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BOTH KEITH CRAIN, editor-in-chief of Automotive News, and I are gray-tops—and car enthusiasts. No doubt this colors our shared opinion of driverless cars. His editorial in the March 20, 2017, issue of Automotive News, titled “Betting Billions on Unproven Tech,” begins with, “The frenzy over autonomous vehicles continued last week when giant chipmaker Intel bought a company that makes software for driverless cars, Mobileye, for a gazillion dollars.”
Keith points out that claims have been made about autonomous cars that are nowhere near verified. One is that eliminating human control will save thousands of lives per year.
Even with the assumption, a chary one, that computers never freeze up and need rebooting, it would take decades to replace the existing fleet of cars involved in the interaction. There are also quandaries of practical, ethical and regulatory aspects. More on this last one below; it has already undergone modification.
“And,” Keith notes, “the public may not even want this technology. Indeed, there is no real evidence that it does.”
I agree with him that two evident markets are for long-haul truckers and for people who shouldn’t be driving in the first place, perhaps because of deteriorating abilities from aging. Yet I have to ponder, should I live so long to achieve this status, would I be able to afford the technology? And, thinking altruistically, I also wonder if driverless cars are the best societal solution in this matter.
Keith notes, “The industry doesn’t have the foggiest idea about how much it will cost consumers or even how these vehicles will be marketed…. The industry is putting the cart before the horse.”
“By now,” he continues, “I would have thought that someone somewhere would have insisted that we find out if people really want these options and, if they do, at what price. Of course, that might contradict what everyone wants to hear.”
He applauds features embodied in what the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and SAE International categorize as Level 1.
Level 1 incorporates NHTSA’s original function-specific Level 1 and interactive Level 2. It includes things like Electronic Stability Control, Adaptive Cruise Control and Collision-Avoidance Braking, each perhaps with autonomous interaction of these automated features. For example, cruise control with autonomous emergency braking is not uncommon today.
Level 2 has autonomous control, but with the driver still very much in the loop, ready to take over at any time.
Level 5 is the most idealistic, the moon shot. Don’t even expect to see any “driver” controls. You’re there to enter a destination and sit back.
However, Levels 3 and 4 are ripe for interpretation, where NHTSA originally said the driver would be required to take over “with a sufficiently comfortable transition time.”
Keith cautions, “Let’s do a little research—and then find out how much money might have already been wasted.”
I hope the research identifies transition time attributed to cellphone texting. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017