The Demise of Self-Driving Cars as Such

This is a follow-on column to my May 10, 2021 BlogInfoSec post “Will Full Autonomy Ever Be Realized?” It is prompted in part by the recent decision by the NHTSA (National Highway Transportation Safety Administration) to investigate a number of crashes that occurred when Tesla’s Autopilot system was active, specifically when it failed to recognize stationary emergency vehicles with flashing lights.  For a more complete explanation, see the August 23, 2021 article at Why the feds are investigating Tesla’s Autopilot and what that means for the future of self-driving cars (theconversation.com)

Several other articles have called into question the viability of self-driving cars as automakers and automated system manufacturers currently envisage them.

Two such articles by Molly Wood, writing for Marketplace Tech, are cases in point. The first article, from September 29, 2020 had the title “Self-driving cars are still going to take a long time, people,” and is available at Self-driving cars are still going to take a long time, people – Marketplace, CEO and founder of Luminar, a LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology maker.

This first article is positive. However, on May 21, 2021, Ms. Wood posted an article “Self-driving cars might never be able to drive themselves,” available at Self-driving cars might never be able to drive themselves – Marketplace . In this article, Wood raises the question as to whether self-driving cars will ever be fully realized.

In Wood’s second article, she interviews Missy Cummings, the director of the Humans and Autonomy Laboratory at Duke University, who distinguishes among three different groups evaluating driverless cars. Cummings says the following:

“There’s the camp of people like me who know the reality. We recognize it for what it is, we’ve recognized it for some time, and we know that unless we change fundamentally the way that we’re approaching this problem, it is not solvable with our current approach.”

I belong to Cummings’s camp also. Take, for example, my 2018 talk “Cybersecurity challenges of systems of systems for fully-autonomous road vehicles,” which was presented at the 13th International Conference and Expo on Emerging Technologies for a Smarter World – CEWIT (Center of Excellence Wireless and Information Technology) at Stony Brook, New York, in November 2017, and which was posted to IEEE Xplore in January 2018. While my paper focused on cybersecurity, it did address other aspects relating to the potential feasibility of fully-autonomous vehicles, as in the following excerpt:

“We are seeing rapid development of in-vehicle, vehicle-to-vehicle, intelligent roadway, infrastructure and ride-hailing systems. However, progress in some areas is much faster than in others. For example, in-vehicle self-driving systems are evolving rapidly, but development of intelligent road systems is relatively sluggish. These systems are beginning to interconnect and interoperate to become complex systems-of-systems for which attack surfaces and vulnerabilities are expanding exponentially. Many of these systems are standalone and proprietary and do not interoperate. However, systems must be seamlessly integrated if we are to arrive at safe and secure fully-autonomous road vehicles.”

As I was writing this column, Asley Nunes posted “The dream of the truly driverless car is officially dead” on Yahoo!Sports, which is available at The dream of the truly driverless car is officially dead (yahoo.com)  The May 31, 2021 article is based on Nunes’s article at Business Insider. The article includes a quote from historian David Mindell who explained that “There are no fully autonomous systems. The machine that operates entirely independent of human direction is a useless machine. Only a rock is entirely autonomous.” Back to “The Flintstones,” I suppose.

Without going to extremes, it is increasingly apparent that much current thinking questions predictions about the advent of ubiquitous driverless vehicles. I echoed that sentiment in my May 10, 2021 BlogInfoSec column referenced above. While some realizations of the self-driving-vehicle dream is inevitable, particularly as they refer to driver assistance, it is clear that many expect the development of full-blown driverless road vehicles to be much more arduous a task than originally thought. Now is the time to consider the overall system-of-systems aspects of self-driving vehicles, particularly as such systems must include smart roadways, so that they can be completely independent of human drivers and/or remote controllers—in other words, truly driverless vehicles.

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