Actualizado el 25/01/2022

icon Facebook icon Twiiter icon RSS icon EMAIL
  1. Portada
  2. >
  3. A View From Abroad
  4. >
  5. How Safe are Driverless Cars?

How Safe are Driverless Cars?

Escrito por Marjorie DeHey el 03/04/2018 a las 19:16:27

(Co-founder of MediaMojos)

Marjorie DeHey


If driverless cars conjure up images of Arnold Schwarzenegger taking a “driverless” automated Johnny cab in the 1990 original Total Recall movie, you are not the first to think that Hollywood ideas sometimes create futurist realities.  Uber and Google have been openly testing driverless cars in the U.S. and until recently, techies everywhere thought that such cars would be available on the market soon.


On March 18, 2018, the unthinkable happened and a self-driving Uber vehicle hit and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona.  The footage showed that the vehicle (and the test rider) should have detected and been able to avoid  the pedestrian.  This led analysts to speculate about “what went wrong” and resulted in Uber suspending its testing in Arizona.  Analysts came to the conclusion that the driverless cars numerous sensors should have detected the pedestrian and that the car should have stopped before the collision.  According to the Tempe Police, the vehicle did not even slow down and hit the pedestrian at a shocking 38 mph.


What prevented the cars sensors and cameras from working as intended is still unclear.  Typically, driverless cars are equipped with a system of cameras, radar and lidar sensors that allow vehicles to “view” their surrounds and detect any obstacles.  When these systems work properly, many scientists believe the use of driverless cars could go a long way towards reducing traffic accidents. As Scientific American notes currently “more than 90 percent of car crashes in the U.S. are thought to involve some form of driver error.”


Coche sin conductor

(Image – Arnold Schwarzenegger in a Johnny Cab in “Total Recall”, Carolco Pictures © 1990)


Recognizing the issues surrounding driverless cars, The Society of Automotive Engineers (the SAE) which often sets international guidelines for the industry, created the J3016 Guidelines in 2014 to lay out standards for driverless cars.  These standards have been adopted by both the U.S. Department of Transportation and the United Nations.  The SAE enumerates six levels of automation for use in vehicles, ranging from Level 0 – no automation (no mechanical intervention but warnings of pending crashes) to Level 5 – full automation (complete hands-off, driverless operation under all circumstances).  Full automation is where tech companies such as Uber and Google are aiming, but given this recent tragedy, there is obviously much work still needed to improve systems technologies.


The six levels of automation are:


Level 0 – No Automation – the driver is in complete control and given warnings.


Level 1 – Driver Assistance – the vehicle would have at least one advanced driver-assistance feature such as adaptive cruise control.


Level 2 – Partial Automation – the vehicles has 2 or more driver-assistance features (such as lane-positioning assistance or emergency braking).


Level 3 – Conditional Automation – the vehicle can take full control under certain conditions.  Google achieved this status with its technology in 2012 but in tests it found that humans were too slow to take back control of the car when necessary to prevent accidents.  Google decided to focus its efforts on Level 5, fully automated cars, through its Waymo division. Audi is currently trying to get approvals to sell its Level 3 cars in many countries, including the U.S.


Level 4 – High Automation – While these vehicles are capable of completing an entire journey without driver intervention, the more likely use would be with a driver controlling some aspects. Currently, there are no Level 4 vehicles available for consumer purchase.


Level 5 – Full Automation – With these fully automated vehicles, there would be no controls (no steering wheel, brake pedals, etc.) for any human intervention.  The concerns that arise are whether these vehicles would make the same decisions as humans and how safe they really are.  Uber’s recent accident has shown to many people that driverless cars aren’t evolved enough for mass adoption.


Are you in favor of or against completely automated cars?  Let us know your opinion.