The frenzy over autonomous vehicles continued last week when the giant chipmaker Intel bought a company that makes software for driverless cars, Mobileye, for a gazillion dollars.
Each week, it seems, some company pays lots of money for what it hopes will be a silver bullet -- the secrets that will allow it to control this new technology.
In fact, I am constantly amazed at how boards of directors allow their executives to invest billions in what is, after all, an unproven technology for which no one even knows if there is a market.
Big claims are being made without evidence. Software companies have made the startling pronouncement that their inventions will save thousands of lives each year. But even if autonomous vehicles save lives, it will take decades to replace the hundreds of millions of cars on the road. And the public may not even want this technology. Indeed, there is no real evidence that it does.
As I have said all along, the No. 1 market for these vehicles will be people who have lost the ability to drive and will see the driverless car as a real asset. But even that will be dependent on the cost. The second market will be truck owner/operators whose vehicles will be able to travel long distances on the interstate system without a driver.
But no one knows how many other consumers will be willing to pay for it. The industry doesn't have the foggiest idea about how much it will cost consumers or even how these vehicles will be marketed.
The industry is putting the cart before the horse.
By now, I would have thought that someone somewhere would have insisted that we find out if people really want these options and, if they do, at what price. Of course, that might contradict what everyone wants to hear.
Cars that drive themselves may be the greatest option since cruise control. Or they may be the worst idea ever, with huge cost and few customers.
Whichever, please don't give us statistics on lives that will be saved before we know if customers want these features. We can add plenty of safety elements to vehicles and still leave the driver in charge. Adaptive cruise control, automatic braking and lane warnings are all great features.
Let's do a little research -- and then find out how much money might have already been wasted.