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Driverless cars: Destination unknown

They have been hailed as the future – but some experts have voiced concern over driverless cars

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When mass-produced cars first appeared in the early 20th century, few could have imagined them operating without a driver. Fast forward over a hundred years, and many still seem hesitant to jump onto the driverless bandwagon.

While major technology and automobile giants scramble to launch automated vehicles – Google, Mercedes and Audi are already in the race – some remain sceptical of the benefits. And although several countries permit driverless vehicles on their roads, traffic laws would still require the driver to be able to take control of the car and override automated functions, the Financial Times (FT) recently reported.

There are several issues of liability that also need to be addressed before driverless cars become a reality, the FT article argues. For instance, insurance issuers will have to consider whether the driver or the manufacturer should be held accountable in case of accident.

A report by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) on autonomous vehicles in the UK raises other concerns, like cyber-security.

“If we have the hacker community start to target vehicles… we could imagine a fair amount of chaos on the roads,” says Hugh Boyes, a cyber-security expert at the IET, quoted in The Guardian.

“Terrorism is a real risk. So cyber-security of autonomous vehicles will be critical,” Boyes cautions, noting that these vehicles may need to be equipped with black boxes like airplanes in case of an incident.

The data from driverless cars also poses an interesting question over ownership: will drivers own the data from their vehicles, or manufacturers? If the latter, can this information be sold to third-party providers like insurance companies?

Additionally, driving for many is about more than simply commuting. Auto manufacturers will face challenges marketing vehicles to consumers when driving pleasure is out of the equation, the IET report says. One also wonders, will consumers be willing to relinquish total control of their precious vehicles, and forego the joy of driving? It remains to be seen.

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