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Autopilot - Why Are We Starting With Cars?

A recent headline caught our attention and has us wondering.

Clean transportation advocates started with cars. Why mail delivery vehicles get a pass is a quandary. The commuter rail in my Massachusetts town belches diesel soot along its route running empty half the time, and nobody seems to care. There are surely statistics to back up why cars are the target of overpriced greenwashing to back up these ironies. Now as autopilot grows ever closer to your Honda Accord, a local headline saying.“MBTA train left station without operator” has us again wondering why we are starting with cars when it comes to autopilot.

I’m not against autopilot in some scenarios. I have written many stories that point out the positive aspects of the Lane Keep Assist System (LKAS) in Honda products, and Forward Collision Prevention in an Acura saved my bacon one-day last winter. It just strikes me as odd that transportation that runs on rails surrounded by fencing and already using automated signaling has not been the first auto-piloted way to work.

As a mechanical engineer by training, I understand that machines can be made to do tasks more reliably than people. I also understand that the two roundabouts in my town will have zero visual cues for optical autopilot systems to use when it snows. A drive I make frequently on Rt 128 in the Boston area has not one, but two visible sets of lane markers on a few miles now under construction and the road shifts from left to right and splits in places that move day to day due to construction. Railroad tracks never do that.

It seems to me that if we aren’t comfortable letting Skynet drive subway and commuter trains, putting a $1500 system in charge of a Chevy Suburban is a further stretch. Would you feel more comfortable in a train/subway being driven by autopilot or in a car?