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How will autonomous driving change humans and technology? We discussed the topic with Osaka University Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro, an authority on robotics who is best known for developing his own android double.
Q1: In terms of changing the relationship between humans and technology, your research overlaps with driving in some areas. How do you think autonomous driving will change the relationship?
Ishiguro: The purpose of my research is to facilitate communication between people. My research is based on creating an ideal society by offering various forms of media to different people, so that human-to-human communication can grow and expand. To achieve this ideal, I need remote control technology and autonomous robots.
I don’t believe that the goal of autonomous driving is the technology itself. The direction autonomous driving will take differs depending on the society we aim to create. I think it’s safe to say that vehicles will not only be able to drive the instructed route but also make the driving experience fun, by suggesting different restaurants, for example, in which case the vehicle becomes something more than just a tool; it could become a partner. I think that would be ideal.
Since vehicles were originally created to be a form of transportation, another direction it could take is by coming up with a machine that would completely eliminate current restrictions such as the time and costs of commuting, and the risks. In this case, the vehicle would need to be designed to be very safe, reliable and yet unnoticeable.
The question is, is it possible to realize an infrastructure without an interface in the form of a vehicle that won’t make people feel like they are using something? Unlike trains and elevators, vehicles are operated individually, and no one would buy a vehicle if all you can do with it is drive. People want more; people want vehicles with personality. Chances are, out of the scenarios I discussed earlier that are most likely to be put into practical use, people will most likely look for personality in their vehicles.
Q2: What kind of role do you think autonomous technology will play in the future as humans and technology become even more connected?
Ishiguro: I think that rural areas will have the most need for autonomous driving technology. Consider the elderly, and then take a look at buses, when considering the utilization of autonomous driving as a function in infrastructure.
Since buses travel fixed routes, an elderly driver may lose the freedom that comes from driving. However, if a route is mapped for all the areas they need to travel, I believe there is a way to structure a sure way to travel. On the other hand, in areas that are sparsely populated, where such infrastructure cannot be built, I believe autonomous driving technology would play the role of a partner, much like the robots we are researching. They could enjoy a happy life in the countryside, because they have a partner by their side.
If autonomous driving starts taking on the role of a partner, interactive services would be created. Our robots can automatically do uncomplicated services; however, this is not 100 percent remote-controlled. Nonetheless, androids can replace doctors in making diagnoses, and there are many things that can be done by utilizing remote control technology.
For example, some autistic children can’t speak with people but can speak with robots. Some elderly people share the same situation. In such cases, where the robots are partners for dialogue, rather than controlling everything with a computer, first volunteers can be used and then they can automatically speak during routine training. Various interactive services can be integrated into vehicles driven by elderly people in rural areas, so by being able to help in situations such as when the elderly want to learn something, or when they are in need of something, it can act as their partner. It would be nice if vehicles could be used as a tool to assure quality of life in rural areas.
Part two of our series will be published next week.
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