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Google's Driverless Car and the Logic of Safety 510

Posted by timothy
from the professor-I-have-the-solution dept.
mikejuk writes "Google's driverless car could save more than 1 million deaths per year and tens of millions of injuries. It is an impressive achievement, but will we allow it to take over the wheel? Sebastian Thrun puts the case for it in a persuasive TED Talk video. However it may be OK for human drivers to kill millions of people each year but one human fatality might be enough to finish the driverless car project — in fact it might not even take a death as an injury might cause the same backlash. Robot drivers might kill far fewer people than a human driver but it remains to be seen if we can be logical enough to accept the occasional failure of algorithm or hardware. Put simply we might have all seen too many 'evil robot' movies."
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Google's Driverless Car and the Logic of Safety

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 02, 2011 @12:13PM (#35693876)

    I think the reasoning in this story is stupid. Drivers could get killed many times more when they're driving themself, but at least it's their own fault (or some drunk driver). But I sure as hell don't want to be the one guy in the statistics whos dieing is okay just because the system usually works. At least let me cause my own death, or be in control of avoiding getting hit by a drunk driver so it's at least my own fault!

  • by CastrTroy (595695) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @12:14PM (#35693886) Homepage
    I've been saying the same thing for years. The driverless car will never catch on because people want to be in control. I'm still amazed we have autopilots landing aircraft. Granted the pilot is paying attention at all times (or should be) and is ready to take control in case of a malfunction. For driverless cars the dream is that you can read the newspaper while going to work. But the reality is, that even if your car is driving itself, you should still be there to take over in case something malfunctions. If you have to pay attention anyway, you might as well be driving.
  • by MachDelta (704883) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @12:59PM (#35694174)

    I don't think people realize just how automated their vehicles already are. Sure, it's nice to be able to point to something and go "It parks itself! Ohmigawd!" but if you dig deeper you'll realize that the beginning of the "cars driving themselves" era has already passed us by. Thirty years ago when you mashed the brakes in your car, it pushed on a hydraulic, vacuum-assisted cylinder, and forced a fluid down to the brakes. That's it.

    Now when you nail the brakes, a computer is deciding that the "rapid engagement of the brakes" is really a request for 100% braking power and fully actuates the master cylinder by itself regardless of your exact input. Some cars will even adjust your steering inputs for you. Meanwhile another computer is looking at the rotating speed of each wheel, comparing them, and reducing and/or modulating the pressure to keep them from locking up. Another computer (or maybe the same one) is checking the speed of all four wheels versus the angle of the steering wheel versus roll/pitch/yaw sensors, and further adjusting the brakes and engine torque split to ensure that the vehicle isn't spinning or attempting to roll. Yet another computer is seeing that a massive load is being placed on the front suspension and actuates a set of valves or magnets to firm up the front shocks to reduce braking dive. Meanwhile a front facing sensor is comparing your rate of deceleration with the speed at which you're approaching an object, and when the check fails it weighs each occupant and primes a series of airbags for them, fires the seatbelt pretensioners, unlocks the doors, brings the seats upright, rolls up the windows, closes the sunroof, disables non-essential electrical systems, and basically does it's best to prepare the cabin for a crash. Some cars even have microphones tuned to listen for the sound of impact as a queue for firing the airbags! And how many cars these days phone home (OnStar, etc) when you're in an accident? You smash into a tree and before the fog clears from your eyes there's a friendly sounding lady on the phone going "We've detected a crash. Sir, are you alright?"

    Cars already drive themselves. We just point them in the direction we want to go. One day we won't even have to do that, we'll just say "take me home" and it will figure out the rest. Why that is so much more terrifying than our present state is largely a matter of perception.

  • by Colin Smith (2679) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @01:33PM (#35694362)

    It is the driver behind the wheel which makes it dangerous.

    And here's the problem with robotic drivers... They are all identical. Every one on a particular model will be byte for byte identical. Which means a fault in one is a fault in all.

    Humans on the other hand are all different. Just because one causes an accident under certain circumstance doesn't mean another would.
     

  • by gnasher719 (869701) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @02:07PM (#35694588)

    Indeed, and it is insurance companies that will eventually make automated driving the default option by pricing "manual" driving insurance through the roof.

    Why would they? The manual driver wouldn't be any less safe and wouldn't be involved in any more accidents. Quite the contrary. In many accidents, there is one driver making a mistake, but another driver could have compensated for it. If a manual driver goes past a stop sign, a computerised car might be able to get out of the way when a human couldn't.

  • by Kjella (173770) on Saturday April 02, 2011 @02:58PM (#35694900) Homepage

    This push towards automating driving is yet another attempt to nerf the entire world. Doomed to failure, but that won't stop the "visionaries." They should instead of focusing on having much better driving schools, much more stringent driving exams and recurring examinations. (...) Granted, some people will fail more difficult driving exams, and I'm ok with that even if I fail myself. They lack the hand-eye coordination required to be in control of a multi tonne vehicle, and should not be on the road. They can ride the bus, take a cab or walk. I'm not being facetious, I truly mean it.

    Bus? Not available.
    Cab? Too expensive.
    Walk? Too far.

    Let's face it, many people are completely dependent on having a car. Even if you tell them to rewrite their lives to be car free - possibly abandoning childhood homes, neighbors and local communities - there are many things that are completely dependent on having a car. There'll never be any public transport to take you up to your mountain cabin for the weekend and the taxi driver would charge you a small fortune for it. You can of course say "don't do those things" but that's a really crappy solution to the people you want to take it away from. Particularly for many elderly the car is a lifeline for getting around, losing their license and being "stuck" in their apartment is one of the saddest day in their sunset years. Given the alternatives, I can understand the "You can pry it from my cold, dead fingers" attitude many have to their driver's license.

    If there is to be a change of tune, I think it will come from these people. People that know that maaaaaaaybe they shouldn't actually be driving, but they don't feel they have a choice. People that could say "hey, this is enough for me to let me get my groceries and visit my grandkids", who don't give a crap about any loss of manual control - they never really asked for it in the first place. Like a cab, without the cost of a cab and that is your personal space. And commuters, honestly who thinks that is fun driving? Just get in, tell it to go to the office and spend the time doing something else while the computer limps after the tail lights ahead of you. Or just people that don't care, it's a tool to get from A to B and as long as the computer gets you there in roughly the same time that's fine.

    Not to mention, driverless cars also enable passengerless cars. The implications of that could be great, like I get off and the car parks itself. I call it and it comes to pick me up - perhaps not even in the same place, I don't need to return to where I parked it. I could drive myself to the airport and it'll go park itself. Or even drive home and wait for me to schedule a pickup. Also things like people that aren't old enough to drive. Deliver your kid to soccer practice? Put him/her in the car, tell it to go drop him off. If they're old enough, maybe even pick them up on their own. Or when you're drunk and can't drive yourself, no more need for "designated drivers" - which nobody wants to be in my experience.

    Seriously, driverless cars would be the solution to so many problems that only skilled drivers would never solve and which is pretty much a pipe dream anyway. Most people are just average and the great majority is not going to "throw out" themselves.

If you're not careful, you're going to catch something.

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