AUTONOMOUS COLLISION AVOIDANCE
On a recent trip from Cape Town to Johannesburg via Kimberley, a friend, who was driving in front at the time, crested a hill and was faced with two oncoming trucks, one passing the other on a stretch of road with no shoulder. All the offending truck driver could do to warn us was frantically flash his lights.
My friend hit the brakes, but from where I was, I could see that the only way out was to take the car off the road at speed. Thankfully, he is an accomplished driver and could bring the car back from the shrubbery after having three wheels completely off the road. All this happened in a matter of seconds.
After the incident, I wondered how an autonomously driven vehicle would react when presented with a set of circumstances that completely goes against the set of parameters it was programmed to follow, with no time to warn the driver? Would the car be able to react in the same way my friend did? JOHAN BURGER By email
[Having recently attended a Mercedes-benz S-class automated drive, the same question came up. Autonomous-driving technology is very much under development and currently at level two (three on the new Audi A8) where the driver still needs to be able to take over control at short notice (level five is full autonomous driving where a steering wheel is not needed). The engineer explained that swerving to avoid an accident is technically feasible if there is space (not the case in the situation you explained) but they found during testing that drivers did not appreciate the car completing the manoeuvre by itself and would resist the system interaction and make the situation worse. A better solution is where the system still assists the driver with the swerving manoeuvre, but the driver needs to trigger the movement initially. Without any steering movement from the driver, the car would just complete an emergency braking event in a straight line – technical editor.]