The goal of this paper is to analyse the practical and ethical implications of the introduction of driverless robotic vehicles (DRVs) to society. An overview of the technology will be presented, including a synopsis of its development and the catalyzing events that have brought it to where it is today, on the brink of being introduced to the public market. Next, military applications and the morality of combat ready DRVs will be examined. Then, the effects that DRVs will have on health and safety will be given due consideration, as DRVs arguably will have the greatest net benefit in this area. Finally, some additional benefits of the technology will be provided as a jumping-off point for further reading into the topic. The hope of this paper is to show that, with responsible application, driverless vehicle technology will be an overall benefit for society.
Overview of Technology
Since the initial development of the automobile, new technology has been continually introduced to make driving easier and less technically involving. From automatic transmission and cruise control, to more recent features such as active parking assist, these technologies may have had different objectives in their implementation, but they all ostensibly share a common feature: they make driving easier. Early protoypes of autonomous vehicle technology included electronic highways which used magnets or rails to keep vehicles where they are supposed to be (Ingraham), but currently, the most advanced forms of DRVs combine a variety of technology, and are able to travel on conventional roads and highways, or even off-road.
Never before have we been so close to having a completely autonomous self-driving automobile available to the public. As with many cutting-edge technologies, this one has only come so close to market due to recently increased interest by the U.S. Military. Although fully autonomous vehicles in one form or another have been an international endeavour since the 1950s (Ingraham), it wasn’t until the mid-2000s that there was enough incentive for researchers and developers to take the technology to where it is today. In 2004, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was authorized by the U.S. Congress to offer substantial cash prizes in the “first long-distance competition for driverless cars in the world,” dubbed the DARPA Grand Challenge (Wikipedia.org). Congress held the idea that by offering large cash prizes to researchers and technology developers, they could initialize a program that would help accomplish their “ultimate goal of making one-third of ground military forces autonomous by 2015” (Wikipedia.org).
The first DARPA Grand Challenge was an abject failure, with none of the entrants being able to complete the race; however, this inspired Sebastian Thrun and his team at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory to develop a DRV which they entered into the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge (Thrun, Sebastian Thrun:...