While many people are eagerly anticipating the inevitable additional safety of autonomous vehicles, and others are wildly exaggerating how quickly this will all be available, it is apparent that none of it is truly imminent.
Indeed, as the first steps in just semi-autonomy, adaptive cruise control and active lane-keeping are only now getting detailed appraisal, yet these features are only the tip of the autonomy iceberg.
A major issue was addressed by David Zuby, IIHS chief research officer, who said: “Designers are struggling with trade-offs inherent in automated assistance. If they limit functionality to keep drivers engaged, they risk a backlash that the systems are too rudimentary. If the systems seem too capable, then drivers may not give them the attention required to use them safely.”
This comment alone must give us all pause for thought about the extent to which drivers are going to overestimate the capabilities of various features which will increasingly be added to future cars. Such overestimation is inevitably going to result in unnecessary deaths — seemingly a ‘Catch 22’ scenario.
According to EuroNCAP: “Today, during our 20th Anniversary celebrations, [we are launching our] Road Map 2025, setting out for the first time the programme’s priorities for the mobility and technological revolution the auto industry is just beginning to experience.
I, for one, am very concerned that the approaching era of autonomous vehicles, together with “Vehicle-to-Vehicle” [V2V] and “Vehicle-to-Infrastructure” [V2I] wireless technology is quite likely to end in tears. It is already possible to hack the computerized systems of available cars — and it has been done, experimentally, to one car which was subsequently forced to crash — so the additional hacking possibilities in the future may be nearly endless.
If another country wants to inflict economic harm on the USA, or terrorists & blackmailers want to do harm or extort people, or teenage geeks in their bedrooms simply want to prove to themselves that they can cause serious mischief, then rush-hour traffic around a major city would appear to make a highly-tempting target!
I am keen to see what truly viable defence the US DOT, NHTSA, FHWA and NTSB, amongst others, are planning in order to protect us from this serious and looming threat.
Here’s a current article about a relatively trivial incident with a road safety camera network in the Australian state of Victoria, but much worse will soon be possible: http://www.caradvice.com.au/561518/victorian-road-safety-camera-network-under-investigation-following-virus-infection/
When American automakers say they are dedicated to the safety of their customers, you might like to ask why the vehicles they make for the European market are commonly safer than their versions made for the U.S. market or have more safety features available, even though those same enhancements are not even available on their American vehicles!
If pressed on the subject, hey will tell you that it is only to comply with tougher legislation in Europe, and that is partially true, but they are being “economical with the truth” to quote a famous expression I once heard from a mealy-mouthed politician, many years ago.
Fact 1: Over many years, the standards of the ‘European New Car Assessment Programme’ [Euro-NCAP] have often been more demanding than the American ‘New Car Assessment Program’ [NCAP] because, frankly, Europeans have been given more safety advice over the decades and so not only the public but also the politicians tend to be more knowledgeable and more demanding, and thus the standards are higher.
Fact 2: Following on from this, European people would appear to be a bit more likely to spend extra money on optional safety enhancements. I’m not pretending this is vast; Europeans still typically spend more on ‘infotainment’ systems than on additional safety but the automakers still follow the extra profits that are available and so at least the options are open.
But this still doesn’t answer why Americans who value safety can’t always get the same enhancements to help keep their families as safe as can European families. Do you think that’s fair?
EW: The title of the article could have been more appropriate but it is: “The Real Problem With Self-Driving Cars: They Actually Follow Traffic Laws”
One quote I really dislike is this:
Excerpt: “There’s an endless list of these cases where we as humans know the context, we know when to bend the rules and when to break the rules,” a Carnegie Mellon University professor in charge of autonomous car research told the Associated Press.
EW: Depending on whether the journalist paraphrased or edited the comment, the professor would appear to be endorsing acceptability and even a need to break driver safety rules, but that inference, whoever caused it, is far from good.
Excerpt: “It’s hard to program in human stupidity or someone who really tries to game the technology,” a spokesman for Toyota’s autonomous driving unit told the AP. When we hear about autonomous vehicles crashing with human-piloted vehicles, the cause is usually a human error that the software didn’t account for, like when a Google-programmed car didn’t recognize that a human driver had run a red light.
EW: Google hasn’t thought through the issue of other drivers running red lights? Really?
Revealingly, though, the article ends with: “…[E]xperts think that we have at least a decade and a half before cars can safely drive themselves among humans. It might take even longer to safely operate the vehicles in cities with especially chaotic traffic, like Beijing.”
Read the full article, from The Consumerist, here.