The world and his dog might have been rather excited by recent developments in driverless vehicles, even if we did see US congress members break one within short order. However the US investigatory body, the FBI, has declared the technology exceedingly dangerous.
This comes from an internal report, discovered by The Guardian, that shows the FBI higher ups declaring driverless cars “game changing,” for law enforcement, because suddenly the number of things criminals can do with vehicles increases exponentially. Using somewhat alluding language, the report continued to point out that without the need to have your hands on the wheel, those being pursued by law enforcement would be able to shoot a gun at officers while “driving”.
The other aspect that the FBI is worried about, is if the technology behind the cars is compromised. For example, if hackers were able to crack the internal sofware and modify it to ignore red lights, or speed bumps, sending it off to drive through school playgrounds or other places where vulnerable individuals might be found. There’s understandably also fears about terrorist attacks, which would therefore not require any individuals to sacrifice themselves in the act.
This is far from the image being put out by manufacturers of driverless technology, which have talked up the benefits as much more likely to save lives than take them. Technologies like automatic braking and adaptive cruise control that keeps a car in its lane are early examples of this sort of technology, which many companies, Google included are hoping to expound upon in full driverless systems. There’s still a lot of red tape to cross and legislation too be put in place that allows such technology, but it’s not too far away – which is presumably why the FBI is looking for the awful potential behind it.
Google would certainly argue that its driverless cars are far safer than traditional vehicles, even without the automation. The cars go at a maximum speed of 25 miles per hour and feature foam bumpers, therefore crashing into someone would be far less likely to do damage than a traditional vehicle’s crumple zones. Similarly, the vehicles are much lighter, so any impact damage is vastly reduced.
The FBI however has admitted that some benefits could come from automation, such as in the event of an accident. Rubber necking would certainly be reduced and with drivers not getting distracted, emergency workers and first responders would be far less likely to be hit. Similarly it said in the report that complicated manoeuvres which can slow down access to crime scenes or accidents, could be achieved far more efficiently by automated driving than by a human driver.
Tailing suspects could also be easier: “Algorithms can control the distance that the patrol car is behind the target to avoid detection or intentionally have a patrol car make opposite turns at intersections, yet successfully meet up at later points with the target,” the report read, showing that it’s not all doom and gloom when it comes to automation.
The matter of legalities of it all though could be the biggest minefield, as who do you blame if no one is behind the wheel? Companies like Google will certainly hope that it isn’t them.
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