What was once thought impossible, the idea of fully self-driving automobiles, is now inevitable. That was the pronouncement of our guest speaker Tim Morgan, President and CEO of AAA for Oregon and Idaho.
The goal of fully autonomous vehicles is to ultimately reduce traffic fatalities. Last year saw a spike in driving deaths to 37,000, largely due to distracted driving (i.e. texting, alcohol, navigation, video screens, etc.).
While the road to fully autonomous vehicles is fraught with issues far beyond technology, advances are moving quickly. Mr. Morgan then proceeded to outline the five levels of autonomy, where every function of the car is controlled by the driver, to full autonomy, where the car functions entirely on its own in all conditions. Of the five levels of autonomy, the Tesla auto pilot is the most advanced in widespread use at level three, which is considered conditional automation because it warns the driver to take control of the car in certain instances. There are already documented failures in that arena, to include a recent Uber car that perceived a pedestrian with a bicycle to be a “ghost shadow”. The pedestrian was killed when the “safety driver” failed to react in time.
Full automobile autonomy is being tested around the globe and requires technology that sees or senses the entire environment around the car. The second piece of the technology is trickier: artificial intelligence that is programmed to tell the car how to react in an infinite number of circumstances. In conjunction with technology comes a host of other issues: insurance, government regulation, environmental concerns, mapping, external factors such as other drivers, the fact that the technology doesn’t work in the snow, etc. etc.
Mr. Morgan concluded his talk with thoughts about the whole concept of autonomous vehicles which begs the question “just because we can, should we?”