The myths of autonomous cars


Google Car

Automotive Space has already dealt with autonomous cars, for instance in this post which reported people’s impressions on the topic.

But in the meanwhile the matter is become more and more current, also because the “bricks” – needed to build up the structure of this type of vehicle – still continue to be added.
By now it is a little wonder that a car can brake alone, to avoid a collision, or that it steers autonomously to “dribble” obstacles.

If you reflect about that, you realize as, for example, the automatic braking involves the brake circuit which was put under pressure by a pump that acts alone, based on commands of an “artificial intelligence” which decides in our place, and the same principle is applied for the anti-collision steering.

The car that drives by itself will extend again these concepts, bringing them to the maximum level, i.e. the one which provides the total control of the vehicle thanks to the automatisms. This technological turning point brings great expectations and even some “myth” that doesn’t fully correspond to reality.

One of the most widespread myths is that autonomous cars are able to erase the human error because they don’t getting distracted, don’t drink or sail on social network while driving.

The human error doesn’t disappear but it moves.

Actually even “them” could make mistakes, maybe because the software that controls them has a defect. Just think about all the unusual situations you come across during the driving: will the programmers have included all of them in the control application?
Have they enough imagination or experience to suppose – if that is possible – everything that can happen?

Another expectation concerns the human role: you programme the car and fall asleep, arriving at destination the next morning refreshed and relaxed. But in reality it seems that the autonomous systems will require the evidence that at least one passenger is ready to intervene in case of need. To the further question: “Can the automated cars drive in any conditions?” Some expert’s answer is a definitive no.
The bad weather will limit them a lot, as well as the case in which the satellite signals will miss.


Another myth: cars drive better… in the daily traffic actually it happens to think that even a child could do better than some drivers, but we (humans) are even superior in some cases yet.

In the driving on the limit, it is expected that the capacity of the professional pilots will be unsurpassed for much longer. Our ace in the hole, even in the simplest driving, is the ability to catch everything surrounds us.
LIDAR, Radar and videocamera are maybe more accurate but our senses really “understand” the environment in which we move.

Fundamental points
But some points are clear, although this is not to say that they are determined. For instance the autonomous cars will be more energy efficient: not only they will know in advance the route and then they will be able to take efficient preventive strategies but -hopefully- they will be less subject to collision and, in this way, could be lighter.

Even the debate on ethics is a fundamental point: to what extent will the cars try to save themselves in case of accident? Will they avoid the pedestrians going into a ditch, will they break any rules to save human life?
We will have issues similar to those that Isaac Asimov predicted decades ago, in his “Three Laws of Robotics“.

Another certain fact is that it doesn’t still exist a central “authority” which makes decisions regarding these topics: government agencies or the States or who else?
The SAE is considering the idea to set up a committee for the standardization based on voluntary standards but there is still a long way to go.

Translated by Federica Izzo

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