There's an episode of "The Simpsons" that has long been a favorite of "future of transportation" reporters. In "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" Homer Simpson meets his long-lost brother, Herbert, an executive at a failing American carmaker. Herbert tasks Homer, the everyman, with designing a car that meets his needs.
Extremely large beverage holder? Check. Tail fins? Check. Shag carpeting? Eh, why not?
The resulting monstrosity (aptly named The Homer) is so expensive and filled with so many unnecessary features that the company goes bankrupt.
Those who follow autonomous r&d might recognize this all-of-the-above approach to design. You want 3D compact flash lidar and eight different vehicle cameras? Here you go. High-definition mapping? Sure! Vehicle connectivity? Eh, why not?
The trouble is, as opposed to the case of The Homer, it's much more difficult to tell what new self-driving tech is necessary safety redundancy and what's simply extra nonsense.
Take, for instance, vehicle-to-infrastructure connectivity. This technology has obvious benefits: Cars can tell exactly when a light will change, triangulate their location on the road and contact officials in case of an emergency. However, it also opens the car up to a lot of unnecessary noise: Imagine driving down a street and your dashboard begins lighting up with advertisements from Pizza Hut or Payless ShoeSource.
It's also unclear if the vehicle-to-infrastructure technology is absolutely necessary for fully self-driving cars. While smart infrastructure that can communicate with vehicles will likely become commonplace in big cities, rural, out-of-the way areas may be much slower to adopt it. Depending on connectivity for critical information could drastically slow coast-to-coast deployment of Level 5 self-driving cars.
These technologies are undeniably exciting and may have unforeseen applications. But, like all new tech, inclusion of these gadgets must balance safety with consumer satisfaction.
In other words, a car horn that blares "La Cucaracha" may be nice, but it's not necessary.
— Shiraz Ahmed and Katie Burke