By on February 17, 2017

Autonomous Ford Fusion Hybrid Fr

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.

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46 Comments on “Autonomous Vehicles are a Snoozefest and Ford Engineers Can’t Stay Awake...”


  • avatar
    Lou_BC

    It is the bane of safety devices. A driver perceives the vehicle to be very safe or thinks a situation is safe and gets too relaxed. we humans are very poor judges of risk.

    • 0 avatar
      Chocolatedeath

      I would argue that some folks do that while driving.

      • 0 avatar
        DukeGanote

        So replacing the steering wheel airbag with an upward-facing spike will ensure attention while driving?!? Nonsense.

        • 0 avatar
          FuzzyPlushroom

          I absolutely think that an Airbag-Propelled Spike of Damocles would help people stay alert. It’s a stupid idea, of course, but it’s an extreme representation of a reasonable point.

          I’d suggest that lowering beltlines and increasing glass area would reduce the ‘cocoon’ effect, increasing perceived risk in addition to improving visibility. It would be quite a challenge on sedans and hatchbacks, given today’s increased emphasis on pedestrian safety, but surely it wouldn’t be so difficult on something crossover-shaped.

          The trouble, of course, is that emotion drives many (if not most) car purchases, and *feeling* safe is at least as important as *being* safe. We all have anecdotes about that – for example, after a friend’s Vibe was totaled, she bought a first-generation Liberty (without stability control!). The whole truck-based SUV craze of the ’90s and early ’00s was rooted in that *feeling* of safety and security trumping logic and crash test ratings; today’s crossovers at least handle securely and are held to the same standards as Camcords.

        • 0 avatar
          stuki

          It will, for a while. Until comfort-by-familiarity indicates the spike isn’t really doing anything dangerous just sitting there.

          Just as with guard dogs, familiarity is the key. Simply being told something is dangerous, or safe, doesn’t have the same effect.

          Which is why what some Tesla sales hack supposedly told/tell potential customers wrt “autopilot”, is pretty darned irrelevant. At least to anyone with more useful intentions than some ambulance chaser on the make. As long as the technologyg works well enough for long enough for the driver to feel comfortable, he’ll take longer and longer breaks from paying attention. And then get tripped up by some, relatively speaking, “black swan” event.

          The same effect is why people who draw and reholster a lot still insist on shooting themselves in the leg re holstering hammerless striker guns (on a hammer gun, you keep your thumb on the hammer reflexively during reholster, hence can feel if anything snags the trigger.) Everyone “knows” reholster is a “dangerous” time, yet after doing it one million times without incident, the worry slowly does start to fade away…

          As well as why half of humanity actually exists, given unintended pregnancies and all…..

          Of course, the same effect is at play wrt engineering. Going for “Level 5” instead of 3, just means pushing it a bit up the abstraction stack. So that instead of drivers nodding off, engineers get more and more comfortable that their level 5 cars really do work, as they haven’t failed yet… Kind of like space shuttles, which hadn’t blown up at one point…

    • 0 avatar
      brandloyalty

      I would argue that modern cars are the perfect recipe for putting people to sleep. Unless you are driving, which is only interesting for half an hour or so, and which puts plenty of people asleep anyway. How often do passengers fall asleep? How many people take infants for a drive to get them to sleep?

      The advice of professional drivers is needed on this, and their primary tactic is to be well rested before driving.

      • 0 avatar
        Drzhivago138

        This is why you always volunteer to drive the first leg of the road trip on the way out, not the last on the way back. Way out, everyone’s excited and happy and alert. Way back, either everyone’s completely exhausted and sleeping or everybody hates everybody else just a tiny bit, so nobody wants to sit up and talk.

        • 0 avatar
          Lorenzo

          I’ve been in that situation, but we had a rule: the driver controls the radio/CD. I had a copy of Iggy Pop And The Stooges’ hit song, “I Wanna Be Your Dog”.

  • avatar
    Corey Lewis

    Like Buster Bluth says, “Wow, it’s tired in here.”

  • avatar
    orenwolf

    I’m glad this is happening in the research phase, with engineers eating their own dogfood, as it were. If they can’t figure out how to keep themselves awake, they’re going to have even less success with the public. :) Good for them to try and tackle the issue now.

  • avatar
    CarDesigner

    This is the unintended result of legislating 100% safety by the machine instead of the driver. These billions could have been spent on real training or re-training of drivers, to far greater effect!

    Driver uninvolvement and inattention is already a problem, why institutionalize it?

    • 0 avatar
      ronald

      “Driver uninvolvement and inattention is already a problem, why institutionalize it?”

      +1 with vigor

      Autonomous cars work great, until they don’t. And there are many reasons that they won’t.

      This level 5 autonomy business is a fool’s errand, IMHO.

      • 0 avatar
        jjster6

        I agree. Amazing what AI can do today, but I can see a car with no ability for a human to take control get “stuck” somewhere it can’t figure out how to get out of.

      • 0 avatar
        bikegoesbaa

        “Autonomous cars work great, until they don’t.”

        That’s better than human drivers, who don’t really work great ever. That’s why we kill 30,000 people every year in the US.

        An autonomous driving scheme that would reduce that by only 50% would still be a tremendous benefit. It doesn’t need to be perfect, just better than the meatbags.

        Modern aircraft have a significant amount of their safety features built into the vehicle rather than dependent upon the pilot’s choices and inputs; the results of this on aviation safety have been positive.

        Do you contend that this is because pilots are insufficiently trained?

        It would seem to indicate that even if our driver training process was comparable to the process for getting a pilot’s license there would *still* be significant advantages to building autonomous safety functions into the vehicle.

        • 0 avatar
          markogts

          “Modern aircraft have a significant amount of their safety features built into the vehicle rather than dependent upon the pilot’s choices and inputs;”

          Same goes for the cars: ABS, collision warnings, ESP and brake assist. But nobody dreams of taking the stick out of pilot hands. One thing is to have the electronics that keep the vehicle in the envelope; another is to start trying replacing the decision-maker in charge, with blurred responsibility borders i.e. driving autonomously until a trailer crosses the road… First question, with clear answer must always be: Who’s flying the plane/driving the car?

          • 0 avatar
            Lorenzo

            The answer to your last question hints at what will prevent widespread use of autonomous cars: insurance companies. If I have to sit in the driver’s seat to ride in an autonomous car and I’m ultimately liable, sorry, Jesus, but I’M taking the wheel.

          • 0 avatar
            markogts

            Exactly so. The difficult part is not to make a self driving car, but to make it usable without disclaimers.

    • 0 avatar
      Raevox

      I agree wholeheartedly. Re-invest in some driver training, and periodic re-testing.

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    TTAC is tired, too…I just dozed off looking at today’s headlines (including Jack’s latest phoned-in 1/2 effort).

    I haven’t been around much lately (sobbing from my many fans breaks out) as I am on a grinding work project.

    However, I wanted to air grievances on a Friday as I still have check TTAC daily (while taking a dump, usually) during this period and am bothered by a few things:

    1) TTAC is acquiring a remarkably bland flavor, in the mold of a cars.com/AutoWeek-JohnDavis/AllThingsAutos/CanadianPoutine way. What is happening to whatever muckraking, rebel-yell, Young Turks, etc. EDGE that TTAC once had? It’s slip-sliding away. Be a BOLD DISRUPTOR in what is an otherwise lame, stale and musty auto-journosaurist space (but don’t go the way of basement-dwelling Jalopnik-Gawker-Denton-Reddit, either).

    2) If VerticalScope has to, spend some real cash money to bring in some talented edge to truly differentiate its content in a meaningful, qualitative way, rather than continue trending in the auto-related news aggregator model it seems to ebbs closer to with each passing week (the alternative strategy to spending said real cash money is to develop a “farm team” of talented upstarts, and patiently nurse them into a World Series contender over a longer stretch).

    GO BIG OR GO HOME.

    p.s. – Can Donald Trump pump out bullsh*t faster than it leaks back into his hull of a body (lower taxes for all while reducing government deficits/debt! A 2,000 mile, gold-leaf, 180′ tall wall for less than the cost of a doghouse! Better, higher-quality, 1/10th the cost healthcare any day now! Bring coal-mining & horse & buggy whip jobs back to U.S. in millions of numbers! UNICORNS, RAINBOWS & PONIES!!!)?

    Mark Fields – Expect a call from Orange Cheeto Trumpigula, stat!

    Ford to build two Mexican factories at cost of 2.5 billion USD this year!

    https://www.yahoo.com/news/ford-not-scrapping-plans-build-mexico-factories-company-021839351.html

    http://mexiconewsdaily.com/news/two-new-ford-plants-set-to-open-this-year/

    BIGLY!

    BIG-LEAGUE!

    YUUUUGE!

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      DW, I’m calling your boss and telling him we need more of you. Never fear.

    • 0 avatar
      Chocolatedeath

      DW..thanks..I was thinking the samething about Jack’s article…I dont know but it appears that he may be stretched thin and doesnt have the time to put together the stuff that he has in the past.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        I think he’s spending his time racing and hanging out with his wife, which is probably an excellent outcome for his mental health but results in fewer crazy stories to keep articles interesting.

    • 0 avatar
      brandloyalty

      How about this truth about cars and driving in 2017: they are a very unimportant part of the lives of most people beyond those in the industry and a few immature men. Hence the difficulty getting very many people very excited about them.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      I haven’t bothered to read his last 2 articles. The whole traditional roles for men and woman shtick is getting thick.

    • 0 avatar
      WheelMcCoy

      I, too, have noticed the shift toward blandness. It’s as if this post could just as well have been about TTAC instead of autonomous vehicles.

      Thanks DW for helping me keep awake.

      Since reviews draw the most clicks, TTAC needs to do more of them, and hope new readers stick around for the other pieces. Also, an occasional deep dive — a 3 part series — into some hot topic would add gravitas. Go beyond overdone discussions on ethanol, or synthetic oil. Whatever the topic, explore its history, the modern problems, and future solutions.

    • 0 avatar
      Raevox

      I am a relatively recent lurker, and even more recent commentor, of TTAC. The decline of Jalopnik prompted me to find other sources of car news, articles, and editorials, to keep me entertained and to comment on.

      It seems the past couple months, I’m noticing a bit more of what you mention. It’s a shame.

      I still like the site, and I still visit here daily. But the material is less interesting, over time. And I’ve caught more than a couple articles that almost look and read like they are aping Jalopnik (or the other way around)

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      I’ve just grown old of QOTD articles, seems like a cheap way to get comments when others ain’t.

      When it’s not QOTD, it’s something with a headline like this because I need to stir up some emotions for you to comment.

      When it’s not goofy headlines, it’s something only vaguely related to cars “KKK member found dead near a dealer!” Or something more akin to a blog post “I just brought this car for too much!”

      Occasionally a more well known author will show up, that well known author who will link a few past articles, tell an irrelevant story of Jill and her awesome sneakers, reference a popular article they wrote on sneakers, and oh hey remember the topic of my article? Yea, you gotta click to read it.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    God forbid that porn could ever be streamed into a car’s infotainment system…if so, our highways will become a charnelhouse.

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    This shouldn’t surprise anyone. It goes against human nature to expect a driver to remain vigilant for hours, ready to respond in a fraction of a second to an emergency that may never occur. If vehicles ever reach the point of being fully autonomous, it will become common for drivers to awake at their destinations long after their arrival.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    If the ride is that boring, then maybe they’re not challenging the system enough. Ever think of that?

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      @vulpine: You nailed it! Absolutely. If they were taking that system into more demanding situations, those engineers would have more than enough adrenaline to keep them wide awake. They should try driving through Boston and surrounding suburbs with it. They wouldn’t fall asleep though Bell Circle in Revere. Maybe they could be introduced to the concept of the active breakdown lanes on I-95/128.

      • 0 avatar
        markogts

        I’m also a bit vary because most often, self-driving dashcam videos, distributed to get a “Wow!” effect, are played at fast rate. Wonder how slow do they actually drive…

      • 0 avatar
        chuckrs

        Ha! Active breakdown lanes on I-95-128 around Baahston? I always told my kids, if it drives at all, keep going. If its dead, get out ASAP and dive over the guard rail before it gets creamed by someone using the breakdown lane as an auxiliary high speed lane.

      • 0 avatar
        Lorenzo

        I once had a flat on northbound 93 on the way to Logan Airport and had to cut off a semi to get to the breakdown lane. I was still changing the right rear tire when afternoon rush hour started, and boy, were those breakdown lane users upset! There’s no way to program an autonomous car to appropriately respond to hand gestures.

  • avatar
    markogts

    This is exactly what I was saying since the first time I’ve heard of autonomous driving! There can only be one driver; the level 3 autonomy was a stupid idea, as also NASA specialists pointed out.

    The only question now remaining is whether level 5 autonomy can be actually realized and how quickly. I remain skeptical about 2021.

  • avatar
    OldManPants

    Until true AVs are ready let’s try nice, clean, class-segregated trains, please.

  • avatar
    Shortest Circuit

    Call Airbus… pilots tend to stay awake when the computer calls them repeatedly a retard.


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