Automation Versus Autonomy in the $1T Industry at the Heart of the American Dream

The earliest developers of autonomous vehicles, mainly academics at places like Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and Bundeswehr University in Munich, wanted to work on automation simply because, like Everest, “it was there”. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, self-driving cars were a thing of science fiction and Hollywood; things that had been imagined but not made real. If you were a budding computer science major with a stash of Arthur C. Clarke and Frank Herbert novels by your bedside, building cars that could drive themselves was the most logical thing in the world you could work on. As the underlying technology hardened and started its journey to commercialization the incoming wave of entrepreneurs (including Elon Musk) logically seized on the safety implications of machine driving – i.e., namely that most car crashes are caused by human error, and that self-driving cars could potentially be safer drivers than humans – as the sales U.S.P. Again, a completely appropriate, noble cause.