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Is Smart Car Concept a Safety Breakthrough or an Orwellian Nightmare?

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Intel is developing a car that will come equipped with airplane-like black box technology which will record vehicle speed, steering, and braking data. It will also be equipped with cameras that will record the interior and exterior of vehicle. The video footage and black box data would be automatically sent to the police and to insurance companies in the event of an automobile accident. This will obviously lead to determinations of who is at fault in an automobile accident and of driver’s behaviors during crashes. These technological advances are a first step towards Intel’s goal of developing a truly intelligent car.

The researchers at Intel envision a car one day that will be able to make decisions on its own. Camera systems will be able to recognize street signs and traffic signals and then be able to take control of the vehicle if the driver is about to run a red light or drive down the wrong way of a one-way street. Cars could even be capable of sensing potholes and then sending the location of the pothole to road maintenance authorities. All of this would be possible by making the cars permanently connected to the internet and therefore connected to other cars on the road.

The skeptic in me wonders whether this technology will truly make driving safer, or will this turn into another way for insurance companies to justify higher premiums and for localities to issue more tickets for driving infractions. Some localities already issue tickets in the mail if one’s vehicle is recorded running a red light. One thing I know for sure is that I never want to be subjet to video surveillance inside my own vehicle by my own vehicle. With the recent admission by Google that they were improperly collecting and using spatial data that they gather over the internet, I believe we should all think hard about Intel’s smart cars before they are actually introduced to the public. I also wonder whether the trucking industry will embrace this technology or choose to keep its head in the sand about the cause of tractor trailer truck accidents.

For a more involved analysis of the spatial law issues raised by this technology, e.g., who owns the data collected, how can it be used or shared, and what level of expectation of privacy one has in one’s own vehicle, I commend my friend, Kevin Pomfret’s, blogsite entitled, "Spatial Law and Policy." Read Kevin’s blog, Smart Cars and Spatial Law, here.

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  1. Mike Bryant says:
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    Very interesting question, what happens to all of the data? Taking care of liability would help and hurt, but would at least answer questions about what really happened. I often wonder why a person who has driven for a long time suddenly goes through a stop sign.