The Truth About Cars » self-driving cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 24 Jul 2014 17:47:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » self-driving cars QOTD: A Robot Car That Kills You? Fri, 30 May 2014 17:22:48 +0000 google-self-driving-car1

Writing in the National Post, Matt Gurney discusses a darker side of autonomous cars, one that many people (especially this writer, who is not exactly familiar with the rational, linear type of operation that is involved with coding)

In a recent interview with PopSci, Patrick Lin, an associate philosophy professor and director of the Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group at California Polytechnic State University, proposed a hypothetical scenario that sums up the problem. You’re driving along in your robo-car, and your tire blows out. The computer in control rapidly concludes that your car is moving too quickly and has too much momentum to come to a safe stop, and there is traffic ahead. Since an accident is inevitable, the computer shifts from collision avoidance to collision mitigation, and concludes that the least destructive outcome is to steer your car to a catastrophic outcome — over a cliff, into a tree — and thus avoid a collision with another vehicle.

The raw numbers favour such an outcome. Loss of life and property is minimized — an objectively desirable outcome. But the downside is this: Your car just wrote you off and killed you to save someone else.

This situation, as Gurney writes, involves being a passenger in a device that is “…may be programmed, in certain circumstances, to write us off in order to save someone else?”

I’m not an expert on autonomous cars, or computer science, or robotics, or ethics, or government regulation. I am not going to go down the path of “people will never accept autonomous cars because driving is freedom”, because I just don’t think it’s true anymore.

But I do feel that autonomous cars represent something else: another techno-utopian initiative dreamed up by rational, linear thinking engineers that are incapable (sometimes biologically) of understanding the human and cultural intangibles that are an integral part of our existence. The idea of a coldly utilitarian device that would sacrifice human life based on a set of calculations is not something that will be well received. And the people behind self-driving cars may not understand this.

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The Ultimate Self-Driving Machine, Now Available In Brown Thu, 30 May 2013 14:41:55 +0000 2014-bmw-x5-xdrive50i-11

This is the 2014 BMW X5. It comes in brown, and will have a diesel option. Alas, there is no manual available like the first generation X5. It can also drive itself at speeds below 25 mph.

A new system called Traffic Jam Assistant uses both adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning systems to help drive the X5 by itself at speeds of 25 mph or less. It’s basically the first mass market self-driving system, even though it’s designed for ultra-low speeds. Who would have thought that it would appear first on The Ultimate Driving Machine?

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Elon Musk: Let’s Use The Term “Autopilot” Fri, 10 May 2013 16:02:07 +0000 He did other stuff too. Picture courtesy KinderTrauma

“Self-driving sounds like it’s going to do something you don’t want it to do. Autopilot is a good thing to have in planes, and we should have it in cars.”

According to Elon Musk, what we have here is… failure to market effectively.

In a recent interview with Bloomberg News, the man whose divorce rated a story on Jalopnik offered his opinions on the future of self-driving cars. The most notable talking points? First, Musk likes the idea of camera-based systems more than he likes a Google-style LIDAR scanning system. In a world where camera lenses never get dirty, this should work perfectly. In the real world, one suspects that the owner of said car will have to intervene fairly often. Better not turn away from the road while you’re reading the tenth book in the “50 Shades” series, ladies.

But that’s okay, because Musk doesn’t like the idea of a “self-driving” car. Better to call it “autopilot”, as noted in the above quote. Here, he has a genuine point. The early self-driving cars will almost certainly be incapable of operating effectively in mixed conditions without frequent and occasionally immediate assistance from the tool behind the wheel. If you look at these systems as “autopilots” — that is, something you use like cruise control in limited situations while remaining at least partially aware of what’s happening — rather than “self-driving” — which implies you can take a nap on the way to work — it makes more sense.

The problem comes when autopilot-level cars have to co-exist with an ever more ridiculous set of rules on distracted driving. What will the owner of the “autopiloted” car be permitted to do? Will he be forced by law to look forward and simply watch the wheels go round and round, just in case something happens that the car can’t handle? Can you imagine being forced to watch a car drive itself from Indianapolis to St. Louis? We’ll need the Clockwork Orange eyelid-grabbers for that, methinks. Or maybe you should just stop thinking about it and participate in mass transit. The government would prefer that, and if there’s no mass transit where you live, that’s a clue that you should leave, right?

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Can A Robot Car Get You Pinched For DUI? Fri, 28 Dec 2012 14:00:28 +0000

Sure, driverless cars might mean the end of individual freedom, automotive enthusiasm, and the American man as we know him today, but at least you can’t get busted for drunk driving when you let your robot car drive you home from the local watering home, right?


Writing in the New Scientist, legal expert Bryant Walker Smith suggests that it will be extremely possible to get a ticket for DUI in a self-driving automobile.

How do you ticket a robot? Who should pay? And can it play (or drive) by different rules of the road?… To what standard, then, should these vehicles be held? Must they perform as well as a perfect human driver for any conceivable manoeuvre? Or must they perform merely as well as an average human in a statistical sense? In any case, how should that performance be measured?

The first question Smith asks — how do you ticket a robot — is particularly interesting, because the current ticketing-industrial complex depends on aggressive ticketing to cover everything from municipal slush funds to red-light-camera firms’ stockholder dividends. A country filled with perfectly-behaved robot cars doing 54.5 miles per hour in a 55 and stopping right before the line at every traffic light will leave a lot of pockets empty. Something will have to be done, and that something will likely include paying some serious attention to what the occupants of driverless cars are doing. What if it turns out to be illegal to be “distracted” while one’s robot car is driving? If you want a vision of the future, imagine a thoroughly bored man staring out a robot car windshield — forever.

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