22 March 2018

The 'Superior' Autonomous Vehicle

A woman pushing a bike across a road is tragically killed by an Uber autonomous vehicle. It didn't seem to see here, despite the fact that she had nearly got across the path of the vehicle when the collision occured. The driver was momentarily distracted, which is an irrelevant point as I shall explain.

I was on vacation in Australia driving a large MPV. Approaching me was a person pushing a bike on the shoulder of the road, which was quite wide enough to do so. Just as I was nearly up to the person, they suddenly turned their bike onto the road in front of me. In a flash I did a frantic S movement away from the pedestrian/bike and missed them.

I looked back in the rear view mirror to see that the young man had pulled back off the road and was standing still. He looked disoriented as he took in the near miss scenario. The point is would an autonomous car have reacted a quickly as I did? In the case of the Uber vehicle mentioned at the outset, it had more reaction time. If the car I was driving was in autonomous mode and it didn't react, could I have intervened and avoided the impact? No! A human is at their sharpest while fully in control of their vehicle.

So what of Uber's autonomous vehicles? Here is a quote: Uber's self-driving vehicles are equipped not only with cameras, but with radar and lidar, which works like radar but uses lasers to detect objects on and off the roadway. 

Uber and other companies working to develop self-driving cars tout the safety of their systems not only because the vehicles won't lose focus on the road, like human drivers, but because they have superior sensing capabilities. 

Last fall, Uber officials showing off their vehicles in Tempe said their radar and lidar were able to detect objects, including jaywalkers, as far as 100 yards away and avoid collisions.

Source of quote: USA Today.

I question that these vehicles have superior sensing capabilities after seeing the photographic evidence. I cannot understand their jaywalker claim either, after this incident. One cannot expect new technology to be perfected without real world testing. The sad reality is people have, and will continue to die while this testing continues.

I would prefer it if they weren't overselling the current capabilities of the technology. I guess if they were candid about the present state of things, then they may not get real world testing permits. However, putting these vehicles out while not ready is dangerous. It seems to me the whole process is being rushed and unnecessary deaths are occurring as a result.

My condolences to the Herzberg family and friends of the family.

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