The recent US crash of a highly automated Tesla, whose driver became the first known casualty of a new auto technology still in the testing phase, is a stark reminder of the ultimate price of being a guinea pig and the ultimate conundrum carmakers face when peddling the concept of self-driving cars to the public.
In the auto industry’s bold new experiment with artificial intelligence, boundaries are still being tested even as they are pushed to the extreme. Lines are so easy to blur, just as occurred in the recent fatal accident. While the Tesla’s camera was failing to distinguish the white side of a turning tractor-trailer from the brightly lit sky and failing to activate automatic braking, the hands-off driver was suspected of watching a movie played on a laptop.
The tragedy of the ensuing collusion hurt but did not stop the undaunted march toward the merging of automotive and robotic technologies. The industrial concept of Vision Zero points to motoring with no casualties, no injuries and no accidents, with cars running purely on programmed rationality, free from human distraction, fatigue and emotional instability.