If you took the road these last days, it’s not impossible that you have crossed a strange car which was driven by no one… This car is a fully automated one, which doesn’t require human interaction to work. You’ve dreamed about a driverless car? Google made it for you!

google carOne of Google’s self-driving cars

The Appearance of Driverless Cars

Representing a fantasy straight out of a science fiction movie, the driverless car has indeed made its appearance in the real world a few years ago. Actually, even if these funny machines began to be designed in the 1970s, it’s only in 2010 that a real autopilot system was developed. And guess by whom? This technological innovation comes to us to the engineers of the most famous search engine in the world, which is none other than Google. But even if it’s the American giant which is at the origin of this new technology (with the “Google car”), the fact remains that major automakers have themselves also thought about it, economically speaking. In fact, they are a dozen companies working on these self-driving cars as projects to be marketed before 2020. Before this dream – or nightmare for others – becomes a reality, tests have already been held on our roads!

Driverless Cars, a Technological Feat

Whether one is for or against this new technology, it’s clear that it gradually comes into our reality. It is therefore important to understand what’s an autonomous car to fully appreciate the issues. Quite simply, we talk about driverless cars to qualify a car that can drive automatically and independently in real traffic and non-specific infrastructure without the intervention of a human being. Technically, such an invention is made possible by a particular identification phase, during which the itinerary is covered in a conventional manner with a driver of the vehicle, in order to save the route and all its signs, and to draw a very detailed map. This is a particularly crucial step that will allow the vehicle to differentiate pedestrians and stationary objects. But this is not enough to create a fully automated car: we also have to used advanced technologies such as remote sensing laser (also called “Lidar”) or motion sensors and cameras. These are all of these elements which work on the good functioning of tomorrow’s cars, and although these are at the cutting edge of technology, the fact remains that these cars raise many questions…

An Invention that is Facing Many Challenges

As is often happening when a new technology progresses, it brings with it a lot of questions, and driverless cars are not an exception… Indeed, in addition to legal liability issues in case of accidents (certainly for the moment, not any faulty accident was observed, but it doesn’t mean that such a situation could happen in the future…) which are complex and numerous, there is a major question that has led to extensive press coverage. This is a key issue which most certainly will determine the acceptance or rejection of driverless cars by the public opinion, and which particularly concerns the artificial intelligence enjoyed by these new-generation vehicles. Actually, as mentioned the “New York Times”, these autonomous cars could be too safe… So much better, you may say?! Well not necessarily to the extent that it could imply that in case of accident, the car may choose the least expensive option in terms of human lives, even if it means to sacrifice the lives of its own passengers… Add to that the risk of being hacked by someone who could take the complete control of your vehicle and the idea of a perfect car seems to be far away… It remains to be seen if driverless cars may be able to save considerable time (allowing us to work, eat or even sleep while we are “driving”) they may get the upper hand over our fears… Answer in a few years!

WYWYDRA_Alexis_PHOTO_2015DRA Alexis

Étudiant en Master 2 de Droit de l’Économie Numérique à la Faculté de Droit, de Sciences Politiques et de Gestion de Strasbourg, et membre actif de l’association MédiaDroit.

A propos de Alexis Wydra