Yes, you read that right. We’ve finally reached a point where cars are starting to be placed in the appliance bracket. I feared this day would come for some time now, but I’m afraid it happened sooner than I thought.
Although there are some positives, from my point of view, it’s the end of the car as we know it. I’ll get into all of that a little later on, but first, let me brief you in on the details.
Although they’ve never sold a single car, Chinese startup Byton already owns several facilities in Nanjing, Munich and Santa Clara, California. For a company which hasn’t even introduced a single product, that seems a bit optimistic you’ll in no doubt agree.
The man leading Byton’s charge, however, is Carsten Breitfield, BMW’s chief for the i Division. As far as electric cars go then, he’s a man who knows a thing or two about them. Had this been any other man, I would have dismissed Byton as another company doomed to failure from the beginning.
Although they’re still keeping the details undercover, Byton is adamant that they will revolutionize the way we think of cars. Or, should I say, smart devices. You see, Byton doesn’t advertise itself as a car manufacturer. They’re a smart device manufacturer, despite the fact that they don’t intend to build and sell anything other than what we call cars.
As they claim, their “cars” will come with face and voice recognition, 5G, and full autonomous features. The biggest drawback of any EV is its range, and it’s no different here. The initial plans indicate target ranges of over 300 miles per charge and a promise of a week’s worth of power in charging time while you enjoy a cup of coffee. To say that’s optimistic would be an understatement, but I can see where they’re coming from.
When you’re a brand new company and want to build hype, you have to sell your product and your services in a slightly unrealistic way. Even if people dismiss you as being too optimistic, you still get them talking and begin making headlines. And hey, it worked. I’m here writing this article about Byton aren’t I?
Now, onto the main discussion point which arises from all of this. Can and should a car ever be considered a “smart device”? I suppose the answer is both yes and no. For people who don’t give two cents about cars, it doesn’t really matter. The car is the most convenient means of transportation, and if they don’t even have to drive it, all the merrier.
Then you have people like me, enthusiasts, who get furious at the idea of not being able to drive their own car. I know a lot of you won’t be able to understand it, but to some people driving is a lot more than just a task or a chore. It’s something we enjoy doing and something which, at times, helps us relax or gather our thoughts. Having someone take that away from me is not something I’m ready to let happen just yet.
I know autonomous cars are going to make the roads safer, and that’s a cold fact, not an opinion. A month ago I got caught speeding and, naturally, received a ticket and got my license taken away for 3 months. Nothing I can argue with since it was my fault for speeding. Had it been an autonomous car “driving”, I wouldn’t have been able to speed in the first place.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, you have the moral aspect of this topic, however. If an autonomous car has to make a decision in an accident, and it inevitably will have to at some point, how does it decide? People will have programmed it to behave a certain way, but isn’t that pre-determining someone’s faith?
If a pedestrian walks out in front of your car and you have to dive off a sheer cliff to avoid him, I doubt many if not most of us would. It’s not that we don’t care, but it’s all human nature and psychology. You’d rather protect and save your own life rather than someone else’s. An autonomous car will have to make that decision for you, and it’s a lose-lose situation in both cases.
Would you own and get in an autonomous car knowing full well that if a crash were to happen, the car is programmed to save and rescue everyone but yourself? Would you be willing to sacrifice your own life to save two or three others? See, that’s my biggest issue with the autonomous cars. We take ourselves out of the equation, for better and for worse as it turns out.
Naturally, when cars stop being cars we’ll have to develop a new way of testing and evaluating them. Reviewers will no longer be able to report on the way the car drives or how it handles through the corners. Most of that won’t matter since you don’t get to drive it. Car reviewers will become no different from PC or laptop reviewers, reporting on its features and specifications.
There’s no silver lining in this situation. We’re trading off a lot of pros for something which brings in new cons with it, as well as pros. It’s up to us to decide whether the new thing we’re introducing offers enough advantages to outweigh the outgoing one.
Although I know a change is needed, this is not the way forward if you ask me.