How autonomous vehicles could co-exist with traditional cars in the near future

Car & Driver Editor-in-Chief Eddie Alterman talks about the role he sees for autonomous cars in the future, and what he thinks will happen to human-driven vehicles.

How autonomous vehicles could co-exist with traditional cars in the near future

At SXSW 2019, TechRepublic Senior Writer Teena Maddox spoke with Car & Driver Editor-in-Chief Eddie Alterman about the role he sees for autonomous cars in the future, and what he thinks will happen to human-driven vehicles.The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

Teena Maddox: Tell me about Car and Driver's role in the making of the movie Autonomy.

Eddie Alterman: Before it was a movie it was a special issue of Car and Driver. We worked with Malcolm Gladwell for the November 2017 issue of Car and Driver to do a special section that he guest edited about all these questions surrounding the driverless car. It was very much a open question at that point in our mind about what was going to happen with the driverless car, but a lot of outlets were reporting that it was just a fait accompli and that driverless cars are coming in five years. We wanted to, excuse the expression, pump the brakes on that a little bit.

Teena Maddox: In the making of the movie what did you discover about autonomous vehicles that you didn't expect?

Eddie Alterman: Well you know we thought that we were the only ones asking all these questions. As Alex and his team went out there into the world of AI and deep into the world of academia, a lot of people were asking these questions. We are talking mostly at Car and Driver to automotive engineers and people who are working on the problem from the car side, but it was really interesting to learn how the problem is being approached on the academic side and also outside of the car companies.

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Teena Maddox: Do you think regulations are needed for the industry?

Eddie Alterman: I think there are a whole host of questions around what needs to happen to surround the driverless car when and if it does come to fruition. Here I'm talking about the purely driverless car without a steering wheel or pedals. Regulators at this point have just said we don't want to kind of legislate any technology, we want to find the best solution, or let the developers find the best solution, and then we'll start to create this lattice work of regulation around it. But clearly this is one of the big issues. The legal implications of the driverless car I think are profound. You're going from a situation now where there is shared liability between the driver and the manufacturer. What happens when the manufacturer is completely liable for something that goes wrong?

I also think that the FCC has a role to play in this too because one of the ways into the car for hackers is through satellite radio. Cybersecurity is just a huge huge piece of this problem in making driverless cars as bulletproof and as safe as possible.

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Teena Maddox: What will happen with traditional vehicles once autonomous vehicles are more the norm?

Eddie Alterman: Well this is my opinion. I think it's an informed opinion, but I don't know exactly how this is going to go. But I truly believe that the human driven, human owned vehicle is not going to go anywhere. I think the reason for that is autonomous cars and human driven cars really can't coexist. They can't interact in the same environment. If you want to have the kind of safety that's necessary for people to give up the wheel and to trust the machine, I believe that driverless cars will have to exist in a domained environment, at least for a very very long time. Human driven cars probably won't be able to go into that environment.

But for car enthusiasts I think that means some, that's sort of good news because you'll still be able to buy and own a vehicle. You'll still be able to drive it. Maybe not in cities, but I believe the American highway system is such a great invention and we've built our lives around it, but that's not going to go away anytime soon. In cities yeah the car is out of place, but think about the person who is commuting 45 miles to work from the suburbs to an exurb or something. Those solutions are not offered by the driverless car.

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