Like many photographers and film makers I have a drone in my gear closet – a DJI Mavic to be precise.
Every time I take it up for a spin I’m amazed at how ridiculously sophisticated this little machine is. It’s so easy to fly my 8 year old can do it with ease. It has all kinds of fail-safe features built in. It will even help you out and land itself if something goes wrong.
Except things do go wrong.
Which reminds me of self driving cars, because a lot of the technology and functionality that goes into a drone is like a prequel to what we can expect from self driving cars – both the good and the bad.
This article is a bit of a tangent from photography, so if you’re only interested in specific photography articles, you might want to skip this post.
However, technology and especially evolving and new technology are such an integral part of the modern photography industry, I think it’s interesting to imagine where the technology that we’re familiar with as photographers might evolve if it were mainstream.
So, based on my experience with my drone, here are five reasons why I think self driving cars will never fly.
For no real reason except an irrational fear of something new, drones are effectively illegal to fly anywhere in the western world.
This hasn’t really effected drone users much since when laws are impractical and rarely enforced, people generally tend to ignore them.
This would be a different story for self driving cars where government regulation would most likely be strictly enforced (although many automobile laws are routinely ignored too – like speed limits).
Given government’s track record of losing their minds about new things, the only chance for self driving cars is if they become mainstream before government figures out how to over-regulate them to death.
The current norm in software development is to get the product out to the customer now, then worry about fixing any problems with later updates. What’s even worse is that software developers seem to rely on the end user to identify their own bugs and feature issues.
This is such a ridiculous half-assed approach to product development – but software developers get away with it because it is relatively easy and inexpensive to send out updates.
I can’t fly my DJI Mavic without some sort of firmware update. The same goes with my cameras, computer, phone, TV…pretty much every single electronic device I own. All need constant updates to fix one problem or another that should have been fixed at the development stage.
It’s annoying as hell – and for obvious reasons cannot be the status quo for self driving cars.
Speaking of half-assed software – software developer’s routine reliance on third-party and open source software are well know avenues to hacking vulnerabilities. As an example, DJI recently removed the JPush plugin from the DJI Go and DJI Go 4 apps – which had been collecting user data without its knowledge.
There are already devices available that can hijack a drone mid-flight!
And if a company with information as sensitive as Equifax (ie. pretty all of the personal information that exists for nearly half of the US population) allows itself to be hacked, does anyone honestly think that internet connected self driving cars won’t be hacked?
Surveillance By Corporate & Government
I am keenly aware that every time I fly my drone I am sitting on a pile of extremely sensitive data that would be a gold mine for our corporate and government overlords.
The US Army is so concerned about sensitive information being unknowingly transmitted to unknown entities that they banned the use of all DJI products – including drones.
This is going to sound like a little bit of conspiracy theorist – but could you imagine the data that could be collected from an internet connected self driving car!? Everything from your exact daily routine to video of you picking your nose while driving on the highway.
The FAA is already planning on developing a remote identification system for personal drones – so the same technology could certainly be applied to cars.
And given where all those electronic components will be manufactured (China – if not a hostile country, certainly a country that would have an obvious interest in covertly collecting data like that) it’s not much of a stretch to believe that surveillance mechanisms will be built right into the supply chain.
There are already networks of streetlights in the US that can detect gunshots and notify authorities – can you imagine what kinds of even more creepy surveillance could be built into a global network of self driving cars?
Do What We Say Or We’ll Trash Your Stuff
One further issue that ties into half-assed software, hacking vulnerabilities and surveillance is the current trend of drone and other electronics manufactures to force mandatory updates on users – with the threat of crippling your product if you don’t comply.
Even my Samsung smart-TV recently removed the Spotify and YouTube apps – both of which I use on a regular basis and are partially why I bought a Samsung smart-TV in the first place. Samsung didn’t ask, or tell the user – there was an update and then they were gone.
How it is legal to fundamentally change the capabilities of a product after it has been sold is beyond me – but the power this would give automobile manufactures to exploit buyers of self driving cars is extraordinary.
What Do You Think?
Is drone technology an indication of what we should expect from self driving cars?
Do you think any of these are legitimate problems, or something automobile manufactures will figure out?
Do you think I need a tinfoil hat?
Leave a comment below and share your thoughts!