Car (South Africa) - - MAIL -

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.]

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