Yes, Apple does not have a self driving car. Yet. But Google does, and the fear I have of self-driving vehicles is the same as the one I have for Apple’s venture into technologically drive vehicles which are not driven.
Drivers adapt, albeit with a vast and wide variety of methods, to changing driving conditions. Most of Google’s self-driving vehicles have been tested where the weather is good, and where the streets and highways have been fully mapped and tracked to the nth degree and inch. What happens to a self-driving car when the weather outside gets nasty?
Mud On The Sensor
Maybe all my iPhones have been lemons. While the GPS inside is good and works well enough to tell me where I am most of the time, GPS and Maps doesn’t work perfectly enough or even within the few feet an automobile must to navigate traffic and streets properly.
Then, there’s the weather and driving conditions. I’m a New Yorker and our weather, while occasionally wonderful, playful, and romantic, usually is a mixed mess of too hot, too cold, too wet, too windy, to dry, too much snow everywhere and boy does a vehicle get gritty and grimy after a snowstorm or heavy rain.
Google is starting to move the self-driving vehicles out of the pristine conditions in Silicon Valley, California and Austin, Texas to places where the sun don’t shine. In this case, Kirkland, Washington, home of Costco and some occasionally very crummy, dreary weather. What? You thought Google’s self-driving vehicle was ready to be unleashed on the streets of Manhattan during rain or snow? Ha ha. You’re such a kidder.
Self-driving vehicles fail. Even Google says so and the reasons are many and varied and just as scary. #1 on the list is the so-called Perception Discrepancy whereby the car didn’t see that garage door overhang. #2, at just under 25-percent of the problems is the expected and aptly named Software Problem. When my not-driverless car has one of those it usually means the radio doesn’t work. #3 on Google’s list of driverless gotchas is known as the Unwanted Maneuver which means it did something the driver didn’t want to see happen and didn’t see coming. Software? Sensor problem? Google won’t say.
Next on the list is the inevitable Hardware Problem. That could be the car itself, or the controls and mechanisms that make the car go where the software and GPS tell it to go. Next up is the Reckless Driver In Other Car issue which we run into all the time as human drivers but, as human behavior often does, stumps the self driving vehicles ability to self drive it’s way past someone with road rage or the driving ability of a pre-schooler but managed to get a license anyway.
Way down on the list of self driving car gotchas are issues which humans seem to handle well most of the time, but which account for pedestrian fatalities and dented fenders; weather conditions, pedestrians, construction zones, jaywalkers (as opposed to legal pedestrians), and other vehicles.
If Apple is working on an electric, self-driving vehicles, and everyone who reads the rumor sites, catches the headlines, and dreams about AAPL going up for a real reason knows the company is, then I’m sure they’re also working on solutions to the self-driving vehicle problems already identified by Google.
Hey, it’s nice to see Apple depend on someone else for a little R&D rather than do it all by itself.
What we don’t have a handle on is how clean a self-driving vehicle must be to navigate the Streets of San Francisco safely. Clean? Those vehicles have a variety of sensors reading the roadway as it moves down the street and it wouldn’t take much street debris, mud, or moisture to muck up a reading and send the vehicle careening into a school yard or the wrong direction down a one-way street, now would it?
When I see Apple’s self-driving vehicle navigating the street grit of Manhattan during a snowstorm then I’ll know which model to buy.