While automakers rush to get totally driverless vehicles on the road, many believe that full autonomy may not be the best approach.
For over a decade car manufacturers have been trying to develop driverless cars, claiming that fully autonomous cars would be safer than regular cars and might make traffic flow smoother. They cite the 10% rise in traffic deaths in the first half of 2016, with intoxicated drivers in 40% of those accidents, as further evidence that control should be taken out of the hands of drivers. To reverse this trend, the Obama administration in September 2016 announced new guidelines encouraging the development of autonomous vehicles with strong safety oversight.
Cars Need Some Human Interaction
Scholars, including MIT professor David Mindell in his book Our Robots, Ourselves, disagree with the concept of totally autonomous vehicles, saying that self-driving cars should involve interaction with drivers to be completely efficient and safe. In his book, Mindell says that technology should help reduce the workload of drivers without completely replacing them. He says the goal should not be full autonomy, but rather “progress toward trusted, transparent, reliable, safe autonomy that is fully interactive.”
Technology with the Human Touch
Mindell states that, for over 40 years, automated technology has proven to be more effective when it has some communication with people monitoring and controlling it, and cites examples in aviation, undersea exploration, and astronautics. The Apollo program, which put U.S. astronauts on the moon six times, was originally designed to be fully automated, with astronauts nothing more than passengers. In the end, with feedback from the astronauts themselves, the technology was used not to push people out, but to give them more control over the landings.
While the idea of full autonomy guides research, in the real world, automated systems progress toward trusted, transparent, reliable, safe autonomy that is fully interactive.
Google’s Fully Autonomous Approach to Vehicle Safety
The idea of total automation is the approach taken by Google with its self-driving cars. However to be fully autonomous, its cars must identify all nearby objects correctly, have perfectly updated mapping systems, and avoid all software glitches. Google’s cars must be able to drive in snow and other adverse weather conditions, something driverless vehicles so far haven’t been able to do.
Nissan Strives for Vehicle and Human Interaction
Nissan, along with other car makers, is taking a different approach to automated technology, striving instead for a balance between vehicle autonomy and human interaction. Nissan was the first major automaker to promise production-ready self-driving cars by 2020, which will still require a driver’s attention. The non-verbal communication between drivers at a three-way stop with a blinking red light is something that self-driving cars haven’t mastered yet, and a pedestrian standing still at a crosswalk may get overlooked by software, which only tracks moving objects, proving once again that human observation and judgment is needed.