Driverless Cars?

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While UK politics are in turmoil, with all major parties having leadership crises, and no major steps in the pursuit of economic stability – bar a lukewarm indication to eventually lower corporation taxes some time in the future – are being taken, I thought it wise to give Brexit a rest, and my faithful readership a break from it.  Today we are going to discuss driverless cars.

Bill Gates when still at the helm of Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), was reportedly quoted having a go at General Motors (NYSE: GM) at a computer expo, by saying “If GM had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25.00 cars that got 1,000 miles to the gallon.” At the time I laughed it off by saying that such car would, while in the middle of the highway, turn the windscreen blue and ask you to abort, retry or fail…

But jokes aside, the technology for driverless cars is there.  I have no doubts that any major car manufacturer could produce a fully automated driverless car on a moment’s notice.  So what is holding them back?

The answer is: Legislation.  In our increasingly bureaucratic and litigious society, there is a question that keeps lawmakers and regulators up at night… “if a driverless car crashes, who’s fault is it?”, or better yet… “who do you sue?”.  Surely car companies don’t want to be on the hook for compensation or punitive damages for every accident that happens on the roads, but by the same token should the car fail, how can it be anyone else’s fault.

If GM had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25.00 cars that got 1,000 miles to the gallon.

Bill Gates

As revealed last week by the unfortunate death of a Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA) driver when his car on auto pilot failed to spot a truck in its path, cars are in a whole different category as computers, no disrespect to Mr. Gates.  Currently  the big tech giants: Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOG), and Apple (NASADAQ: AAPL) are making huge investments into driverless technologies.  But the major issue to consider is that they are after all technology companies, they are not car companies.

This brings us back to Tesla, they cannot keep portraying themselves as a tech company, trade their stock as such, and develop their products as such.  You can’t sell a car with a “bug”, and 3 months later update the operating system to overwrite it, because by then a few people might have died.  It is my view that the best driverless cars in the future will be those where a serious, experienced car manufacturer, and a technology company hooked up with satellites and maps, scanners, sonars, or any other technology that makes wireless driving possible working together to bring their subject matter expertise into making a safe, reliable product.

In my experience, if someone dies because they took a supplement, and didn’t read the instructions correctly, the manufacturer is still held accountable, and the supplement is generally pulled from the market.  I believe the Tesla crash will go down the same route because, regardless of what the manual said, there was a major fault with the auto pilot mechanism.  I am not saying this event alone will bring down Tesla, but markets, and regulators will be looking closely into this and be ready to pounce on the company, should this become a recurring issue.

In the mean time, in Washington, regulators should keep burning the midnight oil to write sound legislation around driverless cars before they can become mainstream.

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