Your driverless car does have a driver, but it’s not human, it’s a machine; or rather, a system, including bits of hardware and software, and things to make them operate independently and together.
If it sounds pretty complicated, that’s because modern automated systems are. In fact, if it wasn’t for the sophistication of electronic components and their advanced programmability, we wouldn’t have reusable space rockets or driverless cars at all.
Assuming you’ve used a laptop computer for many years, you’d be used to being told that you need a driver update – a piece of software that allows the operating system to access and control hardware like the screen or WiFi network. Usually these updates are required to improve performance or security.
It’s no different with cars, and increasingly with aircraft. As control systems become more and more automated, regular updates become the norm. Tesla has been doing it wirelessly for years, which is one of the reasons they’re so successful.
For aircraft, systems to fly the plane and assist human pilots and improve safety have also become mainly software driven, but relying on inputs from sensors and mechanical systems too. But changing a flight system is a lot more complicated than updating your phone!
Remember the 737 MAX ‘software error’ debacle? And to think that four years ago people were already talking about jetliners without pilots, flown entirely by computer. That idea has now flown out the window. The financial implications for Boeing, the aircraft industry, and airlines, have been staggering.
So, if your robot car is misbehaving, maybe it’s time to change the driver!