Other Perspectives on AVs

gm_firebird_iii_conceptWe’ve posted many articles over the years on the emerging technology that will someday make “Autonomous Vehicles” a reality.

Most traffic safety professionals see this as a hopeful sign that traffic fatalities could be reduced dramatically since 90% of crashes are tied to driver’s choices, attitudes, and actions while behind the wheel.

road train automatedStill, not everyone is comfortable with an 80,000 pound tractor trailer (aka ground based “drone”) hurtling down the highway on its own — destined for some far distant warehouse or retail center.

It’s easy to appreciate the trepidation of folks who, in their mind’s eye, see robot trucks running amok, creating devastation and putting CDL drivers out of work.

Recently, an editorial titled “I’ll Keep My Steering Wheel, Thank You Very Much” appeared (click HERE for full story) summarizing both the ongoing advancement in technology and the concerns of “what if” the technology isn’t everything we hoped that it would be….from the article:

I’ll say right now that I’m not too pleased with where these folks think things are heading, especially as a majority seem to believe critical components such as steering wheels, throttle and brake pedals are going to disappear by 2035…Hey, I WANT a steering wheel in a vehicle – and a brake pedal for that matter! “Autonomous” technology may be all well and good for buses, trains, and the like, but if I want to go somewhere in my car I actually want to be able to drive it there!

Now, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that the author was being a bit sarcastic to make a point — we may not be comfortable with the thought of what’s coming down the road in the future, but we’re not there yet, either.

Over time, we have been witnessing the gradual introduction and fine tuning of individual technologies that “assist” drivers with safe or efficient driving (i.e. lane departure, forward looking radar, nighttime vision assist, movable headlamps, etc).  Over the next couple decades, we’ll see these independent systems linked and become more readily available in all vehicles as a “standard” feature instead of a “Buck Rogers” add-on.

What do you think?  Are your ready for vehicles with no steering wheel?  Or are you uncomfortable with that notion?

Self-Driving Cars — When? (Maybe 2017)

A recent update report from C/NET (click HERE) summarizes amazing progress completed by Volvo on its efforts to produce (and sell) a “level 3” self-driving car by 2017.  It’s ultimate goal is to produce a “nearly uncrashable car” by 2020.

A “level 3” car can navigate along a designated road by itself with a human pilot in the driver’s seat “just in case”.  A “level 4” car is so completely automated that a human pilot is not required (think about curling up in the back to take a nap, etc.)

Of course, many people are not sure they’d be ready to yield so much trust to an Autonomous Vehicle (AV).  So why are so many car manufacturers pushing forward on this concept?  There are probably as many reasons as design teams, but as reported in the C/NET article, for Volvo it is all about safety and it’s desire to see a crash free world:

“Human error is behind almost all crashes,” Anders Eugensson, Volvo Cars’ director of government affairs said. It’s at least partly responsible 95 percent of the time, either thanks to negligence (drunk driving, distracted driving, falling asleep, etc.) or simply because a driver failed to avoid a preventable accident. If you can eliminate driver error you can eliminate nearly all accidents.

According to C/NET, Volvo has a head start towards its production model, level 3 AV:

Volvo already manufactures cars that have all the laser, radar, sonar, and visual sensing equipment needed for autonomous driving. It makes up the company’s City Safety program, currently available in the US as part of a $2,100 technology package. A forward looking camera and laser scanner are built into a pod on the windshield, tucked behind the rear-view mirror, while a radar system lives in the nose, hidden beside the company’s unapologetically masculine logo.

The sensor package that enables City Safety is just the latest of a long list of safety innovations that reach back to the beginning of the company. Laminated glass, three-point seatbelts, side-impact airbags, whiplash-preventing headrests… all things that Volvo invented or adopted as standard equipment well before the rest of the industry.

Of course, Volvo’s team acknowledges that there is a substantial (but not insurmountable) gap between deploying a level 3 and level 4 production AV.  In fact, they estimate that an additional two decades’ worth of work will need to take place.  Still, they’re on a mission — to reduce crashes.

But what if a crash does happen?  Who would be responsible?

Who’s at fault when a self-driving car crashes? While all the other manufacturers are busy shrugging their shoulders, Volvo has made its position on this quite clear: when the car is being manually driven, the driver is at fault in an accident. But, if the car is in autonomous mode and causes a crash, Eugensson said Volvo will take responsibility. “It will be difficult to sell if the driver is still liable. It gives a false promise.” One needn’t be a talking lizard to know this should result in cheaper insurance premiums.

If you’re still interested in learning more about AV technology, we’ve published multiple posts about this, here at our blog site — just use the search function located at the top of the page.

Autonomous Vehicle Safety

Recent Associated Press article examining AV safety issues:

Are you ready to merge into traffic with your hands off the wheel? How about trusting your car to distinguish a cardboard box on the roadway versus a deer or a small child on a bike? The future is coming and AV’s will be a part of it in some fashion. My concern is the bumpy transition from here to there.