And none of them are the technical hurdles.
The technical hurdles of autonomous driving, which are still being figured out by Cadillac's Super Cruise, Ford and recently Mercedes, are only the first obstacles to autonomous driving. The first of many. After that, you have liability issues, who gets blamed in a crash. There are data privacy issues too, though sometimes they're a blessing if they're saving us money, as well as the moral and philosophical dilemmas when there are no good outcomes. Today Audi released a new study on many of these issues, and it looks like we have a long way to go, starting with overall regulations.
"We need an aligned European legal framework that deals with approving these vehicles. Because we won't get very far with a national-level patchwork," says Richard Goebelt, Member of the Board of Management & Head of Vehicle and Mobility at the TUV-Association.
Sandy Munro of Munro & Associates adds that "for the moment, I would be happy if there were a uniform regulatory field for Europe. It is also a big market and then you would have a bargaining tool for talking to other countries and saying that if you acknowledge our vehicles and regulations, then we will recognize yours."
The problem here, like in many realms, is that technology outpaces not only the laws and regulations governing them, but the people using them. We only use 10% of our iPhone's capability, and we're probably only using 10% of our car's capability too. In a few years, human drivers will be sharing the road with autonomous rides, and those two groups need to know what to expect of one another.
The rate of adoption depends on social acceptance. And social acceptance hinges on everyone feeling safe on the road. Safety is balanced on morals. But when there are two bad outcomes, it becomes more difficult. The German Ministry of Transport is looking into this question, though some think we need to get beyond that.
"Who should we drive around first? If we continue to set our agenda this way, we will never move forward," points out Christoph Lutge, Director of the Institute for Ethics in Artificial Intelligence at the Technical University of Munich. "We can't solve these dilemmas, nor will we have a perfect approach to them."
The study moves on to liability next, asking rhetorically, "who is liable in the future?" And then quickly noting "broadly speaking, neither machine nor algorithm can be held liable," which is very convenient for the company making the machines and algorithms. It breaks liability down into three categories: owners, users, and companies.
The owners, possibly a shuttle operator, would be responsible if say the software wasn't up to date or they failed to ensure regular servicing. The current user could bear the brunt of the responsibility if road traffic regulations or vehicle warning sign was ignored, or while driving under the influence. Finally, the company would bear some responsibility if a faulty sensor misjudges the environment or a software error leads to an incorrect vehicle response.
"Ultimately, liability cannot fall unilaterally at the expense of one party. There have to be incentives for everyone involved to behave carefully. Only then will manufacturers likewise be motivated to continue doing research and regularly bring new innovations to the market," said Uta Klawitter, Head of General Counsel Legal Services, Audi AG.
Another huge issue is data privacy. We've seen this with social networks and our phones, but now more than ever, customers are demanding to have control of it. That would become a problem with autonomous vehicles because all that data makes driving safer for everyone. If one car encounters an unplanned situation, and finds a way out of it, it can forward that info on to other cars if they run into the same situation. Hopefully it will be some combination of ownership, as we have with our phones.
"The objective should be to grant users a degree of responsibility with respect to their own data. Some experts emphasize that ostensibly clearly applicable legal frameworks and laws are often annulled with the click of the "Accept" button on the General Terms and Conditions," says the study.
Anonymization and encryption are the keys here, as the network infrastructure would be a target for hacking. Experts say that it's the company's responsibility to keep that safe and secure and that "they recommend that a 5G standard be established and implemented as quickly as possible at the international level."
Finally, the study notes that autonomous vehicles will bring people that have zero mobility the chance to move freely like the rest of us. That includes the handicapped, the elderly, the unlicensed and more, whether they're in an Audi e-tron GT or an A2. Safe mobility is a necessity for the human race, and if we can get those edge cases included, it can only be good for the economy and society as a whole. That'll take trust, awareness, and more than a little bit of patience. Hopefully, we can all get on the same page sooner rather than later.