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Artificial Intelligence (AI) is everywhere and is making every bit of technology «autonomous ». Vehicles are no exception to this inevitable wave of technological obsession. Thus, several projects around this question appeared and are now running. Are those new means of transportation really the future we need?

Hyped in the USA

The ambition to have autonomous self-driving cars is not something new; the experimentations about them started some years ago. They can be dated back as far as 2020, with an experimentation in Phoenix, Arizona. Waymo, a subsidiary company of Google, started to release some of their new vehicles in the city, equipped with their technology allowing the car to drive itself without any driver.

Waimo was rapidly followed by other companies with the same goals as them, such as Tesla and Cruise (a subsidiary company of General Motors). These experimentations happened in other American cities: San Francisco, California, Houston and Austin, Texas. Their objectives are to provide safe means of transportation that could be used as taxis and also used as personal cars.

France also shows an interest in self-driving vehicles

The French experimentation is focused on public transportation and has been going since September 2023, to provide self-driving buses. This test is conducted by the RATP, the State-owned company responsible for a part of the public transportation in Paris and its region. Public transport may be less attractive than a car that drives itself, but at least it allows everyone to use it.

It tackles a problem that self-driving taxis have: the cost of the ride. Since it is provided as public transportation means, passengers don’t shoulder all the costs. However, the main advantage of autonomous vehicles is that they don’t need a driver. It means that it allows to increase the number of transports available at dense hours, without requiring the same number of human drivers.

The « Cruise » case

The eternal question about the responsibility of car accidents is something that hinders, necessarily, the development of these autonomous cars. (See the question on the responsibility of cars integrating AI in France here.) The case around the company “Cruise” shows the problem that needs to be solved by legislation.

To briefly summarize it, in early October 2023 in California, a normal car had an accident with a pedestrian who fell on the other lane where an autonomous Cruise car was driving. The autonomous car then hit the pedestrian, as the reaction time needed to stop was faster than what a human or a machine could do. The car then drove to a parking spot, as it was programmed to do, and unfortunately dragged the pedestrian across a few meters. 

Following this incident, the Californian regulator forbade self-driving cars because Cruise didn’t disclose the video of the last part, where the pedestrian was dragged. The ban itself was less against the concept of a self-driving vehicle, but because of the dishonesty in the reaction of the company and the dangers it may create in the future.

This situation made Cruise decide to stop all of its activities in the deployment of self-driving vehicles. The company progressively fired more and more of its employees. Some of its leaders have quit or were forced to quit, leaving space for other companies to develop themselves.

Not everything seems lost for the future of these self-driving vehicles, the confidence in this technology appears unsure. There are so many differences of consideration on the same subject. Maybe is it a sign that this kind of technology is not mature enough to be deployed? The problems with how it functions? Maybe reality is finally catching up to dreams? 

Some questions that only the future can answer…


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