Mashable Australia put out a story this month about A Tesla that crashed while on Autopilot, where the ‘driver’ died and discussed the implications to the industry.
So what exactly does autopilot mean. I’ve been on the jump seat on the flight deck of aircraft several times when they are on autopilot. The crew keep an eye out and are ready to act, but they also might be having a coffee, a meal or turning around for a chat. They can do so safely and it is normal practice. Some captains might tell you that it is a safer and more comfortable flight.
There is one significant difference and that is there are no other planes within a potentially dangerous distance and as soon as something does come into their airspace, or there are environmental changes, the pilot is alerted and takes back control. The biggest difference is that they have time to take back control of the aircraft.
Now come back to the Tesla and various types of driverless or autonomous cars that share the road with a ton of other vehicles ‘manned by drivers of various degrees of skill. Remember the pilot has trained for years before he is allowed to fly a commercial airliner. The person in the car next to you might not even have a license!
Let’s look a bit closer at those people and compare their behaviour to the rigor of a commercial pilot. Half of them wouldn’t pass a road driving test, whereas a commercial pilot has to constantly re-qualify their ratings for each type of plane they command and that includes simulations of events that are tough and realistic enough to come out of a SIM , vomiting and emotionally shaken, so that they know how to deal with a situation if it really occurs.
One of the issues I have discussed in the past is visibility. In this story they talk about the color match between the truck trailer the Tesla hit and the car itself. It was difficult to distinguish.
In the street furniture data capture exercise I was involved with, on bad weather days or under intense low ambient light that Auckland commuters face every sunny day, it is very difficult frequently to see much of anything including speed restriction and others signs. Then on bad weather days like twilight in the rain we have to deal with things like ghost markings, where old lane markings can be difficult to distinguish from the new markings. They can be meters apart. Lots of crashes or incidents are blamed on people following poor quality data, which could be similar data to that which autonomous cars would use. Here are 18 examples.
How about other humans that want to interfere, like boy racers https://thefuturediaries.com/2013/04/19/boy-racers-make-sport-with-driverless-cars/. I drive a Corvette and frequently have young drivers wanting to bait me or show me how fast their Mazda Familia is. I choose to ignore them, but I have the ability to not only react to their frequently irrational behaviour, but also to their faces or gestures, something a LiDAR system can’t do.
I heard a comment yesterday from someone quoting a driver who is big on Pokemon Go. He said “There was a Pokemon on the Auckland Harbour Bridge and I had to really slow down to get it.” That in itself is scary as hell, especially with the high winds and harsh weather conditions we have had recently, but more importantly, how will a driverless car cope with other vehicles individually or in groups, like the story above. That sort of behavior “does not compute”
It is interesting to read in the linked story that Tesla’s car is in fact a ‘Level 2’ and as such they expect the driver to keep his hands on the steering wheel and if they don’t, an audible alarm will sound. In effect it is not yet a driverless car, it is a car that assists the driver.
This is interesting when I hear about the fact that a Tesla drove itself over the Harbour Bridge some months ago. Check out this link to the story and video from the NZ Herald http://bit. Apparently the driver had his arms folded. He therefore did not comply with Tesla’s regulations unless that car was more sophisticated than the current models. Here’s another example in Sydney:
Now put yourself in the ‘drivers seat’ of this car, if you could afford one and imagine showing it off to your friends, which of course you would do if you had one. Would you be demonstrating your driverless car with your hands on the steering wheel?
Once again, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for driverless vehicles when they are ready, safe and suitable for our road network and can operate safely next to all the people who run red lights, don’t indicate last second lane changes on motorways, are distracted by playing Pokemon Go or sending messages on their phone. I love the idea of distributed ownership and other concepts that will come from this. I just wonder if we are being a little hoodwinked by manufacturers who are looking to generate huge profits from their designs now, not in 10 years time.
Remember the jokes of what if Microsoft designed a car? Here is one of Bill Gate’s own stories http://bit.ly/29RJXh0. Well guess what? Brands like Google are now doing exactly that. Are you ready for this? Would you buy one today?