Get the Scoop on the Future of Autonomous Technology
Editorial comment: Autonomous vehicles – or so-called driverless cars – have been in the news a lot lately. Some of it good and some bad. A decade ago most of us looked at autonomous driving as something off the wall, unsafe, something to keep away from teens and, at best, completely unaffordable.
Today, we’re beginning to see autonomous driving in a totally different light.
What began last decade with the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) pioneering robo-car races in the desert has evolved into Google’s self-driving cars safely motoring (with supervision) some 300,000 mi (480,000 km) on city streets and freeways, not to mention the introduction of new autonomous research vehicles from Audi and Lexus at the last Consumer Electronics Association’s Consumer Electronics Show.
Can Autonomous Vehicles Make us Safer?
“Pretty much everybody thinks that there will be autonomous vehicles some day,” said Toyota’s Corporate Manager for North American Business Strategy Jim Pisz. “But first there has to be a willingness by society to accept it, and we’re not there yet.”
When you ask Pisz about the giant Japanese auto maker’s efforts to develop autonomous, self-driving cars, he turns the discussion to safety, pointing out the company’s Advanced Active Safety Research Vehicle (AASRV). “Our purpose in this is all about developing safer systems,” he said.
However, speakers on the “Driver Distraction Regulation and Autonomous Driving” panel told SAE 2013 World Congress attendees that there are still many hurdles to be overcome before autonomous vehicles rule the roads. Technology and regulations are important, but figuring out how to combine human interactions and automated control are also critically important.
“A key word is balance. You have to clearly set the roles and responsibilities between the driver and the vehicle,” said Kazuoki Matsugatani, Director of Division 3 Corporate R&D at Denso Corp. “A driver may fully rely on the systems and not pay attention to driving. You need to find balance between over-reliance and distraction.”
What are the Implications for Autonomous Technology?
With security, reliability, and legal issues yet to be resolved, the first self-driving vehicles will perform only specific tasks. Take, for instance, Audi’s self-parking system in Las Vegas applied by modifying the parking garage of the Mandarin Oriental hotel.
All major carmakers are developing self-driving technologies. The man responsible for the General Motors effort, research program manager Jeremy Salinger, says the company is already experimenting with vehicles capable of steering themselves in highway traffic. But he stresses that it will be important not to rush the implementation of such technology, and to make sure the interface is right.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is already preparing for the inevitable. It has created a $2 million research project focused on autonomous driving. This effort will explore driver-vehicle interaction issues (when and how autonomous driving technology takes over), security and reliability, and ways of measuring the performance of autonomous systems.
Today, autonomous driving is nothing to laugh at or ignore. We are in the beginning stages of a technology that could provide greater safety and greater danger for motorists on the road. Which way it will go depends largely on the type of research, the goal of such research and the ability to adapt our thinking to the thinking of machines.