Autonomous vehicles: are they the future?

Just recently we hear the Google's self-driving car has been in an accident.  There have been accidents reported in the past, but this is the first where Google’s autonomous vehicle and its driver were equally at fault with the other vehicle; a bus.  

Thankfully no one was hurt. It was a minor incident where the autonomous vehicle and its test driver incorrectly assumed that a bus would slow or stop to let the car through. Although Google has said that the accident was “a normal part of driving”, it adds fuel to the debate about control and the relationship between the driver and the car.

Automation is not new

Speed control can be traced back to 1788 when James Watt and Matthew Boulton used the technology for steam engines. This was then adapted for cars in 1900. Automotive Electronic

Cruise Control was invented by Daniel Aaron Wisner in 1968. The advantage of electronic speed control over its mechanical predecessor was that it could be integrated with electronic accident avoidance and engine management systems. (Might not include this bit!)

Adaptive cruise control systems are still considered to be unsophisticated. Mostly used on motorways, it’s not uncommon for the driver to find the car to brake sharply when changing lanes or surging forward when the car in front moves out of range.  Reactions to this unexpected response of the car might vary depending on the ability and experience of the driver. For a relatively inexperienced driver the autonomous action from the car could cause alarm and make them react in a way that is unsafe as they try to outmaneuver a car which thinks it is helping them.

Automation is saving lives

Whereas cruise control was invented to make long journeys easier for the driver as well as saving fuel by keeping a steady speed, we’re now seeing autonomous systems being introduced to increase the safety on the roads.

The European New Car Assessment Programme are currently testing pedestrian avoidance systems, which attempt to stop a car when a collision with a pedestrian is likely. According to NCAP, “early detection, quick response and quick but firm application of the brakes are all areas in which the software could improve upon human drivers”.

We’re all for autonomous car technology that saves lives.  And it’s likely to affect everyone as autonomous breaking looks to become mandatory in the next few years.

Autonomous training required

With more and more driver assistance systems being included as standard in cars we believe there will be a need for extra training to ensure that every driver is familiar with the systems and there are no surprises by unexpected reactions from the car. 

The responsibility of the car still remains squarely on the shoulders of the driver.