By: Jack Barkenbus, Vanderbilt University

Autonomous driverless carEvery day about 100 people die in car crashes on U.S. roads. That death toll is a major reason why both Congress and the Trump administration are backing automotive efforts to develop and deploy self-driving cars as quickly as possible.

However, officials’ eagerness far exceeds the degree to which the public views this as a serious concern, and overestimates the public’s willingness to see its driving patterns radically altered. As those of us involved in studies of technology and society have come to understand, foisting a technical fix on a skeptical public can lead to a backlash that sets back the cause indefinitely. The backlash over nuclear power and genetically modified organisms are exemplary of the problems that arise from rushing technology in the face of public fears. Public safety on the roads is too important to chance consumer backlash.

I recommend industry, government and consumers take a more measured and incremental approach to full autonomy. Initially emphasizing technologies that can assist human drivers – rather than the abilities of cars to drive themselves – will somewhat delay the day all those lives are saved on U.S. roads. But it will start saving some lives right away, and is more likely to avoid mass rejection of the new technology.

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By: Srikanth Saripalli, Texas A&M University

Autonomous driverless carIn early November, a self-driving shuttle and a delivery truck collided in Las Vegas. The event, in which no one was injured and no property was seriously damaged, attracted media and public attention in part because one of the vehicles was driving itself – and because that shuttle had been operating for only less than an hour before the crash.

It’s not the first collision involving a self-driving vehicle. Other crashes have involved Ubers in Arizona, a Tesla in “autopilot” mode in Florida and several others in California. But in nearly every case, it was human error, not the self-driving car, that caused the problem.

In Las Vegas, the self-driving shuttle noticed a truck up ahead was backing up, and stopped and waited for it to get out of the shuttle’s way. But the human truck driver didn’t see the shuttle, and kept backing up. As the truck got closer, the shuttle didn’t move – forward or back – so the truck grazed the shuttle’s front bumper.

As a researcher working on autonomous systems for the past decade, I find that this event raises a number of questions: Why didn’t the shuttle honk, or back up to avoid the approaching truck? Was stopping and not moving the safest procedure? If self-driving cars are to make the roads safer, the bigger question is: What should these vehicles do to reduce mishaps? In my lab, we are developing self-driving cars and shuttles. We’d like to solve the underlying safety challenge: Even when autonomous vehicles are doing everything they’re supposed to, the drivers of nearby cars and trucks are still flawed, error-prone humans.

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By now you’ve probably heard the headlines about the dangers of self-driving cars in light of the first fatal crash involving a Tesla vehicle.

That crash took place on July 1, but more incidents involving the autopilot feature of Tesla vehicles have been reported since.

Just one day after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration started their investigation into the safety of Tesla’s self-driving mode, another non-fatal accident was reported outside of Pittsburgh.

In a recent interview with NPR, Wired magazine report Alex Davies discussed how Tesla’s autopilot feature works and what some of its safety issues are.

According to Davies, Tesla’s autopilot feature functions similarly to the advanced cruise control of other makes and models. Once you exceed 18 mph, drivers can activate the autopilot mode, where the car then uses cameras to read lane lines and sensors to keep appropriate distances from other vehicles.

But the technology does not seem to be working without complication.

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Self-Driving Cars by next Year?

With new technology and scientific breakthroughs in the automobile industry, everyone is waiting for the first car that will be able to run autonomously. Now, it may be closer than we expected.

Tesla Motors’ CEO and chief product architect, Elon Musk, made a prediction in September of 2013 stating that Tesla automobiles would operate autonomously for “90 percent of miles driven within three years.” Musk has now revised his statement and has proponents of autopilot capable cars hopeful for the future.

This from IEEE Spectrum:

One year later, he’s revised his estimate a bit, now saying that “a Tesla car next year will probably be 90 percent capable of autopilot. Like, so 90 percent of your miles can be on auto. For sure highway travel.” Although he didn’t go into any detail (besides some suggestion of an obligatory sensor fusion approach), Musk seems confident that this is something that Tesla will make happen, not just sometime soon, but actually next year.

Read the full article here.

While there is still much ambiguity on what Musk’s statement actually entails, we will be waiting to see what technology Tesla puts forward within the next year.

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