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5 myths about self-driving cars

Those of us that work with self-driving technology are often faced with strong reactions when we tell people about the nature of our business.

Everyone has an opinion about self-driving cars. It’s a topic that affects all of us on an emotional level in some way or another. It seems that the thought of cars driving around by themselves hints at a society that’s about to change drastically.

But if we are to paint a realistic picture of how the world will actually look when there are self-driving cars on public roads, we first need to debunk a few common myths. Here are five of the most stubborn myths we’ve encountered along our way.

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1. Self-driving cars will never gain popularity because people love driving

The joy of driving: It’s a lovely concept, which marketers from the old-school car industry have pretty much exhausted. But no matter how nice and liberating it may be to cruise down an empty freeway in the midday sun, it’s equally draining and tiresome to be stuck in a traffic jam, having to go to the mechanic for the second time in three weeks, or having to circle around the same block for 20 minutes just to find a parking spot. Not to mention having to stay awake and alert on a dark road late at night.

The world is becoming more and more densely populated. That goes for the urban areas right here in Denmark, too. In the future, as towns and cities grow, people will have to drive much longer distances and it won’t be long before the disadvantages of private, manual driving will far outweigh the positives. We believe there’s so much more to gain from spending this ‘dead’ travel time on things that matter – like family, for example, and in transforming transport time into an opportunity to experience meaningful moments, which becomes possible when you are freed from the need to have both hands glued to a steering wheel.

2. Self-driving cars will face operation issues, because everyone will want to test if they’ll really stop

It is fascinating to watch a driverless, 2400 kilo vehicle come to a stop as someone steps out in front of it. No doubt about it. But we simply don’t believe that pedestrians will form a major threat by “testing” the buses’ capabilities to stop by stepping out in front of them. There’s an unwritten social contract between people when it comes to transport: we never intentionally delay other travelers. We would never step out in front of a bus driver to see if she’d really stop the bus from hitting us, and we’d never put obstacles on a bike lane just to observe what would happen. Once a self-driving bus has been put into operation, we’re sure it will be accepted as a regular means of public transportation in no time, and that pedestrians will treat it in the same way as any other manned-vehicle. 

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3. It is concerning to leave the lives of human beings in the hands of a computer

There’s been a lot of speculation about how a self-driving vehicle might handle the so-called “trolley problem”. From our perspective, there’s not much discussion to be had: Our vehicles are programmed to stop if they ever encounter anything on the route that deviates from the encoded 3D-image. We’re not asking the buses to prioritise when it comes to humans, animals or buildings. They are simply programmed to stop. And as operators, we take full responsibility when the vehicles are in motion.

4. Self-driving cars are dangerous because they don’t understand complex traffic

The software in self-driving vehicles is improving at an exponential rate. Right now, there’s a global race to be the first to claim the self-driving market. This means that extraordinary amounts of resources are being poured into the development of the finest software, and that the technology is being constantly scrutinized and enhanced. At Autonomous Mobility, our vehicles already have the capability to understand countless complex traffic situations – and if they’re ever faced with a new situation, they’re programmed to act with extreme caution. When we roll out the vehicles in our pilot projects, one of our major aims is to demonstrate their ability to navigate reliably in all forms of traffic.

5. There are already self-driving cars in Denmark

No, there aren’t. So far, Autonomous Mobility is the only group to embark on the process of getting pilot projects approved with the authorities since the law was passed on July 1st 2017. In short, we first need an approved assessor - an independent third party - to conduct a thorough evaluation of the routes and safety of the pilot project. Only then can we apply to have the pilot project itself approved with the authorities. We have our fingers crossed that this won’t take too long so we can get our wheels on the ground as soon as possible.

Follow us on our blog and social media channels to stay posted on when the first self-driving cars make their way to the roads!