The Autonomous Driving Industry is Convulsing
The autonomous driving industry is supposed to grow to $126.8 billion business in 2027, according to a Research and Markets report. If you believe the media cheerleaders, all is well and good with the industry. However, as you can see from the list of recent accidents at the bottom of this article, the technology failures are consistently and deeply disconcerting. The leading players in the industry, including Uber, Tesla and Google, have used people as unwitting subjects in live and sometimes lethal experiments. These incidents have caused the regulatory authorities to review the actions of these technology companies and protect consumers.
Over the next five to ten years, autonomous technology cars are likely to become more efficient with computerized functions that are smartly integrated with both in-car and road signals. The impact of autonomous navigation systems will be significant but not immediate. It will take time for developers to achieve adequate safety standards, users to trust the computers, and institutions to adapt frameworks such as legal and licensing procedures to accommodate a whole new generation of technologies.
Increased investments by automakers, the changing needs and behavior of customers, and environment-friendly features of autonomous vehicles are expected to drive market growth. Autonomous Car Market size is driven by rising human errors that cause automobile accidents. Pedestrian safety and driver assistance are the secondary benefits, which support the industry growth over the forecast timeline.
Grades of Autonomous Driving
Level 1 – No Automation: The full-time performance by the human driver of all aspects of the dynamic driving task, even when enhanced by warning or intervention systems
Level 2 – Driver assistance: The driving mode-specific execution by a driver assistance system of either steering or acceleration/deceleration using information about driving conditions, with the expectation that the human driver performs all remaining dynamic aspects of the driving task
Level 3 – Conditional automation: The driving mode-specific performance by an automated driving system of all dynamic aspects of the driving task, with the expectation that the human driver will respond appropriately to a request to intervene
Level 4 – High automation: The driving mode-specific performance by an automated driving system of all dynamic aspects of the driving task, even if a human driver does not respond appropriately to a request to intervene
Level 5 – Full automation: The full-time performance by an automated driving system of all dynamic aspects of the driving task under all roadway and environmental conditions that can be managed by a human driver
Expert views and opinions:
“Autonomous driving is not going to be a Big Bang; it’s going to be a series of little steps” – Toscan Bennett, Volvo
“Although automated driving features are coming soon, “it may be decades before a vehicle can drive itself safely at any speed on any road in any weather” – Huei Peng, director of the University of Michigan’s Mobility
Good or Bad?
When mature, autonomous technology vehicles will lead to a reduction in accidents and casualties caused by human errors and will help to optimize fuel consumption. Digital maps and other advanced features will get access to minute traffic details for faster routing and potentially reduce traffic congestion. But it may take years to realize those benefits. It is quite likely that the transition phase, when humans and machines are co-driving the vehicle, may be marked by a higher incidence of accidents than before. Over the next five years, the growth of autonomous vehicles will be affected by high technology implementation cost, incompatibility to the legacy system, and with concerns about system security (protection from hackers) and privacy, as well as backlash from those concerned about loss of jobs.
Besides the above impediments to rapid adoption, the industry has also been whiplashed by a series of serious accidents in which the autonomous driving technology has been implicated. Here are a few accidents. The first of these, which occurred two years ago, received a lot of press. But the more recent occurrences noted below have barely received the attention they deserve.
7th May, 2016: Joshua Brown, 40, was killed in central Florida his Tesla Model S slammed into a tractor trailer at a highway intersection. Tesla said the car’s sensor system, against a bright spring sky, failed to distinguish a large white 18-wheel truck and trailer crossing the highway. LINK
18th March, 2018: A pedestrian, 49-year-old Elaine Herzberg, was struck and killed by an autonomous vehicle operated by ride-sharing service Uber in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe. The victim suddenly emerged from a dark shadows but the car didn’t stop. The driver who should have taken control of the vehicle was looking away from the road. LINK
23rd March 2018: A driver of the Tesla Model X, Wei Huang, was killed when the vehicle crashed on highway 101 in California. The car was operating in the autopilot mode. Despite several visual and an audible hands-on warning, the driver’s hands were not detected on the wheel for six seconds prior to the collision. LINK
11th May, 2018: A Tesla car was driving in “autopilot” mode when it crashed into a stopped fire truck in Utah. The 28-year-old Utah driver was looking at her phone before the collision and was given a traffic citation for ‘failure to keep proper lookout’. The driver suffered a broken ankle and had taken her hands off the wheel before the crash. LINK
Autonomous driving is a serious matter that deserves our thoughtful attention. If done right, the economic and safety implications will be astounding. If not, the social and political fallout could be disastrous.