Self-driving cars are the latest shiny objects on which the Silicon Valley magpies have set their focus. What a triumph it would be to perfect a vehicle that didn’t have to be driven by a human, that could be programmed in your garage to take you to work, to Costco, to church, to a concert, and then return you home safely and in regal comfort.
It’s an appealing proposition for people who find driving boring, fraught with frustration, or who would rather text, watch the terrain pass by, or catch up on Orange is the New Black than keep their hands on the wheel and eyes on the road.
For people who enjoy driving, however, and who like to flex their driving muscles, and – occasionally – take a car to its handling edge, autonomous vehicles are like microwave dinners – they turn an adventure (eating or driving) into a joyless experience. (Trader Joe’s mac & cheese being the exception.)
Recent research by the University of Michigan Transportation Institute shows that 57% of Americans surveyed have a favorable opinion of self-driving cars. That doesn’t mean they want one. More than 75% of respondents say they are concerned about safety.
It’s been argued that self-driving cars will make our highways safer because we’d eliminate human error, that congestion would ease, and pollution would be reduced. And for soccer moms who hate to pilot their Pilot, a computer-programmed vehicle would be more welcomed than Spanx. Plus, it could be argued that fly-by-wire computer-programmed jet aircraft have made commercial flying safer and smoother.
The problem, of course, is that computers are fallible. We can’t escape Microsoft’s blue screen of death, Apple’s spinning beach ball, Netflix’s buffering video, or Sirius-XM’s dropped signals, so why should we expect the fusion of computers and cars to be any less reliable?
As for the jet-plane analogy, if the 767’s computer screws up, there are at least two experienced souls in the cockpit who have enough professional insight to avert disaster. The same can’t be said for your Great Uncle Fitzie whose forte is not getting out of a four-wheel slide if his autonomous car’s computer decides to buffer just as it hits a patch of ice.
Then there are the proposed “smart highways” that will ostensibly guide the self-driving cars. But that will require a level of sophisticated maintenance to which most municipalities would never endeavor to aspire. Plow the snow away from I-95’s autonomous-car sensors, pick up the trash that’s covering The Jersey Turnpike’s lane-discipline computers, repair the GPS antenna that was knocked down by a rogue driver? – sure, we’ll get to it no later than Wednesday.
Self-driving cars may indeed be the future, but not without fits and starts, and lots of mini – and not so mini – fender-benders and flying PlayStation Portables when your Chrysler Town & Country’s self-driving computer pauses to download software updates and you rear-end the car in front of you.
And so, object lessons for your business brought to you by the specter of self-driving cars:
- Don’t roll out a promotion, product, or service until you’ve tested it thoroughly
- Don’t let your tech guy’s innovations eclipse your focus on what customers really need and want, which leads to:
- Don’t assume that your clients will care about, let alone pay for, your quest for technical innovations
- Don’t discourage innovation, just make sure it doesn’t create more problems than it solves
As with running a business, it’s tough to succeed if you take your eyes (and hands and feet) off your goals.
As some you may have noticed, in addition to naming the Honda Pilot, and Chrysler Town & Country, I have also used the proper names of car brands and models as common nouns. For those of you who’d like to play the home version of our game, here’s where you can find them.
- Paragraph 1: Ford Focus, Triumph, Buick Regal
- Paragraph 2: GMC Terrain
- Paragraph 3: Ford Flex, Ford Edge
- Paragraph 5: Honda Pilot
- Paragraph 6: Ford Escape, Ford Fusion
- Paragraph 7: Kia Soul, Honda Insight, Kia Forte
- Paragraph 8: Smart, Mitsubishi Endeavor, Nissan Rogue
- Paragraph 9: Honda Fit, Mini, Chrysler Town & Country,
- Paragraph 10: Mitsubishi Eclipse, Ford Focus, Nissan Quest