The driverless automobile -- friend or foe? A potential for disaster, says the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The development of self-driving vehicles is under way, and while it is still a long way from gracing driveways and rent-a-car parking lots en masse, law enforcement organizations and national security experts are already sounding the alarm that these vehicles may become a deadly weapon for terrorists and an accomplice for more basic criminal acts such as robberies.
The threat of terrorists packing one of these cars with explosives and remotely detonating it in a public place is very real, according to the FBI.
The FBI sees this as a game-changing development. Vehicles can easily be converted to vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDS), creating sort of a four-wheeled, slow-moving guided cruise missile.
Since no human presence inside the vehicle is required, terrorists will not have to recruit suicidal fanatics to pilot these rolling bombs.
In an FBI report obtained by The Guardian through a formal information request, it is stated that "Autonomy... will make mobility more efficient, but will also open up greater possibilities for dual-use applications and ways for a car to be more of a potential lethal weapon than it is today."
Other evil-rather-than-good uses include criminal enterprises that require a getaway car, making a driverless car an ideal accomplice for the Gang That Couldn't Drive Straight. Thieves on the lam can tend to other activities, such as firing weapons at police officers, while the car handles the driving itself.
As the FBI report observed, "Bad actors will be able to conduct tasks that require use of both hands or taking one's eyes off the road, which would be impossible today."
The FBI does acknowledge that driverless cars have many useful purposes for law enforcement and for first responders. First, driverless cars may engender far fewer accidents that would require first responder intervention. They also will reduce the number of accidents that befall law enforcement and first responders.
Driverless vehicles also can maneuver through traffic in ways that other vehicles cannot, improving first responder access and making pursuit by law enforcement self-driving vehicles more effective.
Cutting to the chase, the FBI also says "Surveillance will be made more effective and easier, with less of a chance that a patrol car will lose sight of a target vehicle."
Industry observers and the FBI believe that driverless cars may become a governmentally approved reality on public roads in five to seven years.
Google's current research vehicles can travel at up to 25 mph.