Many people believe that the electric car market in its most basic form has gone past the point of no return and will be a major element of the automobile mass market going forward. This forward-thinking, forward-looking and technologically advanced industry is now looking towards the next development which for many will be autonomous vehicles. So, what is the general feeling about autonomous vehicles? Would you trust a car where you had little or no input?

Education, education, education

One of the main problems regarding the concept of autonomous vehicles is the fact that the general public have little or no experience in this particular area. How would it work? Is it really safe? Would there be a general override in the event of problems?

Tesla Motors, under the leadership of entrepreneur extraordinaire Elon Musk, has already introduced a beta version of its own autonomous driving system which has grabbed the headlines of late, but not always for the right reasons. Elon Musk knows exactly where he wants to be in the future but even he is having problems promoting the idea of autonomous vehicles at this moment in time. While many of us will have seen the headlines regarding a tragic accident involving the Tesla autonomous driving system how many of us have actually checked out the detail?

Background to the accident

On 7 May Joshua Brown from Florida was tragically killed when his Tesla Model S, with the autopilot system engaged, drove under a tractor-trailer vehicle resulting in a horrific accident. The autopilot system controls steering and braking in certain conditions, using a radar system to filter out vehicles from peripheral items such as road signs, etc. It looks as though the system has not been able to differentiate the white coloured tractor-trailer vehicle from the white sky although we await confirmation with two separate investigations ongoing.

In a subsequent development Tesla has announced a parting of the ways with Israeli company Mobileye which has been collaborating on the autopilot system. It is unclear exactly why there has been a parting of the waves but there have been suggestions that specialist technology companies such as Mobileye are demanding a more hands-on role in the development and use of their technology – something Tesla was willing to agree to. We await more detail regarding the breakdown of this potentially groundbreaking relationship.

Right to reply

Tesla has been openly criticised by many in the media, political figures and regulators. These opinions were expressed by individuals who were not in full receipt of the facts surrounding the incident in question. While this did give Tesla an opportunity to reply and put the record straight, it does look as though many have already made up their mind about self-driving/autonomous driving systems.

It is also worth noting that Elon Musk tends to push against the establishment and to this end he has made many enemies who are pushing propaganda and confusion behind-the-scenes. Have you seen the mass media praising the Tesla autonomous driving system for saving numerous lives? Has there been any appreciation for the positive aspects of autonomous driving? Did you know that at this moment in time Tesla still recommends drivers stay in control with their hands on the steering wheel?

Confusion breeds confusion

Remember, the EV sector was mocked and ridiculed many years ago and it was the likes of Elon Musk who took the industry forward. In many ways we could be seeing history repeat itself with the introduction of fully autonomous driving systems probably delayed due to adverse press comment. However, the devil is in the detail and other leading lights of the electric car industry are still pushing forward with their own autonomous/self-driving systems which will in itself create a very useful discussion platform.

At this moment in time it is debatable as to whether the motoring public are ready for fully autonomous/self-driving vehicles even if their reliability could be proven beyond all reasonable doubt. It is debatable as to whether Tesla’s recent announcement of plans for autonomous electric car taxi services is helpful in the current environment. Could this determination to push through with autonomous driving systems at such a critical time in the court of public opinion prove self-defeating?