This morning I read on the Wall Street Journal that The California Department of Motor Vehicles suspended Cruise’s autonomous-driving permit on Tuesday, in practice halting its robot-taxi service in San Francisco.
The company, whose majority is controlled by General Motors, states on its website that “it is working hard to address today’s transportation barriers and move toward a future without them“.
The reason for suspending the permit is Cruise’s vehicles aren’t safe for public operation and the company has misrepresented information related to the safety of the technology of the vehicles (WSJ reports).
Of course, we cannot discuss this decision for lack of details but, certainly, this is another setback for the introduction of autonomous vehicles on our roads.
For those how are not familiar with self-driving (or autonomous) cars, it may be good to remember that SAE International – leader in connecting and educating engineers while promoting, developing and advancing aerospace, commercial vehicle and automotive engineering – in 2021 published the SAE J3016 standard that defines a useful matrix with six levels of driving automation.
The first three levels (0,1,2) still need a human being actively driving the vehicle whereas the second three levels (3,4,5) envisage a decreasing driving activity until reaching level 5 where the human driver is no longer needed and this defines a fully autonomous vehicle.
The concept of self-driving vehicles has been generating many debates worldwide about both aspects: safety (for pedestrians and other vehicles) and security (is it possible to make all data needed to govern a fully self-driving vehicle 100% secure and hacker-proof?).
With regard to the former, the main concern is on how it will be possible to harmonise traffic made of conventional vehicles (those one we drive daily that belong to the SAE level 0), semi-autonomous (driver is onboard but doesn’t interact unless requested), and fully autonomous ones that belong to the SAE level 5.
With regard to the latter, which has been discussed for years, some growing concerns have been collected and reimagined in a fiction book published in 2019: “The Passengers” by John Marrs. The story takes place a few years in the future, not long after fully self-driving vehicles have become ubiquitous and the British government moves to phase out the barbaric, deadly practice of human driving. This book was, though, strongly criticised by the WIRED magazine.
Apart from the comments above, data breach/security is an issue increasingly studied in general, and in particular focused on “smart” vehicles.
A few months ago it was reported that 17 USA cities sued Hyundai and Kia after thousands of these manufacturers’ vehicles thefts happened by using a method popularised on TikTok and other social media channels. The cities suing Kia and Hyundai include New York, Cleveland, San Diego, Milwaukee, Columbus and Seattle.
The automakers, controlled by the same conglomerate, said in a court filing they should not held liable for thefts “resulting from an unprecedented criminal social-media phenomenon” (see here).
We all know that pioneering progress implies the satisfaction of needs, but also the generation of new problems, and this has been happening for centuries. However, this leap forward should be properly assessed from every single point of view before proceeding toward a direction that could be more a problem than a solution. As a matter of fact, we are talking about life: ours and our neighbours’.
EPN Consulting and EPN Consulting Research & Innovation Founder & CEO