Recent crashes in self-driving vehicles have made the public worried
The Washington Post reports that although most people think that they will soon be everywhere, most people are skeptical and have no intention of buying one. That’s certainly understandable. The press has widely reported several crashes in electric cars and done a pretty good job of frightening us.
For example, in Florida two teens who had been driving a robotic Tesla at the ridiculous speed of 116 mph died when their Model S crashed and exploded. In Arizona, a woman darted out across the street at night and died after an driverless Uber hit her. So even when humans are at totally or partially at fault, the driverless car was blamed.
A woman in Utah was using her Model S Tesla’s semi-automated function when she crashed into a fire truck that was at a stop earlier this year. She broke her foot and a fireman was injured. She was looking at her cell phone (of course) and had not touched her steering wheel for over a minute according to a data download. She claims that Tesla told her she could take her eyes off of the road for extended periods of time, which it denies, and she has filed suit.
But compare these crashes to the epidemic of deadly crashes that happen now. Over 37,000 people die each year in the U.S. in car and truck wrecks and guess what, 94% are caused by human error — usually speeding, drunken driving, and distracted driving. All three of these would be eliminated or greatly reduced with driverless vehicles.
The problem is that the information technologists have not yet figured out a way to invent a vehicle that will always be perfect given the many variables that affect driving safety. There are unpredictable forces at work, like drivers making sudden stops and lane changes. Human nature being what it is, there may never be a way to predict the movement of other vehicles on the road.
Perhaps these newfangled vehicles need their own lanes, the way there are HOV and bicycle lanes now. Until that happens, artificial intelligence will be curtailed. These vehicles are only being used on routes for the foreseeable future.
Problems with technology limit their safety
The current technology is currently not at the stage where all moving and stopped motorcyclists, bicyclists and pedestrians can be quickly spotted and analyzed. Radar, lasers, sensors, cameras and GPS have their limits. Their images work from simulations that convert driving logs from practice drives the vehicles have taken on certain routes into real world data. It’s like a transportation version of SimCity where software engineers design a new world of highways, intersections, and vehicles moving around.
But it is incredibly hard to anticipate human behavior and how people will drive, ride motorcycles and bicycles, and walk. How can a driverless vehicle know and react when someone “jay walks” or suddenly swerves around it to pass? The researchers are mapping codes and running algorithms trying to solve these thorny problems but in the meantime, it’s a pretty cool way to get back to your car after a Cowboys or Rangers game.
Federal oversight is necessary
A new bill called the AV START Act, which stands for “American Vision for Safer Transportation through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies,” is pending before Congress. It would grant federal safety exemptions to some manufacturers and allow untested electric vehicles into the marketplace. A similar bill has already been passed by the House of Representatives.
But consumer and safety groups have opposed the law and stated that strict regulations must be added first. They insist that all crashes be reported to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and that event data recorders like the ones required on commercial trucks be installed. They are also worried that the software running the vehicles could be hacked.
The industry points out that technology companies have been testing out their vehicles in 12 states. A Google subsidiary, Waymo, has cars that average 25,000 computer simulated miles a day in the last 10 years. But in Arizona this spring, there was a five-car pileup after a drunk driver ran a red light and hit a Waymo car and another Waymo test vehicle with a human sitting at the wheel was in a separate collision when a driver hit it.
The Wall Street Journal recently took a look at this exciting but scary transportation mode. Its article titled “Driverless Hype Collides With Merciless Reality” summed up the two competing positions. It describes how Mercedes-Benz has released sketches of a modular Vision Urbanetic vehicle that it claims will greatly improve driving and then says good luck with that concept.
Arlington’s test run
If you are interested, go online and sign up to ride this weekend. More information is here. The ride will travel in a tightly controlled area from the Arlington Convention Center and around the area. Next week the vans came take people from AT&T Stadium and Globe Life Park to Six Flags.
To prepare for this exciting launch, Arlington bravely rolled out a smaller project last year: Arlington’s self driving vehicles arrive here on Thursday.
Driver.ai has successfully been runnng these vans in Frisco from a huge business complex to the Star, the headquarters of the Cowboys, since July.
Perhaps they will be more available in North Texas once the kinks get worked out and public interest increases.