Simanaitis Says

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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 Crain, editor-in-chief of Automotive News.

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.

SAE J3016 defines six levels of vehicle autonomy, from none to utterly driverless. See SAE International’s press release for a link to access this standard. Image from

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.”

I wonder what the transition time would be for this sci-fi “driver.” Image from the Rand Corporation.

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,, 2017


  1. Pete Ginkel
    April 8, 2017

    Interesting that the other cars on the highway look like late Fifties Cadillacs.

  2. Bob Storck
    April 8, 2017

    I’m a car guy. I’ve driven the famous road courses and ovals from Nurburgring to Indy. I’m ready for autonomous cars for one simple reason … the lack of attention and terrible discipline displayed by other drivers.

    I teach youngsters to drive … Boy Scouts and kids with one parent or a relative mostly. The pervasive attitudes of youth, the undermining peer pressure, and the ‘lick and a promise’ driver licensing procedures make any trip on our highways and streets a losing lottery.

    That’s without any mention of miserable road design, poorly managed repairs, and an amazing abundance ‘it’s my road, and get out of my way’ driving aggression.

    I’m glad to surrender the A to B driving to an auto pilot, and am convinced that with our technology explosion, that by the time they become pervasive, Keith’s concerns will be history. Most of all, it won’t be tomorrow.

  3. sabresoftware
    April 9, 2017

    My previous vehicle had the side proximity system whereby I would get warnings when cars behind me in the adjacent lanes were approaching (I blanking on the name for this system). When driving on a couple of longer trips in slushy/freezing conditions a warning would appear that the system was shutting down because sensors were obstructed. This was just an aid. What would be the consequence if this were to happen to a driverless car where the sensors are vital?

  4. Skip
    April 10, 2017

    I just don’t see the appeal of driverless cars and don’t ever foresee abdicating driving to automation. Cars are not a mere conveyance. For some of us, probably the older among us, driving well is engaging and rewarding. I must really be getting old, this whole trend makes me cantankerous. I think I’ll take a nap.

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