Driverless cars? As forecast: Driverless fraud, Driving us over the cliff…

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In the Internet Age, where folks are too stupid to think for themselves and are force-fed easily digested algorithm-shaped news, ads, data, and commercials, we’ve become programmed to give up freedom of thought, expression and action.

So, without thinking, we buy into the latest technology, or at least its hype. There is no greater example of our willingness to lose self-control than buying into the idea that someday soon, our vehicles will do the driving for us.

As trend forecasters, we closely study the facts to determine the validity and direction of a trend. And for two years, we have forecast that the hype from automakers and their Silicon Valley con-men allies, promising safe, driverless vehicles within a decade was a lie, a myth, a geek-fed fantasy so deep into the future that it’s not even believable.

By identifying the “Driverless Cliff” as one of our Top Trends for 2018, we forecast that this would be the year “investors and auto industry watchers will learn just how many twists, turns, bumps and detours are along the road to vehicles that drive themselves, or are powered by something other than a combustion engine.”

We correctly equated the over-heated driverless vehicle investment trend to the dot.com bubble of the late 1990s. Back then, the hype and overblown expectations of how internet-driven businesses would drive investor megabucks led to an explosion of start-ups over those next few years. 

But a large percentage quickly failed and the bubble burst. The driverless car hype is following the same track as the dot.com implosion, as the entire auto industry and segments of the high-tech world are investing billions in what we forecast as a bad bet. 

Our tracking of this trend found that throughout 2017 and earlier, reports from the R & D side of the driverless/new energy vehicle world identified one major under-reported tech failure after another.

It was only a matter of time before these tech failures would become human failures, and human fatalities. And that would essentially force the industry back to where it belongs: On the drawing board.

Moreover, looking at the long-range data clearly demonstrates that higher technology means a greater rate of failures for the auto industry. The number of vehicle recalls due to mechanical or technical problems nearly tripled from 19.4 million in 1996 to 53.1 million in 2016. 

And in recent years, as testing of driverless technology has become more prevalent, the high tech/high failure trend for the auto industry is continuing.

IN 2018: DRIVERLESS VEHICLES KILL

On March 18 2018, Elaine Herzberg joined Bridget Driscoll in history.

Driscoll was the world’s first known pedestrian to be killed by an automobile. In August 1896, she walked into the path of a motor car rocketing along at 4 mph, as it was giving free rides on the exhibition grounds of London’s Crystal Palace.

This year, Ms. Herzberg unfortunately became the world’s first pedestrian to be killed by a self-driving car, operating robotically. Herzberg was jaywalking her bicycle across a dark street at 10 PM in Tempe, Arizona.

The autonomous car was occupied by an Uber driver who apparently wasn’t watching carefully. As the car cruised at 56 feet per second, Herzberg apparently didn’t see the car until she was caught in its headlights.

Wei “Walter” Huang, an Apple engineer, won’t have quite as notable a place in the history of motorized tragedies.

Just five days after Ms. Herzberg was killed, Mr. Huang became the second known fatality killed inside a car on autopilot. Huang’s Tesla slammed into a concrete highway barrier in Mountain View, CA, killing him. His car’s software record showed that the car’s dashboard had given Huang several visual warnings that he had his hands off the steering wheel for too long.

That led Tesla to blame Huang for the crash. The Apple engineer was not the first to die behind the wheel of a self-piloting car. That was Joshua Brown, whose Tesla t-boned a truck in Florida, in May 2016.

According to an estimate from Arizona State University’s Global Institute of Sustainability, people drive 100 million miles annually for each death caused by human drivers. As of March 2018, driverless cars have recorded one death for every 10 million miles driven, a dramatic differential. Hopefully, that number will thin out as autonomous vehicles log more test miles, and as the vehicles become safer.

The Phoenix New Times and Herzberg’s friends and family laid a share of the blame for her demise on Arizona governor Douglas Ducey. They pointed out that he’d held the door wide open for Uber when it pressed to enter his state to test self-driving vehicles. Uber, a California company, was lured in part by Arizona’s lack of regulations, including lax auto safety rules.

The invite occurred after driverless cars were banned from California roads, due to Uber’s refusal to apply for autonomous car testing permits. After an uproar, Governor Ducey responded by suspending all driverless car tests in his state.

After the death, some Tempe, AZ residents have called for Uber to be evicted from the city entirely.

Feeling the heat, Uber responded by suspending tests in Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Toronto, and Arizona. And politicians are finally waking up.

Within two weeks of the most recent deaths, the Minnesota State Senate debated a bill to ban autonomous cars statewide, and Pennsylvania’s Senate is looking at tightening regulations for self-driving cars.

Notably, New Jersey’s upper chamber has slowed a bill that would have green-lighted driverless vehicles, while the U.S. Senate has halted the AV Start Act, a bill that would do the same.

A related green-light bill passed the House and was approved by the Senate Commerce Committee, but the measure stalled when it was learned that recent tests of self-driving cars spontaneously failed, forcing their human passengers to lunge for the controls.

In just the last six months, more than half the states in the country have introduced bills to regulate autonomous vehicles.

But while U.S. regulatory policies are slowing down the rush to driverless, governments in China, U.K., Germany, South Korea and Singapore are fast tracking legislation allowing autonomous vehicles to be tested on public roads.

TRENDPOST: The Trends Research Institute does not provide financial advice; we forecast trends that identify favorable or unfavorable investment and profit opportunities. The mantra that driverless cars will become the norm by 2030 is simply and overwhelmingly not supported by our trend forecasting data.

Thus, investors should be wary of automakers' propensity to overpromise and under-deliver. We again urge our readers to not buy the buzz about driverless cars. As forecast, politicians and tech companies themselves are beginning to put the brakes on their enthusiasm for this as yet unreliable technology.  

We continue to predict that for the foreseeable future, self-driving vehicles will be specialty items limited to use in narrow tasks such as in mining operations, shuttling cargo, and along short, pre-defined routes.