Putting Brakes on Driverless Cars

Is tech ready to take the wheel? If you ask all the technology pundits most have been vehemently declaring that the roads are ready for autonomous vehicles. Or at the very least semi-autonomous cars. Many car makers and technology leaders who are proponents of this technology have been spouting driverless technology is ready for prime time.

Despite all the hoopla surrounding the idea that your car will be driving you to work anytime soon, you might just have to wait.

The California Dept. of Motor Vehicles.,, released its Autonomous Vehicle Disengagement Reports 2016. The research was conducted by 11 companies—BMW, Bosch, GM Cruise, Delphi, Ford, Google/Waymo, Honda, Nissan, Mercedes, Tesla, Volkswagen– with permits to test cars in the state. Currently, 21 companies hold permits for testing.

The results show the technology is not ready to be deployed without human drivers behind a steering wheel. These drivers are needed to take control when the self-driving technology fails. Sadly, perhaps even more disturbingly, we are seeing in these reports that the technology is in fact disengaging on some occasions. In this editorial, we will examine two reports worth looking at for comparison purposes.

The first comes from Waymo, this is the new name of Google’s autonomous vehicle unit. This particular report shows the cars had problems dealing with the others on road construction zones and correctly perceiving their surroundings. The cars also had difficultly correctly recognizing overhanging branches. This indicates that the technology needs a better way to interact with the environment and infrastructure around it.

When many of these problems occurred, there were software glitches and times when the test driver had to take over.

This particular robot logged 635,868 miles on California’s roads in self-driving mode during the 2016 reporting period. This is more than any other company in the testing state.

And this is up from the 414,331 miles in 2015. Now, the number of disengagements did decline from 341 to 124. This does indicate the technology is improving. Also, the report shows that most of the disengagements came on local roads and not highways or freeways.

The second report is from Delphi Automotive Systems. Delphi reported its two test robot cars drove 3,125 miles in self-driving mode with 178 disengagements.

Similar to Waymo, the disengagements can be contributed to construction zones, lane changing in heavy traffic, emergency vehicles, poor lane markings, pedestrians, cyclists, and other factors.

After reading through this research, it’s clear at this point that we still need to work out some of the kinks in self-driving cars before we can make them readily available to the public.

While it’s clear self-driving cars are coming, the technology hasn’t reached the point where we can sit comfortably in the back seat while our automated driver forges ahead.

We need humans to continue to be responsible for what happens in the vehicle.

We will see semi-autonomous taking off. We will see self-driving cars taking to the roads. It will happen in our personal lives, in business, and in fleets.

Long before citizens and politicians can embrace semi-autonomous vehicles, we will need much more due-diligence on the part of tech companies to ensure our safety. In addition, we will need a greater investment in infrastructure. The good news, however, is this past week President Donald Trump delivered his first speech to a joint session of Congress where he outlined his administration’s priorities, including repairing and rebuilding America’s transportation infrastructure. As part of that, President Trump declared his vision for rebuilding our country’s highways, bridges, road, and tunnels. The discussion seems to have sparked enthusiasm from all sides to make additional transportation investments.

The technology in these cars needs to be able to communicate with the roads. The systems need to be able to share data that there is a construction zone up ahead and this includes improved lane markings road congestion and construction and so much more.

Once tech companies and manufacturers come together to make the infrastructure more intelligent including roads, bridges, and railways, self-driving cars might only be a novelty.

Data needs to be shared in realtime. This information needs to be built from the ground up. In the months ahead many groups will need to come together to discuss how to pay for the infrastructure investments. It’s a difficult discussion, but one that needs to happen, and happen open.

Self-driving cars can take the wheel. Certainly not this year. But we will see more semi-autonomous cars come on the market. It’s my hope that we will see more partnerships between tech companies and government to really address what needs to be done with the infrastructure.

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By | 2017-03-06T21:35:54+00:00 3/7/2017|

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