver in one of the company’s test cars failed to see her. A video showed the “driver” was texting and not paying attention, which illustrates the false level of confidence AVs often give. The radar system in the Uber car also failed to see the woman. So, two fails—one human, one robotic—resulted in a woman’s death and a lawsuit against the city of Tempe, AZ, over the use of its streets as a testing ground for autonomous vehicles (AVs).  

Here’s the second headline: “Israel self-driving technology startup opens U.S. headquarters in Tempe.” It appears that Tempe is becoming a hot spot for self-driving vehicles. It’s interesting that the Israeli tech company is coming to town just as the city begins fighting a $10-million lawsuit involving AV safety.

Given that the Deloitte consumer study of the automotive industry that I recently covered underscored the lack of trust people have in AVs, it’s a wonder that so many companies continue marching full speed ahead to drive a market that the auto OEMs keep insisting will take over the world in a few short years.

By the way, a third headline in today’s Phoenix Business Journal noted that Uber was “found not criminally liable” in that fatal crash, letting Uber off the hook. So much for the theory of one attorney I spoke with several years back who told me autonomous vehicles would be in the crosshairs of lawsuits worth millions of dollars. His argument was that it’s easier to sue and win against big automotive OEMs and connectivity companies than a 16 year old with no insurance. Maybe not so much?

Image courtesy Olivier Le Moal/Adobe Stock.

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