Like it or not, trials of autonomous cars are due to start at the beginning of 2015 for 18 months on British roads. Robots will be driving amongst us.
Google claims that their autonomous cars are the vehicles of the future and that these self-driving cars would enable many disabled people, much more freedom.
In early 2012, to celebrate 200,000 miles of computer-lead driving, Google released a promotional video, which showed, Californian-based Steve Mahan, a legally blind man, sitting behind the wheel of a self-driving Toyota Prius.
The car successfully steered itself down American streets whilst using a combination of GPA, laser, radar and 3D environment data gathered from the Google street view project. The car successfully took Mahan through a Taco Bell fast food outlet, where he ordered a burrito and then carefully onwards, for him to collect his dry-cleaning. The ability for a blind man to get behind the wheel of a car and regain his independence would be for many, a dream come true.
Mahan advised, “95% of my vision is gone. I’m well past legally blind. You lose your timing in life. Everything takes you much longer. There are some places that you cannot go, there are some things that you really cannot do.”
“How this would change my life, is to give me the independence and the flexibility to go to the places I both want to go and need to go, when I need to do those things.”
These cars of the future would certainly be an opportunity for many people, such as Steve Mahan, to regain the freedom and independence that they have lost through disability.
But are these autonomous cars safe enough to be driven on our roads without human intervention?What would happen in the event of systems failure? Would a blind man be able to regain control of a vehicle successfully? Would there be laws on servicing the vehicles to ensure that the software and technology behind these vehicles was always running correctly? Still so many questions…
Anyone who owns a computer knows that the hardware and technology degrades over time. So would legislation be put in place, to ensure that this new technology is serviced regularly to help prevent software and technical failures?
We also need to consider legal implications to areas such as the Highway Code and questions have been raised about the result of driverless vehicles being mixed with manually driven cars.
Is the technology accurate enough to work in all roadside situations?
Alain Dunoyer, Head of the Safe Car Division at SBD commented, “The big challenges are still very much technical”.
“Understanding the environment around a vehicle is still very challenging. Most sensors used today are going to stop working even under bad weather conditions, for example. Even if you have the right sensing technology, there will still be some situations where the machine cannot cope with the scenario and will have to hand over control to somebody. That person has to be capable f taking control. That’s completely unchartered territory. The minute you give people the liberty to do something else – reading, texting, sleeping – how are you going to ensure they are able to regain control when needed?
Could this technology drive-down insurance premiums?
Trials and current statistics do seem to imply that these automated vehicles are actually safer, than man-driven vehicles
But who would be liable in the event of an insurance claim?
BLM partner Ruth Graham commented, “If driverless cars don’t crash then you could envisage insurance premiums coming right down.”
“A shift in responsibility in the case of an accident from the individual to the motor manufacturer would also impact the way policies operate.”
“It would depend whether the manufacturers were going to make some guarantees about safety. If they did, then it would become a product liability issue.”
Less accidents occurring on British roads, would reduce drivers’ premiums significantly; a blessing for many drivers. Being able to drive again, for many disabled people would certainly make a huge difference to their lives. But we still need to consider the safety implications, should there be systems failures with this new technology during a journey.
Like it or not, the technology is on its way and it looks like the Government, insurance companies, car manufacturers and suppliers of this technology, all still have quite to a bit to do, to accommodate it.