Tesla cars: The rise of self-driving cars

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TESLA CARSWhile we’re on the cheery aspects of cutting edge car tech, a question: How many would your car kill to save you? The answer varies depending on one’s morality but computers and cars aren’t given this hugely complex framework of thought as a basis upon which to make a decision. Imagine something has gone horribly wrong and you’re the only one in an automated car. A minibus full of pensioners is overtaking a school bus on a two-lane road. You’re on the correct side of the road and on the passenger side, there’s a drop of 100 metres. If the car stops, you’re dead, if it decides to favour the young over the old and smash into the pensioners, you’re dead. If it drives you over the edge of the drop, knowing you’ll be killed, you’re dead. Of course, this situation would be tricky to negotiate were you driving the car yourself. Technically, the answer should be to kill just you, as it represents the lowest number of dead on aggregate. Would you be OK getting into a car knowing this? Whom would your family seek compensation from – the manufacturer, the programmer, the ethicists? This is going to be big news, in the coming years, for sure.

On a cheerier note, a couple of things available for your car that probably aren’t plotting to do away with you. At CES, the biggest consumer electronics showcase in the world, BMW led the way with something that appears to have no earthly use and yet is achingly desirable. Using a projector a speaker and a camera, their new HoloActive Touch system will float a control panel in front of you, in mid-air. The camera and projector are there to provide the graphics and the speaker is to play a sub-sonic noise when you ‘touch’ something in a clever variation of haptic feedback. Anyone who’s ever seen a sci-fi film will know just how sexy this could be. Most sci-fi fans I know would want it to be like a heads-up display (HUD) in a first-person shooting game – think a cross between Minority Report and the inside of Iron Man’s helmet. It’s in the concept stage at the moment but I’ll bet it won’t be long before they start tricking out the top of the range BMWs with it.

If the geek isn’t strong with you, look away now. Another big thing at CES this year was Renault’s new model Twizy, the quirky electric car that turns heads or stomachs, depending on how you see them. The exciting news is that they are using the Twizy as a base for their open source car project, named POM. POM is a platform via which car makers, scientists and the general public will be able to modify and augment existing software to make a completely customizable electric and networked vehicle. Because the code is open source, it means anyone can make modifications to the base code and share it around freely. In fact, it is illegal to sell open source code and anyone using it must make whatever they produce with it available on the same basis. This could all lead to some very interesting – and rapid – developments in electric cars.

You may be thinking “if the code is openly available, what’s to stop someone from messing around with it and tweaking it to cause harm?” Well, technically, there’s nothing to stop them. However, such code is viewed and reviewed so many times, there’s a greater chance that anything malicious will be found, unlike closed source (proprietary) software. Linux is one of the safest operating systems in the world, trusted by banks, governments and scientists, and it’s completely open source. See? It’s not all doom and gloom. Drive safely.