Au­toma­tion is the world’s new in-thing, cars are no ex­cep­tion

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - BUSINESS - PETER LIANG

rides hands-free in a Tesla Model S ve­hi­cle equipped with Au­topi­lot hard­ware and soft­ware in New York. This de­vel­op­ing trend seems to have gone un­no­ticed by the au­thor­i­ties in Hong Kong de­spite the fact that it should be of par­tic­u­lar sig­nif­i­cance in this densely pop­u­lated and over­built city.

Self-driv­ing cars have be­come a re­al­ity rather than a dream. Nearly all the global tech com­pa­nies, par­tic­u­larly Google, are in­vest­ing big money in per­fect­ing the tech­nol­ogy. Ma­jor car man­u­fac­tur­ers in the United States, Ja­pan and Europe are de­vel­op­ing new au­ton­o­mous cars for the road.

Gov­ern­ments in some de­vel­oped economies are also set­ting stan­dards and draft­ing guide­lines on how self-driv­ing cars should work.

This de­vel­op­ing trend seems to have gone un­no­ticed by the au­thor­i­ties in Hong Kong de­spite the fact that it should be of par­tic­u­lar sig­nif­i­cance in this densely pop­u­lated and over­built city. Driv­ing on the city’s of­ten con­gested roads and through nar­row streets is never a plea­sure. It is a chore bet­ter left to the ma­chines.

How many times have an av­er­age mo­torist who can’ t af­ford to hire a driver dreamed of set­tling in the front seat, sip­ping cof­fee and play­ing his fa­vorite game on the iPad, while his car crawls through traf­fic and makes the right lane changes to take him to his des­ti­na­tion, all by it­self. Au­ton­o­mous cars are avail­able. But they are not al­lowed on Hong Kong roads for safety rea­sons.

That’s a pity. Self-driv­ing cars are sup­pos­edly safer be­cause they are pro­grammed to obey traf­fic rules and keep a safe dis­tance from other ve­hi­cles in front. Of course, there’s no guar­an­tee against get­ting hit by cars driven by reck­less hu­mans. But that’s not the po­ten­tial haz­ard unique to au­ton­o­mous cars. Many driv­ers, in­clud­ing my­self, have ex­pe­ri­enced be­ing rear ended by an id­iot or a drunk.

There are peo­ple who asked if we need self-driv­ing cars. To oth­ers, self-driv­ing tech­nol­ogy is part of the log­i­cal progress of au­toma­tion in au­to­mo­bile de­vel­op­ment, start­ing from the self-starter mo­tor in the early 20th cen­tury.

Now, it’s hard to find a car without au­to­matic trans­mis­sion and power ev­ery­thing. The level of au­toma­tion has reached a stage when the in­board com­puter can over­ride the driver when it de­tects the on­set of calamity.

In­deed, most cars now have com­puter “brains” that are get­ting smarter and, whether you like it or not, more in­tru­sive. Em­pow­er­ing them with au­ton­omy is just a mat­ter of time. Now is the time.

BLOOMBERG CHRISTO­PHER GOODNEY /

A driver

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