The implication is clear. The self-driving challenge doesn’t relate as much to getting cars to operate in self-driving mode at least 99 per cent of a time, it relates to producing the tech at economically affordable rates whilst also cracking the critical 1 per cent manual requirement threshold.
And safety as usually conceived isn't really the issue. If they "work" then they'll be safe enough, almost tautologically. But they won't work.
How did I arrive at this crazy conclusion? While my experience isn't the universal one, I imagined the simple task of ordering up a self-driving taxi to my house and having it take me to the airport. I punch in my address and destination on my app, after pre-clearing this use of my funds with the local welfare authority, perhaps by running an extra couple of hours on the treadmill, and wait for it.
The car hits my street, a one way street with parking on both sides. I live half way down the block. There probably isn't a parking spot outside my house, though perhaps there is elsewhere on the block. Does the car pull into a spot further away, pull into a nearby illegal spot (too close to stop sign, in front of a fire hydrant, in front of one of the curb cuts people have) like most humans would do temporarily (whether they should or not), or just pause in the middle of the street while other cars start lining up behind it, waiting for me to get my ass out the door with my suitcases. How long does it wait for me? How many cars are stuck behind it before it pulls around the block and tries again? Also, who throws my heavy suitcases in the trunk after carrying them down the steps of my stoop? OK, I can do it. Who throws grandma's heavy suitcases in the trunk?
The trip to the airport requires driving down a major arterial that was once the path of a freight rail line. It's 4 lanes, roughly, but there are lots of light industrial and wholesalers along the route. Double and triple parking for deliveries is common. Constant lane changes are necessary. It's a horrible street to drive on on. There are bus stops, too, with the bus drivers having to navigate all of this. Lanes aren't exactly clearly marked.
Skip to the end of this boring story for the airport dropoff. Have any of you ever done an airport dropoff? Vehicles pulling in and out constantly 2 and even 3 cars deep in places by the curb? Gotta get those suitcases out of the trunk...
Anyway, there are places where this stuff isn't that hard. There are ways I can imagine automated long haul trucking working, and that is something to think about. But the snap my fingers and be whisked away anywhere I want to go vision? Not going to happen.