My idea of a driverless car is that you can sit back and read a book. In fact it may be more like this:
Germany is compiling what may be the first legal framework for autonomous vehicles. Transport minister, Alexander Dobrindt, is looking for three elements:
that a car always opts for property damage over personal injury; that it never distinguishes between humans based on categories such as age or race; and that if a human removes his or her hands from the steering wheel – to check email, say – the car’s manufacturer is liable if there is a collision.
However, the “driver” should be able to take full control within 10 seconds. In fact it has been found to take 40 seconds to regain focus.
Manufacturer Mercedes assumption is that you touch the wheel several times each minute.
In the US the guidelines for testing driverless cars require the human to keep their attention on the road at all times.
- This is also an assumption behind UK insurance for driverless cars, introduced earlier this year, which stipulates that a human “be alert and monitoring the road” at every moment.
We have had two fatal crashes involving Tesla cars this year – one in the US where Joshua Brown was allegedly watching a DVD when his vehicle crashed in autopilot mode, killing him, and one in China, where Gao Yaning died when his car hit a road-sweeping vehicle.
Ryan Calo at Stanford University, California says driverless cars may end up being a form of public transport, as is happening in the UK and Singapore, where government-provided driverless “pods” are being launched.
- That would go down poorly in the US, however. “The idea that the government would take over driverless cars and treat them as a public good would get absolutely nowhere here,” says Calo.
Toyota’s ‘Guardian Angel’ concept leaves the driver in control, but jumps in if the driver does something really stupid. In fact the software will run in the background, jumping in to prevent accidents that come from human error, like running into the back of the car in front.
Driverless cars require highly detailed maps. When that last article was written in May this year mapping firm TomTom had covered 28,000 kilometres of roads in Germany with sufficient resolution for driverless cars – a mere 4 per cent of all the roads in the country.
I’d suggest that provision would need to be made for temporary closures of roads or lanes for road works, which is where TomTom comes a bit unstuck. Our experience in Europe was that it also sometimes failed in deep tunnels.
Manufacturers will want to be satisfied with the legals before selling driverless cars to the public.