Today, Toyota recalled 30,790 of its Prius hybrid cars in the UK because of a software glitch. While no accidents or injuries have been caused by the fault, we couldn't help but wonder what the implications for the I, Robot-style future of self-driving cars might be.
Toyota's issue is in the software that controls the car's hybrid system, specifically the boost converter, which is used when the car is accelerating hard from a standstill. In order to prevent overheating caused by the software pushing the car components too hard, drivers would see their cars operating at reduced power or may even find themselves grinding to a halt.
In order to fix the problem, owners will have to take their vehicle to a local Toyota dealership for a 40-minute software upgrade.
This is fairly upsetting for us at V3. While we don't own any Priuses ourselves, it does put our fantasy future of self-driving cars in jeopardy. Let's face it, Toyota's boost converter is probably a darn sight simpler than software that chooses whether you crash into your neighbour's garden fence or not.
A minor prang – or one serious accident – caused by software problems will surely spell the end of self-driving cars before they've properly begun. No doubt lawmakers and car manufacturers will insist the actual driver should be paying attention at all times, but humans are – for the most part – lazy. And yes, while passenger aircraft fly on autopilot for most of their journeys, their human pilots are (hopefully) awake, alert and ready to respond to any technical failures. The bleary-eyed car driver sipping their coffee on the way to work might not be quite so attentive.
A software update can't undo you writing off your car, or worse. It'll be fascinating to see how this is handled by car makers in the future.
By V3's Michael Passingham, who doesn't even trust auto-correct
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