Amid the countless gadgets and technological wizardry on display this month at CES 2020 in Las Vegas was one thing in short supply in some parts of the automotive industry: realistic expectations about fully autonomous vehicles.
After years of hyperbolic marketing claims by certain companies that self-driving vehicles are either already available or on the immediate horizon, those at the show seemed intent on resetting expectations for an incredibly complex and exceedingly expensive engineering challenge.
This industry — and especially Tesla — would do consumers a solid service and save lives by quieting the unsubstantiated hype surrounding so-called self-driving vehicles until the technology is more fully baked.
Motorists and their passengers continue to be injured or killed on public roads because they've wrongfully placed their faith in a machine that's ill-equipped to accomplish a task that they perhaps consider too mundane to deserve their full attention. These ill-informed motorists needlessly endanger their own lives and risk the lives of innocents in their path. Both are unacceptable.
Fully autonomous vehicles remain a noble undertaking worthy of investment, both by the industry as well as by state and federal governments. Ultimately, they have the potential to dramatically reduce collisions and the injuries and deaths that result. But as we have said, the testing of this technology should be conducted off the public roadways, and only on them in the presence of an attentive and trained safety driver.
The federal government needs to set clear rules of the road for computer-driven cars so that companies — and citizens — know what is allowed and what is not.
And to help advance public safety, it should actively support development, as it did with the DARPA challenge races that spurred cutting-edge efforts against time and budget constraints and helped show what was possible and what didn't hold up under pressure.
Full self-driving is still years down the road. Just as companies are wise to shift their short-term emphasis to driver-assist systems that are rapidly becoming more affordable, federal efforts should encourage continued research toward developing technology that can be trusted with controlling large objects in the vicinity of fragile humans.