Computer Take the Wheel – 9/23/16

For all the good self-driving vehicles are likely to do, they might only be able to reach their full potential if no humans are allowed behind the wheel.

Proponents of the technology, one of which is the Federal government, see it dramatically reducing the 1.25 million roadway fatalities a year globally. They base this on the fact human error is the cause of 94% of such deaths thus it should be removed. Since robot drivers never get drunk, sleepy or distracted and have “superhuman intelligence” that allows them to see around corners and avoid crashes, the line of reasoning seems solid.

Google’s self-driving car project is developing cars without steering wheels and gas or brake pedals specifically because testing showed how poorly human-computer mixes do relative to the computer acting alone. In 2012, Google let employees test a partially autonomous system for automated highway driving only to find that human drivers were incapable of reacting quickly and safely when they assumed the car was in control. The testing led the company to pursue full autonomy, even if it took longer.

Ford agreed with that sentiment during an announcement that the company would begin selling self-driving taxis with no steering wheel or pedals in 2021.

Of course, not everyone is comfortable with the idea of turning over control. According to a July survey of 2,500 consumers by Altman Vilandrie & Co., a Boston-based consultant, almost two-thirds of U.S. consumers believe self-driving cars are dangerous with more than half of those surveyed saying they would refuse to ride in a self-driving car.

That opposition may soften as more drivers become more familiar with semi-autonomous features, such as automatic braking and advanced cruise control systems, or try out a self-driving Lyft taxi, the majority of which are expected to be autonomous within five years, according to the company’s co-founder and president, John Zimmer.

In the end, governments may give financial incentives or insurance companies could charge a higher premium for manually operating a car, but it remains challenging goal to convince hundreds of millions of human drivers that they’d be better off with a computer at the wheel.

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