Self-Driving Car Technology Faces Scrutiny

Even before a driverless Uber vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona this week, a slight majority of Americans said they were at least somewhat anxious about the development of autonomous cars and hesitant about riding in one if given the chance. That's supposed to enable the vehicle to know, in real time, where to go and when to stop. The human driver told police he didn't see the pedestrian coming, and the autonomous system behaved as if it hadn't either.

Autonomous vehicles also struggle to master the elements.

The accident in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe marked the first fatality from a self-driving vehicle, which are being tested around the globe, and could derail efforts to fast-track the introduction of the new technology. Snow, ice and even rain can obscure sensors and render the most advanced computing power useless.

Police in Tempe have viewed footage from two of the vehicle's cameras, one facing forward toward the street and the other inside the auto facing the driver.

In the case of the fatal collision in Tempe, the dark conditions aren't likely to have played a role.

"Human drivers aren't that safe", said Lionel Robert, a professor at the Robots Institute at the University of MI.

To Rajkumar, there's little doubt that "lidar would certainly have detected an obstacle".

Had the software recognised a pedestrian standing close to the road, he added, "it would have at least slammed on the brakes".

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Rajkumar said numerous companies he works with require human safety drivers to take the wheel when pedestrians are present along the roadway.

"Just as a precautionary measure", he said. Police said the vehicle was traveling about 40 miles per hour at the time of the accident.

"When it comes to autonomous driving, safety is our absolute priority".

"I live in Ann Arbor, a college town", Johnson-Roberson said. "We're not there yet".

Apple hasn't confirmed plans to release the long-rumoured Apple Car driverless vehicle, but the company usually keeps quiet about all of its upcoming products - until it doesn't. In response, Uber announced it would suspend testing of driverless vehicles in four North American cities where the ridesharing company had been piloting the technology: Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Tempe and Toronto. "A tragedy like this could undermine people's faith in this technology and actually set the development back many years".

"This will cause regulatory bodies to start scrutinizing the companies and seeing whether they are really as safe as the companies' say they are", said Dara Kerr of CNET.

"The choice of algorithms must be. transparent", Bensoussan said, describing the issue of ethical dilemmas for driverless cars as "a real challenge for democracy". "It has yet to put cars on the road with no one inside them", said Kerr.

  • Rita Burton