In fact, it sounds good: cars that drive, pick up passengers and transport them to the place they want. Cars without a driver, no steering wheels, protecting the environment and reducing the number of accidents, as 90 percent of traffic accidents are due to human error.
Euphoria strikes reality
However, some cases show that the new technique is not as perfect as it was believed to be. Also in Germany. Marko Gustke from the German Automobile Federation (VDA) says that at this moment users are not ready to spend much on security systems. "If we pack everything in an attractive, functional way, with more comfort, with the appropriate technology package, they can be better positioned on the market."
Gustke estimates that the first functions will be available next year. First on the highway: "We need collision barriers, dividing lines in good conditions so that the vehicle can be oriented and positioned." If there are jams, the computer takes control of the car up to a speed of 60 kilometers per hour. There will also be assistance programs, so that from 2022, cars will be able to autonomously drive on highways. But "we are still far from driving without drivers in city centers," Gustke stresses.
The United States is at the forefront
Autonomous driving has progressed considerably in the United States in recent years. There, the authority for road safety, the NHTSA, wants to soon launch autonomous cars that are completely handled without human intervention in certain situations. Google has tested this technology for some time in certain areas allowed for it.
These are "level 4" vehicles, on a scale of five levels of autonomous driving. The fifth level, in which the computer should dominate in all traffic situations and without human intervention, remains pure fantasy.
From driver to simple observer?
"Level 1" refers to a car that mainly runs without automation and only has simple security systems. On the "Level 2" semi-autonomous car already has tape and parking, and also takes on driving functions. In "level 3" the ride is already completely automated. The car controls driving, but only if the technology is fully functional. If there are, for example, snowstorms or heavy rains that leave the camera and radar out of action, the system tells people to take control.
But precisely this level is problematic because "people are not designed to be permanently warned," says Eng. Psychologist Mark Vollrath. An automatic ride would make the driver bored and do other things. In addition, the distribution of tasks is not entirely clear. "Does the driver know what he is doing and what to do?" Asked Voltrat.
The psychologist found that the reaction time was considerably prolonged when people were only observing for a long time. In extreme situations, even experienced drivers have had problems. "We had almost three times more accidents here than with manual drivers," he says.
Responsibility of drivers or vehicles
Insurers consider this aspect an unacceptable risk. Therefore, they require a clear division of tasks between drivers and technicians at all levels.
A position supported by Udo di Fabio, chairman of the Commission for the ethics of automation and interconnection with the federal government. In 2017, the Commission drafted 20 theses as a guide for technical implementation. Then, it should be clearly defined and identified, in any situation, who is responsible for driving, a human being or a computer. "When the vehicle is running, the human being should no longer be held accountable," according to di Fabio, a report by the German Constitutional Court.
It would be a lot of confusion in the event of an accident. "If the driver has to control the technique, then we will have to deal with a complex question of responsibility when things go wrong," he adds. Who should pay for the damage in case of an accident? "If you drive completely automatically, liability lies with the manufacturer or developer, but not with a person inside the car," Di Fabio explains.