FBI warns driverless cars could be used as "lethal weapons"

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has aired concerns about how driverless cars, which are being pioneered by the likes of Google and Tesla, could be used as "lethal weapons."

The FBI made the admission in an unclassified, yet restricted report obtained by The Guardian newspaper, which featured insights into how the widespread use of driverless cars in the future would potentially affect the way criminals operate.

The report states, for example, that driverless cars will "have a high impact on transforming what both law enforcement and its adversaries can operationally do with a car."

This would make it easier for criminals to carry out tasks, such as shoot guns, that could potentially put FBI agents in additional danger during car chases, as they won't need to keep their hands on the wheel or their eyes on the road.

The report, which was put together by the FBI's Strategic Issues Group within its Directorate of Intelligence, states: "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 tha[n] it is today."

However, it isn't all doom and gloom, as the FBI also admits that driverless cars could reduce the number of road traffic accidents that happen each year because of careless driving.

"The risk that distraction or poor judgement leading to collision that stems from manual operation would be substantially reduced," the report adds.

The Bureau's surveillance work could also become "more effective and easier", the report reasons, because the chances of an FBI agent losing sight of the targeted vehicle will are likely to be lower.

"In addition, algorithms can control the distance that the patrol car is behind the target to avoid detection or intentionally have a patrol car make opposite turns at intersections, yet successfully meet up at later points with the target."

Search giant Google recently showcased its first self-driving car prototypes (pictured), which are designed to work autonomously and without the use of pedals and steering wheels.

Its vehicles have a maximum speed of 25mph, and the firm said it hopes to run a small pilot programme with them "within the next couple of years."

Caroline Donnelly is the news and analysis editor of IT Pro and its sister site Cloud Pro, and covers general news, as well as the storage, security, public sector, cloud and Microsoft beats. Caroline has been a member of the IT Pro/Cloud Pro team since March 2012, and has previously worked as a reporter at several B2B publications, including UK channel magazine CRN, and as features writer for local weekly newspaper, The Slough and Windsor Observer. She studied Medical Biochemistry at the University of Leicester and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism at PMA Training in 2006.