A company called Navya introduced a driverless bus in Las Vegas, and within two hours it was involved in a traffic accident. A semi-truck was backing up and grazed the fender of the driverless bus. All the blame was placed on the truck driver, but you have to wonder if a human driver would have avoided the accident by backing out of the way.
Meanwhile, Waymo has been demonstrating its driverless technology, and is even running its cars on public roads without a back-up driver at the wheel (there is a back-up driver in the back seat, but that’s an inconvenient location if they needed to take over). One writer describe’s Waymo’s technology as “so good, it’s boring,” noting that it can deal with pedestrians, cyclists, and even squirrels running in front of the cars.
But a top Waymo engineer frets that bicycle riders are so unpredictable that they may need electronically connect to driverless cars to protect themselves. While such connections may be nothing more than a smart phone app, some gram-counting cyclists may resist carrying any extra weight.
This brings up the V2V question: should cars be built with electronics that send and receive signals to and from one another and to and from infrastructure? Although the Trump administration has killed the V2V mandate for now, the numerous companies that want a hand in building connected infrastructure are going to try to revive it.
A McKinsey study found that most people are suspicious of the effects of connected vehicles on their privacy, and only a small number are willing to pay as little as $100 to make their vehicles connectable with others. This suggests that all of the companies that have been developing these technologies are not going to see much of a return on their investment unless the technology is made mandatory.
Brad Templeton, who coined the term “robocar” and has been writing about them for even longer than the Antiplanner, supports the partially connected or disconnected car as one that minimizes security risks. Partially connected means the car would connect with its home server, mainly when it is parked, but not with other cars or infrastructure in real time, which Templeton believes in unnecessary.
If Waymo’s cars can deal with squirrels, they should be able to deal with bicycles. Bicycle riders may seem unpredictable, but maybe the logic behind bicycle movements just needs to be programmed into the driverless cars.
As a recent RAND study pointed out, even if computer-driven cars are only 10 percent safer than human-driven ones, it would pay to deploy them as soon as possible. In the long run, they will learn to be even safer, and everyone is likely to benefit.