Driver­less cars ‘still prone to er­rors’

Lesotho Times - - Motoring -

LON­DON — Trans­port re­searchers have said that driver­less cars may never be as safe as the best hu­man drivers, and that com­put­ers will not be able to avoid all fa­tal ac­ci­dents.

Michael Si­vak and Bran­don Schoet­tle from the Univer­sity of Michi­gan Trans­porta­tion Re­search In­sti­tute pub­lished a white pa­per on the safety of au­ton­o­mous cars, which are cur­rently be­ing de­vel­oped by aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions, Google and al­most ev­ery main­stream car man­u­fac­turer.

Iron­i­cally, many of the ac­ci­dents which com­put­ers will not be able to pre­vent are those caused by hu­mans — ei­ther as pedes­tri­ans or drivers of tra­di­tional cars still us­ing the roads.

Driver­less cars could, how­ever, re­duce many of the 1,2 mil­lion road fa­tal­i­ties which the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion es­ti­mates oc­cur each year.

The pa­per ac­knowl­edges that driver­less cars could help the el­derly and dis­abled to re­main in­de­pen­dent and mo­bile, and also slash emis­sions by re­duc­ing con­ges­tion and idling. It also says that the safety per­for­mance of self-driving ve­hi­cles could, in prin­ci­ple, be made per­fect. But it also points out that not all fa­tal­i­ties are caused by drivers — there­fore, re­plac­ing them with a com­puter, even an in­fal­li­ble one, may not pre­vent all deaths.

The re­searchers give the ex­am­ple of a drunk man step­ping out in front of a car with a “very short” gap.

If the lim­it­ing fac­tor in that in­stance is not the re­ac­tion time of the driver, but the abil­ity of the brakes to stop a car, then a driver­less car “might not be able to stop in time”.

Another set of chal­lenges in­volv­ing other traf­fic par­tic­i­pants re­quires rec­og­niz­ing and ne­go­ti­at­ing un­usual road users.

Ex­am­ples in­clude rid­den horses and horse drawn bug­gies, large non-au­to­mo­tive farm equip­ment, and sit­u­a­tions where po­lice or con­struc­tion crews are re­quired to direct traf­fic. Re­search has shown that around one per cent of fa­tal crashes in the US in 2013 in­volved some kind of com­po­nent fail­ure on the car as a con­tribut­ing fac­tor, another type of ac­ci­dent which driver­less cars may not be able to pre­vent.

“In­deed, given the com­plex­ity of the sens­ing hard­ware and of the in­for­ma­tion-pro­cess­ing soft­ware, it is rea­son­able to ex­pect that, over­all, ve­hic­u­lar fac­tors would likely oc­cur more fre­quently on self-driving ve­hi­cles than on con­ven­tional ve­hi­cles,” the said.

The pa­per also warns of the pe­riod af­ter the in­tro­duc­tion of driver­less cars, but be­fore all man­ual cars had been re­placed (the av­er­age age of a car in the US is 11.4 years) when in­ter­ac­tion be­tween the two could prove prob­lem­atic.

“In many cur­rent sit­u­a­tions, in­ter­act­ing drivers of con­ven­tional ve­hi­cles make eye con­tact and pro­ceed ac­cord­ing to the feed­back re­ceived from other drivers. Such feed­back would be ab­sent in in­ter­ac­tions with self-driving ve­hi­cles,” they said.

“The ex­pec­ta­tion of zero fa­tal­i­ties with self-driving ve­hi­cles is not re­al­is­tic. It is not a fore­gone con­clu­sion that a self-driving ve­hi­cle would ever per­form more safely than an ex­pe­ri­enced, mid­dle-aged driver. Dur­ing the tran­si­tion pe­riod when con­ven­tional and self-driving ve­hi­cles would share the road, safety might ac­tu­ally worsen, at least for the con­ven­tional ve­hi­cles.”

The Univer­sity of Michi­gan is de­vel­op­ing a 32-acre “mini-city” de­signed to test driver­less cars, called M City. It in­cludes junc­tions, round­abouts, pave­ments, bus stops and benches as well as sim­u­lated pedes­tri­ans and parked cars.

“Con­nected and au­to­mated ve­hi­cle tech­nol­ogy will usher in a rev­o­lu­tion in the mo­bil­ity of peo­ple and goods com­pa­ra­ble to that sparked by the in­tro­duc­tion of the au­to­mo­bile a cen­tury ago,” said Peter Sweat­man, di­rec­tor of the univer­sity’s Mo­bil­ity Trans­for­ma­tion Cen­ter.

“M City will al­low us to rig­or­ously test new ap­proaches in a safe, con­trolled and re­al­is­tic en­vi­ron­ment be­fore we im­ple­ment them on ac­tual streets.” — Tele­graph

Re­searchers from a Us univer­sity warn that driver­less cars will never erad­i­cate all fa­tal crashes

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