While some car makers are scrambling to make cars smarter, perhaps even to the point of being able to drive themselves, at least one is putting hard limits to what technology will be able to do. At least according to its R&D head. Wolfgang Epple, Jaguar Land Rover’s research and development chief, might come off as anti-robot, but his reasoning pretty much appeals to human emotion. The company doesn’t consider its customers as cargo so they aren’t interested in developing a robot that just delivers them from one point to another.
Not that Jaguar is anything of a technophobe. In fact, they are developing technology that will drivers remotely drive a car using only their smartphones, testament to the company’s geekery. They are also developing technology that assists drivers but that is a far as they are willing to go. Helping human drivers without wresting control is the extent of Jaguar’s vision of the future.
Epple’s reason is appropriately human as well. He believes that drivers want to experience the emotional side of the activity as well. Autonomous driving takes that away from them, making driving nothing more than a mechanical and unemotional journey. That might make some sense, that is until you get stuck in rush hour traffic or conscripted to a cross-country drive and start to wish you could just sit back and relax and enjoy the scenery or your smartphone.
If Elon Musk’s statements turn out to be prophetic, i might be illegal for humans to even be behind the wheel in 20 years’ time. Not gonna happen, says Epple. Why? Because lawmakers are human. At least they still are. Some might even say they are too human. In any case, he believes that those same human considerations will keep any anti-human law from being passed.
Of course, Epple is just one voice among many. Other car makers don’t feel the same threat of autonomous cars and instead embrace them wholeheartedly. Some, like Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche, liken these self-driving cars to self-thinking cocoons that afford the ultimate luxury on wheels. Volvo chief Hakan Samuelsson, on the other hand, holds that there are already cars, driven by humans, that deliver human cargo from one place to another, and they are called cabs.