On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff
SCIENCE, THE WEEKLY magazine of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, asks on its December 15, 2017, cover, “When Will We Get There?” Its subhead: “Deploying driverless cars might be harder than we think—and could bring unwanted consequences.”
The association’s sciencemag.org takes an even stronger stance on the matter: “Are We Going Too Fast on Driverless Cars,” by Jeffrey Mervis. His feature article in Science magazine is titled “Not So Fast,” and notes, “We can’t even agree on what autonomous vehicles are, much less than how they will affect our lives.”
Mervis quotes Senator Gary Peters, D-Michigan, who says, “This is probably the biggest thing to hit the auto industry since the first car came off the assembly line. It will not only completely revolutionize the way we get around, but [Automated Vehicles] also have the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives each year.”
“Such predictions, however,” notes Mervis, “turn out to be based on surprisingly little research. While developers amass data on the sensors and algorithms that allow cars to drive themselves, research on the social, economic, and environmental effects of AVs is sparse.”
From time to time here at SimanaitisSays, I’ve identified some of these non-technical aspects of AVs, among them ethical, legal and regulatory matters. As an example, confronted with a lamentable choice of protecting pedestrians or the car’s occupants, which does the car’s algorithms choose? What are the legal implications of such a choice? And how should government regulate AV development and implementation?
These aspects become particularly critical with full vehicle autonomy, now characterized as Level Five of AV development. A Level Five car does everything; its occupants, operator included, are along merely for the ride. Such a travel pod would likely be devoid of any controls, other than those initiating operation, selecting destination, and shutting down upon arrival.
The Morgan sports car I used to enjoy is Level Zero. Even its brakes, though hydraulic, were unassisted.
Level One characterizes our current fleet of cars: The driver is responsible for everything, but with aspects of automated assistance: power-assisted steering, ABS braking, often cruise control, maybe even some lane monitoring.
Level Two cars are now in transition and testing. The driver continues to have responsibility, but the car is capable of nudging itself in lane, applying the brakes in what it perceives as a panic stop, performing parallel parking, and other significant driver assistances.
Level Three gives the car full control, but only under special circumstances, on freeways, for example. The driver must be capable of taking over within 10 to 15 seconds.
Science notes that Level Three “Might never be deployed.” And, to my mind, for good reason: It’s wishful thinking that the “driver” occupied with cell phone, car display screen, or just the passing scenery could handle this 10–15-second assumption of responsibilities.
Level Four broadens the conditions under which the car assumes total control. Its only limitations would be related to speed, weather, or time of day. Notes Science, the driver does “Nothing under certain conditions, but everything at other times.”
Alas, I see the same problem as with Level Three: It is wishful thinking indeed that an otherwise non-participating “driver” will be prepared for a patch of snowy road or sudden rain squall. Despite this, Science notes that Level Four is “Where the auto industry wants to be.”
As already noted, Level Five cars do everything everywhere at any time. Science puts this one “Somewhere over the rainbow.” Despite optimistic, albeit misleading, news reports that AVs are arriving as soon as 2020, others suggest it could be 2075 before Level Five AVs are here.
Mervis quotes Susan Shaheen, co-director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center at the University of California, Berkeley: “The current conversation … falls into what I call the utopian and dystopian views.”
I lean toward the latter. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017