Science fiction and Hollywood would show people cruising along, trouble free in these futuristic vehicles and people couldn’t wait to hear of the latest technologies that could bring these marvels into reality.
Well, that dream has become a reality but like dreams, nightmares are the dark shadows of said dreams. Case in point, the new Tesla Motors hybrid cars with autopilot. Heralded as the biggest breakthroughs in automotives in half a century, these cars were put on the road far too early without the right amount of testing and of course, according to Murphy’s Law: Anything than can go wrong, will go wrong, has proven itself out.
In May of 2016 one of these autopilot vehicles was engaged in a fatal accident. This sent shock waves through the automotive industry. Naysayers bolted up and remarked at how they had warned that putting such vehicles on the road would lead to disaster and they were right. A vehicle traveling the roads without human control is an invitation to danger and disaster. Computers are fine but they can’t make the split second decisions that a human can. Nor can computers make predictions regarding the thousands of possible outcomes that road navigation presents. Errant drivers, animals running across the road, accidents, bad weather, all these factors go into the ability to navigate a motor vehicle with expertise. Computing and automated systems just aren’t there yet.
Add to all that another accident a few months later, fortunately the passengers weren’t injured, brought heavy scrutiny on Tesla and its founder Elon Musk. The National Transportation Safety Board is now investigating Tesla with much fervor. The NTSB knows that the advent of hybrid cars with autopilot will still be pursued by tech companies, but they wan to make sure they themselves don’t miss a beat when it comes to public safety regarding these vehicles. New technologies need watch-dogging from beginning to end. Far too many times inventors and manufacturers will rush a product onto the market only to find later that injuries and even fatalities occur. This happens quite often with cars and trucks and brings about the recalls of tens of thousands of potentially dangerous vehicles.
The NTSB wants to nip this type of danger in the bud. They know Tesla is popular and has tons of money, but if they don’t put Tesla in check now, there’s no telling what other menace and mayhem could occur down the road, literally.
The public wants these vehicles for a variety of reasons. Novelty is the first one, green concerns regarding energy also. Ease of travel these vehicles could provide and that impetus is why Tesla and its competitors aren’t going to stop due to two incidents even if someone was killed.
American automotive industry historians will note how difficult it has been to get manufacturers to install safety features. Even when these safety features were statistically proven to save life and limb, it took an act of Congress just to get seat-belts as mandatory. Even air bags were tough to get installed and even then some malfunctioned causing death and severe injury. Automobiles are complex pieces of a combination of technologies and engineering. So much goes into them that today they’re like mini space ships with a thousand times the computing power that the Apollo moon missions used. Trying to provide new and improved features to beat the competition often leads to oversight problems leading to setbacks that government has to enter the fray and try to make heads or tails of.
Tesla Motors has proven themselves as innovators of several breakthrough technologies, but they’ve still a long way to go. Let’s hope that safety and level heads prevail from here on out.
Image credit: Jeff Cooper (Wikipedia)