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Is Calling Cars ‘Autonomous' Dangerous? Auto Experts Believe it is

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【Summary】While modern cars allow drivers to take their hands off of the steering wheel and take away a lot of the aspects of driving from the driver, experts in Britain believe calling them “autonomous” is dangerous.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    Jun 18, 2018 8:30 AM PT
Is Calling Cars ‘Autonomous' Dangerous? Auto Experts Believe it is

Modern automobiles are more high tech than ever and are capable of handling some of the responsibilities of driving. While the jury's still out on whether these systems result in better drivers, the technology is safer than the majority of drivers and helps take some of the more tedious aspects of operating an automobile away. While having systems that can handle some aspects of driving are beneficial, there's been some controversy in how the systems are named. 


Automakers are currently at a crossroads when it comes to how they name and market their autonomous systems. With systems like Tesla's, which is called Autopilot, and General Motors Super Cruise, the majority of drivers believe that the systems live up to their name in being do-it-all systems. 


These names, as Autocar claims in a report, citing the Association of British Insurers and Thatcham Research, is endangering the lives of motorists. While that sounds a little extreme, recent incidents reveal that something as small as a name may be harmful to drivers.  


Nissan ProPilot Assist.jpg



What Goes Into A Name?


As the outlet states, the two organizations believe the word "autonomous" itself could possibly lead to drivers "over-relying on technology." If drivers use the technology as the names imply, they could rely on the systems too heavily, which could prevent them from reacting to an incident in time. 


That's something we've heard about before, as last August, Bloomberg reported that modern autonomous systems were making humans worse at driving. The migration of semi-autonomous features from high-end vehicles to mainstream cars means that the issue of being a bad driver is no longer limited to those with the means to afford a high-tech machine, but anyone in the market for a car. 


In a report titled "Assisted and Automated Driving Definition and Assessment," Thatcham identified "dangerous grey areas associated with some driver support technologies." In the report, the organization that focuses on vehicle safety technology, references semi-autonomous systems like Nissan's ProPilot and Tesla's Autopilot as having misleading names that could deceive drivers. With names like that, some drivers may believe that the vehicles are capable of driving themselves, which is far from the case. 


Matthew Avery, head of research at Thatcham said, "We are starting to see real-life examples of the hazardous situations that occur when motorists expect the car to drive and function on its own. Specifically, where the technology is taking ownership of more and more of the driving task, but the motorist may not be sufficiently aware that they are still required to take back control in problematic circumstances." 


While automakers have named their systems in a way that makes some think they are fully autonomous, those vehicles, as Avery points out, are still a long way off in the distance. When it comes to a Level 5 car that doesn't need a driver, BMW hopes to have something on the road by 2021. Towards the end of last year, Nvidia's CEO, Jensen Huang, stated that fully self driving cars are four years away, which makes 2021 a reasonable date. 


Until fully autonomous cars come out, it's important for drivers to know that they need to be fully in control of the vehicle at all times and use semi-autonomous system as a helping hand. That's not the case, as some drivers have openly abused the systems.  


Tesla AutoPilot.jpg



Full Autonomy Is Still Far Off


As Toyota Research Institute boss Gill Pratt told Autocar recently, the majority of automakers are developing Level 2 – partially semi-autonomous tech – and Level 3 – nearly full autonomy in specific conditions. GM's Super Cruise in the Cadillac CT6, Tesla's Autopilot, and Nissan's ProPilot Assist are all Level 2. The new Audi A8 is one of, if not the only, vehicle on the road with Level 3 capability.


The differences between the two may not seem like large ones, but it goes from a car with high-tech driving features to one that can operate on its own in a specific area, like on the highway. Telling and showing drivers how the two are different from one another is crucial for automakers. 


Nissan, reportedly told Autocar that it thoroughly explains the capabilities of its ProPilot Assist system "at all stages of the purchase process." Tesla told the outlet that it gathers feedback from customers that show "that they have a very clear understanding of what Autopilot is." The American electric automaker went on to state that despite its name, Tesla has always been clear on its system's capabilities. 


Tesla may claim that its Autopilot system has always been well defined, but owners continue to push boundaries with the system in unsafe manners. 


Cadillac CT6 .jpg


10 Things Autonomous Cars Need


Thatcham wants automakers to follow a set of 10 performance and feature guidelines when developing autonomous vehicles. Those include:


  • - Naming: having an automated system that's clearly defined

  • - Law abiding: abiding by all of UK's traffic laws

  • - Design domain: autonomy should only be available in appropriate conditions

  • - Status: a clear "offer and confirm" process must exist for the transfer of driving control

  • - Capabilities: autonomous cars must be able to handle all driving situations on their own

  • - Emergency hazard: an appropriate notice must be given to the driver if control needs to unexpectedly be given to the driver

  • - Safe harbor: the car needs to be able to come to a "safe stop" 

  • - Crash intervention: vehicle must be able to avoid or prevent an incident by responding on its own

  • - Back-up systems: redundancies must be in place to ensure the vehicle can perform properly if all systems fail

  • - Accident data: cars need to have components that record everything that occurs in the case of an incident 


By following these 10 features, Thatcham believes that autonomous vehicles will put drivers and safety first, which is important for motorists. Providing drivers with clarity and complete knowledge of how systems work is crucial in keeping everyone safe. 

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