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The pandemic has accelerated some long-predicted technology habits like telemedicine and online grocery shopping. But driverless car technology might be kicked into reverse.

The ubiquitous computer-driven car that seemed just around the corner for a decade is now further away than ever.

I want driverless cars to work. They could spare us a lot of needless death. But there are big obstacles to the technology, including that it doesn’t work so well (yet), threatens to bankrupt all but the richest companies that try it and might never solve many of the problems we hoped it would address.

The struggles of robot cars make me wonder if it’s possible to shoot for the moon with technology without shooting ourselves in the foot by hoping for magic.

This is slowing driverless cars’ development, but as my colleagues wrote, the problems are bigger. We can’t blame the coronavirus for everything. The technology needed to make the cars safe is even harder to master than companies thought — and the problems the tech is trying to fix are even bigger.

The optimism slowly gave way to the reality of the challenge: A self-driving car must “read” and predict what’s happening around it and respond in fractions of a second. Compared to airplanes on autopilot, vehicles on the road must digest far more information from other cars and people acting unpredictably. Any slip could mean someone dies.

That’s still an incredible achievement, and more advances are coming. But driverless cars need to be everywhere to make us truly safer and achieve other hoped-for societal benefits.

An even more sobering thought is that driverless cars might make some problems we want them to solve — like traffic, sprawl and air pollution — even worse. If driverless cars quadruple the capacity of highway lanes, but people travel many more miles when they don’t have to do the driving, then traffic may not get better.

Here’s the dirty secret of delivering meals to our door: It costs a fortune, and almost everyone involved in getting food to our homes hates it.

What you need to know is the food delivery companies likely believe their future depends on mushing together to get big and muscular enough to raise prices for restaurants and for diners like us.

Food delivery is here to stay, probably. We’ll all just have to pay more for it.


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