The rise of the ‘robot car’
The fully autonomous Google car has passed the legal hurdles for use on the roads of Nevada and California, and it looks as though the UK could soon follow suit, according to the Guardian.
A team at Oxford University, led by professor Paul Newman, has equipped a Nissan LEAF electric car with lasers and cameras and “stuffed” a computer in the boot. ‘RobotCar UK’ must first be driven manually to construct a sensor map of the road and its surroundings; the next time it can travel that same route in driverless mode.
Proponents such as professor Sebastian Thrun, from Stanford University, argue that driverless cars will dramatically reduce the number of deaths on the roads by using sensors to detect other cars and pedestrians more quickly and reliably than a human driver.
However, the Guardian concludes that it is too early to tell yet whether they will save more lives or cause more collisions, and that we may well not know the answer for some while.
However, professor Newman is optimistic that if developments are taken slowly and incrementally, that ultimately driverless cars will be safer. He is very aware, however, that one serious collision could set the concept back a long way.
One area where autonomous cars could be particularly advantageous is in helping the disabled or elderly achieve greater independence.
Professor Newman says: “I would dearly love my father, for example, to not be worried about dependency on others for transport. Seems to me that just when folk most need freedom of movement we make it too hard for them.”
Click here to read the full Guardian story.
Report a reader comment
Click here to report a comment you consider to be offensive or inappropriate.
With the current state of technology any 'robot car' can only operate in a reactive mode which means that it only does things in response to changes in its sensed surroundings.
Driving typically involves two distinct types of activity, a reactive mode and a predictive mode. In reactive mode a vehicle can be steered away from danger if say a pedestrian steps out into the road.
It is in the predictive mode that things start to fall apart as most of the skill in driving is knowing whether or not the pedestrian is going to step out in the first place.
Duncan Mackillop, Stratford on Avon.
I think the point made by Professor Newman about older drivers is an excellent one. I can see how automated cars could have a huge role to play in keeping older drivers safely on the road for longer - as long as the cars themselves are safe, of course.
Nick Rawlings, editor, Road Safety GB newsfeed
Drivers should be in control but sadly a lot aren't and we need to face reality. Automated cars are likely to be better than many 'real' drivers who see driving as a secondary task when they're behind the wheel. Most journeys are made out of necessity these days so automating them and removing the human element which is the most likely to cause a collision is probably the best solution. As long as there's an option for manual driving for the enthusiast this should work - we allow it on aircraft.
I personally think any type of automated car should be banned from UK roads on safety grounds. It's drivers who should be in full control of their vehicles not the vehicle's software/firmware within their various ECUs (electronic control units). Just think about what could happen if a robot car's software/firmware crashes, locks up any of its ECUs solid and causes a fatal accident. The consequences would be catastrophic.