Autonomous cars seem set to permeate the future of the auto industry. They use the latest automotive technologies which rely on automation and connectivity. That’s why their safety is ever in question. 

What are the dangers of self-driving cars, exactly? While many of us may fear a malevolent HAL, there are some more reality-based concerns that are prevalent in this growing industry.

Autonomous cars and careers

One unexpected area of concern has been the job market. Even as ridesharing services like Lyft and Uber have been on the rise, some parties are concerned that the increased usability of autonomous vehicles will put taxi drivers and ride sharers out of a job. Likewise, haulage and transport drivers may find themselves back at home with autonomous fleet control making its way into the big rig industry.

Is replacement by robot AI to fear with the rise of the autonomous car? Not exactly. On one hand, autonomous vehicles do offer the same supportive services as taxis and ride sharers. Like these services, self-driving vehicles will be able to get intoxicated Irishfolk home safely after a long night, or just drive you across town when your car’s in the shop.

However, the autonomous vehicle industry also offers many opportunities to pursue new careers. Leaders of Intelligent Mobility at Arup, an engineering firm, argue that the autonomous vehicle industry will bring 100,000 jobs to Ireland over the next decade. These positions will allow the Irish to seek work in the following fields:

  • Data entry

  • Data analytics

  • Artificial intelligence

  • Cloud computing

  • Risk management

  • Cyber-security

While it’s true that driving a taxi doesn’t require the same skills as cloud computing, the economic impact of autonomous vehicles is suddenly in the air. Are driving jobs truly at risk? Maybe – but that primarily depends on the guaranteed safety of self-driving cars. 

Hacking autonomous cars

Self-driving vehicles need to interact with the IoT, or Internet of Things, to take in data about their surroundings. While, on the one hand, this connectivity improves rider safety, it also means that a car’s data will be shared with an online service the entire time it is in operation.

For ambitious and skilled hackers – or, as some fear, terrorists – this is a prime opportunity to cause a bit of mayhem. Like a Mission: Impossible film, you may find a self-driving car taken over by forces you cannot see, putting your life in danger.

Now perhaps that sounds dramatic. In some cases, that’s because it is. While, yes, data stored in online servers have been compromised before, the data that today’s autonomous vehicles share with personal clouds is encrypted within an inch of its life. There is a risk of that data being held ransom, but it will likely be a long time before a movie-star hacker is able to seize control of an autonomous vehicle.

On-the-road safety

On the other hand, it is possible that an autonomous vehicle may not be able to accurately respond to the obstacles surrounding it. Tests performed by GM and Uber, for example, have shown that the technology behind these vehicles is far from infallible. Uber’s test, after all, killed a pedestrian.

While that statistic is a concerning one, it goes to show that these sorts of tests are especially necessary given the new technology car manufacturers are working with. After all, without these tests, GM may not have delayed the production of their autonomous taxi service and released it to the detriment of future passengers.

To attend to passenger concerns about the uncontrollability of self-driving cars, companies like GM and Uber are investigating the integration of “critical safety services.” In case of a “critical safety event,” or an event in which the vehicle in question isn’t responding to its environment quickly enough, passengers will be able to take control of the car and correct its behaviour before an accident takes place. 

While this fail-stop does rely on the response time of a driver – who may be inebriated or otherwise distracted – it does serve as a protective measure against the kind of accidents that automobile manufacturers have seen thus far.

So, where do the Irish stand in terms of the autonomous car? On one hand, these vehicles’ presence on Irish motorways seems inevitable. At this point, manufacturers have invested over €42 billion in self-driving technology. The curve is not going to stop.

On the other hand, there have been several concerns raised on various fronts that have forced manufacturers and government officials alike to consider the safety measures that these vehicles – and the cities they operate in – will need to have in place.

The takeaway

Should you be afraid of autonomous vehicles then? In general, no. There are safety concerns surrounding them, yes, but that doesn’t mean everything that may go wrong will go wrong. In short: be aware of your surroundings are autonomous vehicles take to the road. They’re a new technological development that’ll change the world, and as they grow, we’ll grow alongside them.