Apparently, it’s not just Uber drivers who enjoy extended naps behind the wheel.
Ford engineers, tapped to put the company’s self-driving technology on the fast track to production, are taking the off-ramp to Slumberville so often that the company has had to get other engineers to devise ways of keeping them awake.
It turns out that riding in the driver’s seat of a self-driving car is as conducive to glassy-eyed lethargy as reading about “mobility solutions.”
Speaking to Bloomberg, Ford product development chief Raj Nair said the company has tried everything to keep engineers — who are supposed to monitor the vehicle’s actions and take over should something go haywire — awake, to no avail.
Audible warnings, lights and vibrating seats and steering wheels failed to keep the drivers from dozing off. Ford eventually decided to place a second engineer in the vehicle, but the same problem occurred. Maintaining “situational awareness” proved difficult, Nair said.
“These are trained engineers who are there to observe what’s happening,” he explained. “But it’s human nature that you start trusting the vehicle more and more and that you feel you don’t need to be paying attention.”
It looks like fully autonomous cars, once available to the public, will be used more for naps than doing the nasty. Don’t see the USA in a Chevrolet, the tagline might be.
Back at Ford, the futile effort to keep engineers lucid prompted CEO Mark Fields to announce the impending death of the steering wheel. Last summer, the company said it wants to market a fully-autonomous vehicle that requires no driver inputs by 2021. In its view, Level 3 semi-autonomous driving isn’t worth bothering with. It’s Level 5 or go home.
Other players in the tech/automotive industry feel the same way, as combining a car that’s only somewhat capable of driving on its own and a driver prone to boredom and slumber could lead to more accidents, not less. If drivers are still required to keep their eyes on the road and take the wheel in certain situations, they can’t be bobbing for apples.