On Valentine’s Day this year, in Mountainview, CA (Where Google’s Global HQ resides), Google’s autonomous test car in that area had a minor fender-bender when it struck a bus at 2 mph. You can see the DMV report here.
So what? There was no one inside to say, “A bee flew in my window”, “I spilled hot coffee on my lap”, “I was texting”, “The sun was in my eyes”—-Robots don’t have these problems!
Yes, the accident was partially due to software programming decision-making and No, this is not the end of autonomous vehicles. As engineers, we do our best to make a robust product, but we know that nothing is perfect and in this case the software needs to be refined and refined and refined again like any other design ever made before or that will be made in the future.
Just check out the Google self-driving car reports. Their autonomous vehicle is far safer than any car with an imperfect human driver—yes, we are imperfect as well as software is imperfect. We text, we put makeup on in the mirror, we answer our cell phones while driving, we get distracted by a myriad of different things that distract a human driver but will not affect a robot! (I facetiously call it a robot for lack of any better term in my mind)
So move on Google, correct the problem as best you can and get us to the point where autonomous vehicles will be far safer than we are now on the roads. (Robots don’t get Road Rage, don’t drink and drive and definitely don’t speed or ignore road signs and signals like we humans do either)
See how the Google car works here. See Figure 1 for a good block diagram on a typical autonomous vehicle.
It was back in the 1920s that all of this started when Francis P. Houdina, an EE in the US Army set up a 1926 Chandler with a mounted receiving antenna for remote control via another car following it close behind with a transmitter. The signals drove some small electric motors to control the movement and direction of the car.
And now we are on a journey toward safer driving eventually and, of course, there are still many refinements needed in software and improved hardware, but probably the most difficult challenge will be in security. Hackers and Black Hats will want to get into these systems just because they can. They want to show their peers how creative and talented they are. For this reason, we must be vigilant and install strong security measures in this type of vehicle.
The final hurdle will be the formal government and safety standards bodies which could be the longest delay, but if we have secure, mature software, this will inevitably speed up this process.
What are your thoughts on this subject?
2 An Open Approach to Autonomous Vehicles, S. Kato, E. Takeuchi, Y. Ishiguro, K. Takeda, Nagoya University; T. Hamada, Nagasaki University, IEEE Computer Society, 2015
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