Autonomous Vehicles Vs. Helping Humans Drive Better - InformationWeek

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10/29/2015
09:06 AM
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn
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Autonomous Vehicles Vs. Helping Humans Drive Better

For automakers, creating self-driving cars may be an appealing technical challenge, but creating better-driving cars is a more attainable goal. In a report released today, global consultancy McKinsey suggests that technology for helping drivers navigate is likely to become critical for car buyers.

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Trying to create a self-driving car represents an attempt to reinvent the wheel, which in this case happens to be the human brain. Our biological wetware allows us to drive reasonably well. While technology can make us better drivers, taking people out of the picture creates more problems than it solves. The idea that Google, Uber, and other companies believe they can create cars that drive themselves on public roads is remarkable for its hubris.

The issue is not technological. It's social, legal, and practical. Google's self-driving cars have proven themselves, but they don't perform as well when they have to deal with people. People can be unpredictable, and they can also be belligerent, particularly when challenged by machines. As the New York Times reported in September, Dmitri Dolgov, head of software for Google's self-driving car project, said that the challenges of dealing with people on the road convinced him that human drivers needed to be "less idiotic."

When fixing the machines proves too difficult, you have to fix the people. If only that were a viable option!

[How will we connect tomorrow? Read 8 Smart Cities: A Peek At Our Connected Future.]

In his new book, Our Robots, Ourselves, David Mindell, a professor at MIT, argues that machine autonomy is a myth. "Yes, automation can certainly take on parts of tasks previously accomplished by humans, and machines do act on their own in response to their environments for certain periods of time," he writes. "But the machine that operates entirely independent of human direction is a useless machine."

That may be an exaggeration. An automated lighthouse may be limited but it isn't useless. However, Mindell is referring to machines operating in more complicated environments. As he sees it, the future of automation involves some level of human oversight.

Outside of companies that view humans as an obstacle, this is already a given. NASA's Mars rovers operate with a high degree of autonomy, but humans continue to run the show. Commercial airlines can operate on autopilot, but they still rely on human pilots. Defense Department policy requires that people oversee autonomous systems.

Tesla Autopilot
(Image: Tesla)

Tesla Autopilot

(Image: Tesla)

For automakers, creating self-driving cars may be an appealing technical challenge, but creating better-driving cars is a more attainable goal. In a report released today, "Advanced Driver Assistance Systems: Pathway to Safer Consumers and Roads," global consultancy McKinsey suggests that technology for helping drivers navigate is likely to become critical for car buyers.

"Assisted driving technologies allow consumers to operate vehicles more safely while the consumers remain ultimately responsible for their respective actions," said Hans-Werner Kaas, senior partner at McKinsey and head of the firm's automotive and assembly practice, in an email. "Such assist technologies provide an 'additional set of eyes' and critical information in all day traffic situations."

McKinsey surveyed 5,500 recent car buyers across China, Germany, Japan, South Korea, and the US and found that among the few drivers who already have access to assistive technology, there's high satisfaction and willingness to repurchase.

The firm categorizes advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) in four tiers of escalating complexity:

  • vision assistance (birds-eye view displays, transparent window pillars, night vision displays, and adaptive high beams)
  • warnings and alerts (drowsiness alerts, lane departure warnings, blind spot monitoring, and various collision warnings)
  • adjustments (pre-crash cabin adjustments, braking assistance, lane-changing assistance, and wake-up adjustment)
  • intervention (lane keeping, advanced emergency steering, road hazard avoidance, adaptive cruise control, advanced emergency braking, and pulling over when drowsiness is detected)

Many of these features can be found in current cars such as the 2016 Volvo XC90 and other high-end models. Tesla's version 7.0 software, released earlier this month, implements an autopilot system that can steer within a lane, change lanes on command, and manage speed through traffic awareness.

To facilitate adoption of ADAS technology, McKinsey's report argues, carmakers need to prioritize cyber-security. They need to be transparent about how their systems collect and store data.

"Like with any new technology introduction, car makers and their respective suppliers need to earn or maintain the trust of the consumers," said Kaas, emphasizing the need for testing and validation of the software running assist technologies and for consumer education about potential benefits.

Humans need to engage with and direct their machines, not be driven by them.

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio
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tzubair
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tzubair,
User Rank: Ninja
10/29/2015 | 3:27:44 PM
Road Safety
I think the Assistive features will give a great deal towards safety and will certainly help cut down the number of accidents. Particularly, the technology to detect if the driver dozes off is going to be very useful. Drivers falling asleep is a major cause of road accidents these days.
SunitaT0
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SunitaT0,
User Rank: Ninja
10/29/2015 | 3:52:37 PM
Re: Road Safety
I think buses need this autopilot or Adas more than cars because heavy vehicles cause a lot of accidents and are responsible for a lot of more deaths. A full autonomous system full of sensors can alert the driver if something is faulty, be it brakes, fuel pipes etc. It makes for better drivability and safety for cars.
SunitaT0
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SunitaT0,
User Rank: Ninja
10/29/2015 | 3:54:36 PM
Re: Road Safety
Or maybe the driver can put the car on Autopilot and doze off. If autonomous systems are really going to help, then they must first get full independent control of the variables that are governing the car and passenger safety.
jnskm
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jnskm,
User Rank: Moderator
10/29/2015 | 5:26:17 PM
I want to be driven...
Remember when we dialed phone numbers one number at a time? Now we touch the contact we want to call and the phone dials. Sometime we tell Siri to call. Automation is good. Of course we are not as good as memorizing phone numbers, but that's something Einstein wasn't willing to be very good at either.

Manual transmission? Yes, for a purer driving experience. But most of us are driving auto. That's just how things are: if we don't have to we don't have to. And autonomous/self-driving cars? Same thing; I'd rather not have to deal with traffic and instead relax, work, or do something else while my car deals with the stress of driving through traffic. I'm looking forward to it.
mak63
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mak63,
User Rank: Ninja
10/29/2015 | 10:53:59 PM
Re: Road Safety
I'm in favor of ADAS. Who wouldn't? As long as I have the last saying on the correct course of action; or as the author says: "Humans need to engage with and direct their machines, not be driven by them"

"For automakers, creating self-driving cars may be an appealing technical challenge, but creating better-driving cars is a more attainable goal."
How about a goal of creating better drivers? Not just with technology, but also with education.
nasimson
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nasimson,
User Rank: Ninja
10/30/2015 | 9:38:28 AM
Re: Road Safety
@mak: Creating better drivers has been tried for almost a century now. Stil mostl accidents happen due to driver mistakes. The problem with driver training is that each driver has to be trained from zero. The benefit with cars is that the new model has all the leanings of the old model built in.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Author
10/30/2015 | 11:49:59 AM
Dubious
"proven themselves"

Proven themselves how?

That they make driving more dangerous for human drivers?  They've certainly proven themselves that way. 

nytimes.com/2015/09/02/technology/personaltech/google-says-its-not-the-driverless-cars-fault-its-other-drivers.html

And if we ban human-driven cars, all we've really done is make the road system a form of mass transit.
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Author
10/30/2015 | 11:52:27 AM
Re: Road Safety
Hear hear.  Self-driving car advocates whine about how humans are bad at driving so therefore lets turn it over to the machines.  What if we just make humans better at driving?
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
10/30/2015 | 1:28:53 PM
Re: Road Safety
@Sunita, a sensor controlled car is is great as long as they work. But they don't. I bought a 2004 BWM M3 a couple of years ago. Went to drive home last Friday and learned it has this wonderful (sarcasm included) system called Emergency Limp Home Mode, where it kills all the power to the car because it thinks you have a serious problem based on sensor input. The darn thing stalled my car in rush hour traffic in a construction zone where you can't pull to side of road. Thankfully when I restarted, everything reset and car started functioning normally again. Been a week without any more incidents, so what am I supposed to learn from that? My car was having a bad hair day?

I don't remember having those problems when my cars had a carburetor, for the most part things failed gracefully enough you had time to get them fixed. Now you are not sure if you need to fix your car, your sensors or your onboard computer.
SachinEE
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SachinEE,
User Rank: Ninja
10/30/2015 | 3:53:56 PM
Re: Road Safety
Or make cars that make tremendous amounts of noise and produce tremendous amounts of vibration. The first time I drove a Dodge Challenger, it left me unable to sleep because of the tremendous amounts of noise the engine makes. Also the vibrations were enough to make you feel like you are sitting inside a small earthquake zone. Speaking of passenger safety, I think I am more impressed with the Tesla Autopilot than the Google safety system. Let's see what Apple does with their car.
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