Wouldn’t we all like to relax, read a newspaper, and drink a cup of coffee from the comfort of our own passenger compartment on our commute to work? Well, we could, and leave crowded trains and stressful rush-hour driving behind us, if we had self-driving cars. The Japanese government is moving to make this a reality by the early 2020s. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism wants Japan to pioneer self-driving cars for the public. Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Mazda and Fuji Heavy Industries are all on board, for the ministries planned bimonthly discussions aimed at making this dream a reality.
One important obstacle to getting driverless cars on the road is the question of liability in event of an accident. If there is no human controlling the car, who will be held responsible for damages? Similar questions are being brought up with the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) used extensively by the American military, if they are completely automated, how will we account for accidental deaths and injuries? Like something from a sci-fi story by Isaac Asimov, it’s a question of robot ethics, which is likely to become increasingly more important as robots take a more and more active role in our daily lives.
As automakers are likely to be reluctant to assume responsibility for the hundreds of thousands or millions of self-driving cars they produce and unleash on the roads, one option may be companies that lease the automatic automobiles to users, and assume responsibility in case of an accident. If the Japanese government has its way, robot cars could become a common fixture in special lanes on expressways across Japan.