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Safety concerns underscore autonomous car readiness

Posted: 09 Oct 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Virginia Tech Transportation Institute  autonomous car  human factor  HMI  Google Car 

Kelsch, of the German Aerospace Centre, answered that question emphatically. "The history of human factors research goes back to aviation, with these terrible crashes and hundreds of people killed," he said. "We have to learn from aviation, be proactive, rather than reactive. We can't wait for accidents to happen."

At the current rate of autonomous car development, the panelists conceded, those accidents are inevitable. Happee noted that the problem of "hand-over," when a partly autonomous car (called Level 2) faces a crisis on the road and turns control over to a human driver.

Dead man mechanism

Researchers know that this transition, when neither vehicle nor human is in control, can drag on too long to prevent an accident. Panelist Naohisa Hashimoto, of Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, cited Japanese research showing that this reaction time gets worse the longer the human "driver" has nothing to do.

Hashimoto stressed the need for an unfortunately named "dead man" technology to trigger a "safe stop," another ill-defined concept when neither the car nor the dormant driver can respond to a crisis.

Kelsch discussed research at the German Aerospace Centre that attempts to reduce the complexity of autonomous driving by simplifying it to four "A's," Agent State, Awareness, Arbitration and Action. However, under each of these stages of responding to a driving demand, complexity returns. Beneath the 4 A's, Kelsch enumerated another 14 subcategories of human (or machine) response.

Merat offered a ray of good news, describing experiments in La Rochelle, France, in which driverless buses and trams managed to gain the cautious trust of riders without scaring pedestrians off the street. She suggested that public transport, now further advanced and tested than individual vehicles, will be the first success story in autonomous driving.

The issue not addressed, except peripherally in a few words by Riender Happee, is one that might prove more problematic than researchers and automakers anticipate. Lurking within the "human factor" lies the possibility that people might not readily surrender "the joy of driving" to a car without a steering wheel.

- David Benjamin
  EE Times

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