February 6th, 2012

a bit more about self-driving cars

Linkage free. Probably.

I've been grilling people in my life that don't have a lot of opportunity to run away from my questions (husband, sister, type of thing) about under what circumstances they would be willing to be in a self-driving car and/or buy one for themselves. I'm bugging people about this, because I'm having a failure of imagination: I can't figure out what would convince _me_ to get into and/or purchase a self-driving car. Partly, this is because there are inadequate constraints on the problem: you can't buy one of these things, much less choose between multiple marks/models (that BMW 5 series won't be out for at least a decade, and the whole thing could turn out to be like jetpacks).

But if the NYT is out there asking about legal issues, I figure I might as well contemplate marketing and policy.

(1) I'm not running across a lot of I'll-never-give-up-driving, either because people lluuuuurrvvvee driving or just don't trust whatever it is that people trust or don't trust. I'm sure those people exist; I don't think they are so common as to preclude the deployment of self-driving vehicles, assuming the technology can be made viable.

(2) A series of large studies by reputable people that produced a result roughly comparable to second-hand-smoke exposure would convince a lot of people to switch, even if the majority had not yet switched (that is, if self-driving cars could be demonstrated to have a safety benefit over human-operated cars like living in a smoke free environment vs. being around smokers).

(3) An "emergency" version might be widely accepted by people who are right on the edge of being able to drive at all. That is, a button that invoked self-drive when the operator feels they cannot safely operate the vehicle but also feels like they can't safely stop driving (this came up in a medical context, but I'd call this roughly the "I'm about to fall asleep but I'm still a few miles from where I'm going to get into a bed" button). There's probably a population of people with license suspensions and/or breath interlocks that might be a market for self-drive. R. agrees with me that an aging population that doesn't feel like they can give up their cars might go for this, too.

The obvious early-adopter crowd might well find this whole category of technology development every bit as snooze worthy as a lot of people found e-readers. However, (3) suggests there's a market to use for early-adoption. And (2) suggests a way to transition from early-adoption to mass-adoption. And (1) suggests mass-adoption is viable.

Let's see if the technical issues are, er, superable.