Hu­man road­block for Ja­panese firms de­vel­op­ing au­ton­o­mous cars

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

TOKYO: Ja­panese car man­u­fac­tur­ers will have to con­vince the pub­lic that let­ting go of the wheel in a self­driv­ing car is safe, while also deal­ing with the big­gest threat to the cars’se­cu­rity: the hu­mans us­ing them.

Toy­ota, Nis­san and Honda are in­tent on putting au­ton­o­mous cars on high­ways-and also city roads for Nis­san-by 2020, and the tri­umvi­rate of Ja­pan’s auto in­dus­try were keen to stress the ad­vances made so far at the re­cent Tokyo Mo­tor Show.

Their stated goal-pre­vent­ing deaths on the road-is laud­able, but the tech­no­log­i­cal arms race is also highly lu­cra­tive: con­sul­tancy firm AT Kear­ney has es­ti­mated the mar­ket for the self-driv­ing car could be worth more than $566 bil­lion by 2035.

Nis­san chief ex­ec­u­tive Car­los Ghosn told re­porters at the Tokyo show the com­pany has high hopes the tech­nol­ogy will save lives while al­ter­ing car jour­neys for­ever. “It com­pen­sates for hu­man er­ror, which causes more than 90 per­cent of all car ac­ci­dents. “As a re­sult, time spent be­hind the wheel is safer, more ef­fi­cient and more fun,”he said.

But Ghosn’s com­ments be­lie the work still to be done, as its en­gi­neers edge for­ward in steps rather than leaps. Google of­fers prom­ises of a fully au­ton­o­mous car, but th­ese au­tomak­ers are tak­ing a more grad­ual ap­proach, fo­cus­ing on as­pects such as self-park­ing and crash avoid­ance tech­nol­ogy.

Func­tions such as emer­gency brak­ing and speedlim­it­ing de­vices that track the dis­tance be­tween ve­hi­cles al­ready ex­ist, but get­ting driv­ers to aban­don the steer­ing wheel com­pletely is a harder sell.

“We must make sure our clients understand how the ma­chine works,” said Nis­san’s chief plan­ning of­fi­cer, Philippe Klein.

To in­stil con­fi­dence, the ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence that will power Nis­san’s au­ton­o­mous cars will mir­ror the driver’s driv­ing style as closely as pos­si­ble, while “iron­ing out any bad habits”, the au­tomaker said.

In­ter­sec­tion co­nun­drum

Ob­tain­ing the trust of driv­ers is cru­cial, as with­out it “we can­not move for­ward”, said Mori­taka Yoshida, a Toy­ota ex­ec­u­tive. And even if the user of a self-driv­ing car is con­vinced of its su­pe­rior safety, other road users need to feel se­cure shar­ing the tar­mac. Man­u­fac­tur­ers are ex­per­i­ment­ing with icons or writ­ten mes­sages ap­pear­ing on wind-shields, warn­ing sounds, and in one case a light-strip along the length of the car whose colour and in­ten­sity would al­ter in dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions. In­ter­sec­tions present a par­tic­u­lar chal­lenge, said Melissa Ce­fkin, who is based at Nis­san’s Sil­i­con Val­ley re­search cen­tre.

“Some­times driv­ers com­mu­ni­cate be­tween them­selves and with pedes­tri­ans or cy­clists di­rectly, by swap­ping looks, with a hand ges­ture, or even ver­bally,” she said. “Some­times it’s in­ter­pre­ta­tive: we look for sig­nals while judg­ing the ve­hi­cle’s speed and move­ments.”

The tiny point­ers that mo­torists pick up from one an­other are not yet within the reach of the tech­nol­ogy. “Cur­rently, the ma­chine isn’t ca­pa­ble of grasp­ing all the sub­tlety of th­ese clues,”Ce­fkin said.

To bet­ter understand them, Nis­san is un­der­tak­ing the im­mense task of study­ing thou­sands of in­ter­sec­tion sce­nar­ios in an at­tempt to iden­tify cul­tural pat­terns by coun­try or con­text. — AFP

TOKYO: This pic­ture taken on Oc­to­ber 6, 2015 shows Ja­panese auto gi­ant Toy­ota’s au­ton­o­mous driv­ing demonstration with a Lexus GS450h on the Tokyo met­ro­pol­i­tan high­way dur­ing Toy­ota’s ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy pre­sen­ta­tion in Tokyo. Ja­panese car man­u­fac­tur­ers will have to con­vince the pub­lic that let­ting go of the wheel in a self-driv­ing car is safe, while also deal­ing with the big­gest threat to the cars’ se­cu­rity: the hu­mans us­ing them. — AFP

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