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The debate taking shape over self-driving vehicles

Posted at 3:52 PM, Jan 10, 2019

At the Consumer Electronics Show (CSE) conference in Las Vegas, self-driving technology is everywhere.

From voice activated autonomous cars to farm equipment, and even wheelchairs. There’s even a company, Robolink, that wants to teach kids how to program autonomous vehicles because of how in-demand those skills will soon become.

“We are gonna be dealing with a whole workforce shortage,” says Hansol Hong with Robolink.

But the movement hasn’t come without a few speed bumps.

Phoenix, Arizona, where there’s no snow and very little rain, is an ideal testing ground for autonomous vehicles. Google spinoff company Waymo has made the town of Chandler their guinea pig for driverless testing.

Most people we spoke with support the technology, like Chandler resident Anthony Barrera. However, he says there is concern.

“I think there is definitely still some skepticism and fear about how it’s going to provide safety in our community, because it is a self-driving car, and most people are not used to that,” he says.

Some against the vehicles are protesting with violence. Police reports detail rock attacks, tire slashings and aggressive behavior from other vehicles. One man even pointed a gun at one of the vans, later telling police he “despises and hates” Waymo.

Tensions have been especially high since an incident where an Uber autonomous vehicle struck and killed an Arizona pedestrian.

“I think it’s absolutely clear that we have not had the conversation at a societal level about whether this is the right thing to do or not,” says Arizona State University professor Clark Miller.

Miller, who teaches at the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, says one thing that might help is if companies released the testing data these vehicles gather. Right now, most of them don’t.

Lyft and Aptiv are two companies that teamed up to launch autonomous ridesharing in Las Vegas. They’re working on how to take the small operation and produce it to scale, but at the same time, they know that to do that, they need the public’s support.

“I think you see apprehension with many new technologies, and I think it’s how you approach educating the public at large,” says Taggart Matthiesen with Lyft.

One thing is clear: to these two companies, there is no gray area. This is the way of the future.

“Certainly my 6-year-old is probably never going to learn how to drive,” says Abe Ghabra with Aptiv. “And when he does get in a car, I want it to be ten times safer than what a human driver can provide.”