Every major car maker in the world is focused on developing self-driving cars. Manufacturers from BMW to Ford are pouring tons of money and resources into getting self-driving cars on the roads, as are leading tech companies like Apple and Google. In fact, Google spent last summer testing their version of the self-driving car on roads throughout Northern California.
Conservative estimates forecast that there will be 10 million self-driving cars on North American roads by 2020. The big question, though, is will consumers themselves rush to adopt self-driving cars? While the industry plows ahead with their plans for completely autonomous vehicles, many citizens are taking a wait-and-see attitude to this new technology. And why not?
There’s no guarantee that self-driving cars will be enjoyable. Or even practical. In fact, there are many reasons why the self-driving car revolution might actually suck. Here are 10 of those reasons.
10. Self-Driving Cars Are Programmed to be Cautious
There’s no road rage with self-driving cars. In fact, the prototype self-driving cars that have been developed and tested to date are deliberately programmed to be cautious, some reviewers even say “timid,” on roads and freeways. The cars generally drive slowly and always err on the side of caution in any situation.
The cars never respond to aggressive or threatening driving by other motorists, and most are programmed to pull over, stop, and wait until a threat to the car or its occupants is eliminated. Google has described its self-driving car as being programmed to be “a careful student driver on the road.” While this may be good in terms of safety, it is likely going to make traveling in a self-driving car pretty boring.
9. No More Stepping on the Gas
One of the simple joys of driving is the ability to put the “pedal to the metal,” as the saying goes. Who doesn’t love the feeling of driving their foot to the floor and taking off? Well, those feelings will become a distant memory thanks to self-driving cars. With autonomous vehicles, there is no more quick acceleration or speeding up just a little when your favorite tune comes on the radio.
With self-driving cars, the mantra is “slow and steady wins the race.” They are programmed to accelerate modestly and with almost no detection from the passengers. This means you can look forward to a gentle, steady ride to work in the morning. No more “flooring it” to make that light or get to the office in time for your 9 a.m. meeting. The thrill of driving is officially dead.
8. Self-Driving Cars Aren’t Cool
Gear heads and other people who love the look of a Mustang, Porsche, or Ferrari aren’t likely to appreciate the aesthetic qualities of self-driving cars. These vehicles have not been designed for sex appeal. In fact, the nickname of Google’s version is the “marshmallow.” Not cool at all. The car literally looks like a marshmallow!
While some reviewers have labeled the current version of self-driving cars as “cute,” they are pretty small and soft looking. They’ll never be confused for a muscle car, which is popular genre for a reason. There is some method to the madness though. Apparently the soft, gentle design is meant to disarm other motorists on the road and make the cars seem almost friendly to humans. Studies show that people are less likely to harm an object if they find it adorable, or if it has a face or other human traits. Still, cute can only get you so far.
7. Self-Driving Cars Mostly Run on Electricity
Almost all self-driving cars currently in development run entirely on electricity. There are very few (if any) hybrid versions, and no need for gasoline. This makes sense, since there is a growing movement towards electric vehicles throughout the global automotive industry as a while. It also eliminates the confusion that could be caused if the self-driving car needed to find a gas station to pull into.
However, running on electricity does limit the distance self-driving cars can go. Currently, self-driving cars have a range of about 100-to-200 miles. This means that people won’t be taking them on long road trips any time soon. Improvements in battery technology should help increase the maximum distance of self-driving cars in the future.
For now, they are best used for short commuting distances in urban settings. Also, self-driving cars are programmed to only go the speed limit – in any situation. They will typically not even go five miles over the speed limit. So little range and low speeds are to be expected.
6. Traffic Won’t be Any Better
One of the great hopes (or promises?) of self-driving cars is that they will help to reduce traffic congestion and lead to smoother traffic flows in major metropolitan areas. The famous traffic jams seen in cities like Atlanta and Los Angeles (and many other major cities in the world) will become a thing of the past, analysts have claimed.
Not so fast.
A growing number of automotive executives are cautioning that autonomous cars might not necessarily solve traffic congestion at all. Google recently pointed out the obvious — that autonomous vehicles of any kind will still take up space on freeways and city streets, and will still require parking spaces. Even if they’re someday able to drive in space-saving formation, or weave through intersections in a choreographed manner, they’ll still be eating up several square feet of road space per passenger.
As long as there is a mix of autonomous and manual cars on the road together (which isn’t going to stop any time soon, there is the potential for further confusion. This means that traffic jams and congestion are likely to continue for decades, unless every single vehicle on the road becomes self-driving. It’s a noble dream, but not a realistic one in our lifetime.
5. Self-Driving Cars Can’t Handle Winter Weather
Bad news for Canadians and anyone living in the northern United States — snow, ice, and cold temperatures cause major problems for self-driving cars. Simply put, they can have trouble navigating through blizzards and adjusting to winter road conditions. This means that southern states like Arizona, California, Texas, and Florida are more likely to see an influx of self-driving cars before northern states are able to get on board.
Manufacturers have been testing self-driving cars almost exclusively in hot, dry climates such as California and Spain. Winter road conditions have been deemed so problematic for driverless cars that companies like BMW and Google haven’t even bothered to try and address the situation yet. The focus is currently on getting self-driving cars active and on the (clear) roads, rather than on making them adaptable to extreme winter driving conditions.
4. The Cars Can’t Recognize Simple Potholes
While the engineers behind self-driving cars love to brag about all the advanced technology found in the vehicles, the reality is that there are still a number of simple tasks that autonomous cars cannot perform. Chief among them is the ability to recognize a simple pothole. So, if you thought the days of hitting a pothole and spilling your morning coffee were over, think again.
Self-driving cars are more likely to hit potholes and damage your vehicle than humans drivers. While people can clearly see upcoming potholes and drive around them, self-driving cars are not able to perform this basic function. That could make for a clunky ride. Google has admitted that, despite its best efforts, their autonomous car can’t recognize a pothole in the road—or worse, an open manhole—unless it’s marked off with traffic cones. Not good.
3. Self-Driving Cars Could Be Hacked
Speaking of all the technology in self-driving cars, did you know that autonomous vehicles are prone to be hacked? It’s true. In 2015, hackers demonstrated it by bringing a Jeep to a halt on a St. Louis highway. All they had to do was wirelessly access its braking and steering via the onboard entertainment system. The demonstration proved that even conventional vehicles have software vulnerabilities that, if exploited, could lead to accidents or traffic paralysis.
Self-driving cars, which would get updates and maps through the cloud, would be at even greater risk for being hacked. The more computing power a self-driving car has, the greater its vulnerabilities, according to hacking experts. Futurists have painted scenarios where terrorists take control of autonomous cars and use them to kill people. Or hackers disabling cars and hold them for ransom until receiving a digital payment. Or oppressive governments deciding to shut down traffic for whatever sinister reasons they choose. Ugly stuff.
2. Self-Driving Cars Can Disregard Their Human Masters
Even with fully autonomous vehicles on the horizon, most self-driving cars will be semi-autonomous for at least the foreseeable future. But figuring out who has which responsibilities (and at what times) can be tricky. How does the car notify a passenger who has been reading or taking a nap that it’s time to take over a task, and how does the car confirm that the passenger is ready to act?
Furthermore, what happens if the human passengers disagree with what the self-driving car is doing? Humans may want to take over the controls, but the autonomous vehicle is not always programmed to oblige. There are instances where a self-driving car can disregard or ignore its human master and continue driving as it wants. This could lead to some friction between man and car, the likes of which we have not seen before.
1. They’re Just Boring
Here we have it, folks. The biggest reason that self-driving cars are likely to suck is that they are plain old boring. For as long as cars have existed, they have been fun to drive — sexy, sleek and cool. Taking off down the open road, flying down a highway with the wind in your hair, blasting your favorite songs, and going on summer road trips with friends and family. Driving and car culture has a certain romance to it.
Self-driving cars threaten to dismantle all that with their cute, slow, cautious, and boring programming. Sure, we may all be a little safer in our autonomous vehicles of the future. But we’ll be bored to tears in the process. The days of burning rubber and cruising the local strip will be things of the past. This is the beginning of the cold, sterile, boring future that we’ve seen in so many sci-fi movies.