A couple of weeks ago a self-driving vehicle being tested by Uber hit and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. Another crash happened a few days later when a Tesla-tested vehicle drove off a road, caught fire and killed a driver.
Safety experts say yes, the technology is designed to drive itself. But also has to have humans at the wheel who are paying attention. They need to step in when there are problems. In these cases neither driver did. In fact, the Tesla driver was asked by the vehicle’s technology to take the wheel and ignored the request.
Safety experts — like safety expert and investor Evangelos Simoudis — are saying these vehicles need to meet standards that help them detect hazards. Better ways are also needed to force human drivers to take control when control is needed.
“Humans don’t have the ability to take over the vehicle as quickly as may be expected,” he said.
Most self-driving vehicles rely on technology called lidar. This is lazer technology that uses light pulses to detect hazards on the roads. Developers combine this with sensors using radar and cameras. Experts say there are no standards on the systems and the companies creating the vehicles don’t use the same combination of sensors.
Simoudis suggests some vehicles have blind spots. They do says Duke University mechanical engineering professor Missy Cummings because the technology being used is “immature.”
Tesla disagrees. The company notes its technology saves lives but when they put a vehicle on autopilot the drivers have “a responsibility to maintain control of the car.” They must — at all times — be ready to respond to “audible and visual cues.”
Uber basically said the same thing. “Safety is our primary concern every step of the way,” it said in a news release.
Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety is a consumer group worried about the technology. It said there is a bill on self-driving vehicles — the AV START Act — sitting in the U.S. Senate. This one is geared to allow these vehicles to be on the nation’s highways. The consumer group thinks the two incidents make this a good opportunity for an amendment that will set standards.
One suggestion is a vision test to see what their sensors actually see.
Other groups want these vehicles to meet certain performance targets and they want more transparency from the developers. Plus, the groups think more oversight of the human drivers is in order, too.
One of those calling for more human interaction is Jake Fisher who heads automotive testing for Consumer Reports. His magazine wants labeling that helps consumers fully understand the autonomous functions of the vehicle. The point — Fisher said — is to make sure humans pay attention because we “are bad at paying attention to automation and this technology is not capable of reacting to all types of emergencies. It’s like being a passenger with a toddler driving the car,” he said.
Bryan Reimer of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) agrees. He is doing tests of vehicles from Tesla and Volvo — the two vehicles involved in the recent crashes — and on vehicles from Jaguar, Land Rover and General Motors. Reimer wants to know more about how humans interact with the self-driving systems. Some — he noted — watch the road with their hands above the wheel and others do not. He’s also paid attention to what warnings get their attention.
“We just don’t know enough about how drivers use any of these systems in the wild,” he added.
Timothy Carone is an expert on autonomous systems. He’s a professor at Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business. He wants to see proponents of the technology “find the right balance so the technology is tested right, but it isn’t hampered or halted. Because in the long run it will save lives,” he said.
To catch you up on the Uber incident, Weekly Industry News reported last week that Uber reached a settlement with the daughter of Elaine Herzberg who was killed by its self-driving Volvo. Now reports have reached us that other members of the family have lawyered-up and are going to file suit as well.
Phoenix, Arizona attorney Patrick McGroder announced he has been retained by the mother, father and son of the 49-year old woman.
Source links: Insurance Journal — link 1, link 2