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Download the Latest Software Update for Your Robot Car - Or Else

When will "robot cars" be ready?

hand keys to robot driver.jpeg

According to Wired, the "unsatisfying" answer is never. But it's the right answer. This is a crucial message that hasn't been popularly broadcasted until recently, in the wake of recent fatal accidents. The answer is never because these cars - just like smartphone apps and computer programs - will always need to be updated. Robot cars run on software, after all. Software is what drives the autonomous tech that gets a vehicle like an Uber SUV from Point A to Point B without hitting anything.

Unfortunately, it was an Uber SUV in autonomous mode that fatally struck a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, in March. Dash camera footage available on YouTube clearly shows the pedestrian walking across the street with a bicycle - it's dark, the pedestrian doesn't come into view until the last second, and it appears as though the pedestrian is jaywalking. It's easy to speculate that a human driver behind the wheel of a "regular" car would also not have seen this pedestrian until it was too late. It is somewhat difficult to fault the robot car in this case.

But the circumstances of the accident do illustrate the fact that robot cars, equipped with state-of-the-art sensors (that can apparently see in the dark via infrared) are not infallible. At this time anyway, robot cars aren't omniscient, they don't see everything, and they aren't capable of anticipating all scenarios as they happen. That much is clear from the dash camera footage on YouTube.

Does that mean we need to get robot cars off the roads?

Of course not. Someone commented on our Facebook page recently that it's "idiotic" to compare robot car error to human error. That much is true. Human drivers have made far more mistakes than self-driving vehicles. That will presumably be a capital T truth in the future as well, even as more and more robot cars hit the roads, and these cars start racking up the miles.

But a death is a death. A serious injury is a serious injury. If it happens to you or a member of your family, you won't care about the distinction.

Read more:

A self-driving Uber car has killed a pedestrian in Arizona

The never-ended self-driving car project

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