As cars become autonomous, will automotive journalists go extinct?
I had my first real experience of being completely redundant while testing a car recently. In this instance, by testing I don’t mean pushing the vehicle to its limits of adhesion (as we often do, strictly in the name of science of course!). No, in this case, I was being driven around by a machine that took its cues from artificial intelligence, guided by ones and zeros, rather than a primitive being made up of atoms and molecules.
I have to say, though, the experience itself wasn’t unnerving in the least. While I can’t claim that it was liberating, since I actually enjoy the act of driving – something that appears to be going out of fashion, and fast – it was actually quite convenient. The machine in question – an autonomous Renault Zoe, which you can read more about here – simply went about its business without any fuss. Its biggest hurdle was the unpredictability of the humans in its environment. After all, our atoms can often guide us (or misguide us) in ways that are completely inexplicable, which the Renault’s algorithms just aren’t designed to decode.
At present, Renault is among a consortium of companies and agencies that are running a pilot project at a university campus outside Paris, not just to see how well the actual technology works but also people’s reaction to being driven around autonomously. While the ones and zeros are doing the actual driving, the cars still have safety drivers behind the wheel – ready to take over if need be. But, in addition to a fleet of ‘driverless’ Renaults running around, the consortium will soon be also testing a fully autonomous bus service from a nearby train station to the campus, which, in addition to covering a small section of public roads, will be truly driverless – an autonomous pod, monitored remotely via a control room.
Not only will this truly test the integrity of the technology itself, but also people’s reaction to – and acceptance towards – being ferried around, essentially, by a bigger version of R2-D2. The Transdev-operated shuttle (Transdev is a public transport multinational) will be monitored at all times of course, but it can’t be controlled remotely – the engineers don’t want to give it that ability so as to prevent it from being hacked into and taken control of. High-tech hijacking, I guess you could call it – it is a whole new world after all! That being the case, I don’t know about you, but I better update my skills to remain relevant…
Also read - The automotive industry is no longer predictable