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REGULATORS STRUGGLING TO STAY AHEAD OF SELF DRIVING CARS

Posted on Thursday, September 7th, 2017 at 2:54 pm    

Although self-driving cars are just starting to appear on our nation’s highways, USA Today reports that regulators are struggling to catch up with this new technology.

Proponents of the new technology are increasingly concerned about the development of regulations by states which proponents of self-driving cars believe could lead to conflicting regulations and thus slow the development of self-driving cars in the U.S. Many proponents believe the Federal government needs to step in and create national standards relating to testing, crash liability and design requirements for self-driving cars.

So far, 22 states have either passed legislation related to self-driving cars or adopted regulations through government executive orders. Pennsylvania is among this list of states.

While the proponents of self-driving vehicles argue that Federal standards are necessary for uniformity and to make it possible to build vehicles that can be effectively sold across the country, the states say that it is important that they take steps to ensure that this technology is safe.

Tesla introduced guidelines on self-driving vehicle developments in 2016. Recently, U.S. Transportation Secretary, Elain Chao said that the Trump Administration will unveil revised self-driving guidelines within the next few months to replace the existing guidelines.

USA Today notes that competition between key players in the development of self-driving technology, has also lead to issues with respect to the adoption of regulations. For example, General Motors has actively pursued legislation in several states that would prevent non-automakers from providing rides in self-driving vehicles. This sort of competition can lead to problems in developing uniform regulations among the states.

Source: An article appearing at usatoday.com on June 25, 2017 entitled “Regulators Scramble to Stay Ahead of Self-Driving Cars” by Nathan Bomey and Thomas Zambito.

CALIFORNIA PROPOSES ALLOWING AUTONOMOUS CARS WITHOUT STEERING WHEELS

Posted on Tuesday, July 18th, 2017 at 3:26 pm    

According to an article recently appearing in USA Today, California recently proposed new rules for self-driving vehicles that would allow companies to test autonomous vehicles that lack a steering wheel. Not only that, the article states that under the new proposed rules, the autonomous cars would no longer be required to have a human driver present in the vehicle while operating in the state of California.

The proposed regulations would also eliminate the need for having a driver sitting ready in the driver seat of the autonomous vehicle prepared to take charge at any second should something go wrong. FInally, under the proposed rules, it appears the autonomous car could drive on California highways under the watchful eye of a “…remote operator…”.
Although the proposed rules do require the manufacture submit an application and meet certain requirements regarding testing, training requirements for the remote operators and a safety assessment letter from NHTSA, some consumer groups say those rules are too lax.

Proposed regulations were published on March 10, 2017 and the Proposed rules could take effect in 2018.

Source: An article appearing in USA Today on March 10, 2017 entitled “Look, Ma, No Hands. No Steering Wheel Needed Under New Calif. Car Rules” by Elizabeth Welse

COULD SELF-DRIVING CARS PROVIDE MOBILITY FOR THE ELDERLY

Posted on Tuesday, April 18th, 2017 at 1:38 pm    

Many older individuals and automakers are looking to self-driving/autonomous cars as a way to provide mobility for the elderly after they are unable to drive an automobile themselves. According to the Institute for Highway Safety, by the year 2030, the number of individuals over the age of 70 living in the United States is expected to increase to 53.7 million people. In 2014 there were approximately 30.9 million U.S. residents over age 70.

Joseph Coughlin, the Director of MIT’s AgeLab, stated that currently approximately 70% of the people over age 50 live in suburbs where on-demand services such as Uber and Lyft are not available.

Even if services such like Uber and Lyft are available, many individuals may not be able to afford such services for regular use. Furthermore, a recent study estimates that approximately 22% of baby boomers are now or at risk of becoming elder orphans, that is elderly adults with no children available to provide transportation. And thus, Mr. Coughlin noted that autonomous vehicles might be a way to close the coming mobility gap for an aging society.

Many automakers including Audi, GM, Ford, Nissan, Honda, Mercedes Benz, Volvo and BMW are engaged in the development of autonomous vehicles.

The engineers involved in the development of autonomous vehicles are generally aware of the importance of considering the elderly in designing self-driving cars. For example, one of the big fears expressed by the elderly is the fear of ending up in the wrong destination. Oliver Rumph-Steppat, head of BMW’s United States Production Requirements Engineering Division, stated that one way that manufacturer’s may address this fear is to rely on voice recognition systems.

Volvo plans to put approximately 100 highly automated XC90 vehicles in the hands of real world drivers in Sweden later this year as a part of its Volvo Drive Me program. And a spokesman for Volvo noted that one of the goals of this program is to see how older drivers handle the new technology.

Source: An article appearing at nytimes.com on March 23, 2017 entitled Self-Driving Cars Could Be Boon for Aged, After Initial Hurdlers by Mary M. Chapman.

UBER SELF-DRIVING CAR INVOLVED IN COLLISION

Posted on Tuesday, April 11th, 2017 at 1:30 pm    

According to a recent article appearing at USAToday.com an Uber self-driving car was involved in a collision in North Tempe, AZ on Friday, March 24, 2017. According to the report, the Uber self-driving car, collided with another vehicle that failed to yield while making a left-hand turn. A third vehicle was also involved in the collision. However, no serious injuries were reported.

As a consequence, Uber has temporarily grounded its self-driving vehicles while an investigation is conducted by the company.

A spokesman for Uber stated that “We are continuing to look into this incident and can confirm we had no backseat passengers in the vehicle.” The vehicle involved in the accident was a self-driving Volvo SUV and was reportedly in the self-driving mode at the time of the collision. Uber has been testing the self-driving Volvo SUVs as part of a $300 million partnership with Volvo.

Sources: Articles appearing at USA.com entitled Ubers Self-driving Car Involved in Arizona Crash by Diego Mendoza-Moyers of The Arizona Republic posted on March 25, 2017 and an article entitled Uber halts self-driving car tests after Arizona crash by Edward C. Baig posted on March 26, 2017.

BIG CHALLENGES STILL REMAIN FOR SELF-DRIVING CARS

Posted on Tuesday, March 28th, 2017 at 8:50 pm    

Recent traffic statistics certainly seem to suggest the need for self-driving cars. Last year, traffic deaths were up with 35,200 more people dying in 2015 than in 2014. This represents a 7.7% increase. And, approximately 95% of those deaths were the result of human error. McKinsey & Co., a global consulting firm, estimates that fully automated vehicles could have prevented about 90% of those deaths.

While these statistics certainly seem to support the development of self-driving cars, significant challenges still remain.

Here are a few of the challenges that still face the industry:

1. CURRENT SELF-DRIVING TECHNOLOGY IS NOT YET READY FOR PRIME TIME. Big risks exist in the development of the Automated Driver Assist Systems that are already present in many new vehicles, but which still require human intervention. How to keep a driver alert enough to take over when necessary is one of the most vexing problems facing the industry now.

2. IT REMAINS UNCLEAR HOW MANY DRIVERS WILL ACTUALLY EMBRACE SELF-DRIVING TECHNOLOGY. Although NHTSA and the U.S. Dept. of Transportation want to support self-driving cars, they recognize that there just isn’t that much information about how self-driving cars will be integrated into traffic flow currently dominated by human drivers. Significant research and data will be needed to address this ongoing issue.

3. EDUCATING THE CONSUMER ABOUT SELF-DRIVING CARS. If the owner of a self-driving car doesn’t understand when and how she must re-engage or take control or if he or she believes that the vehicle is “fully autonomous” when it is only partially autonomous, bad things will result.

4. STATE VERSUS FEDERAL RULES. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx stated that when a vehicle is operated by the software, NHTSA intends to be the entity regulating the safety of that vehicle. However, when a human being is operating the vehicle, individual state laws would apply regarding the appropriate licensing. Whose rules and regulations will govern in a conflict? Given the recent announcement by NHTSA, it appears that NHTSA’s regulations would preempt the conflicting state law.

These are only a few of the challenges facing the developers of self-driving cars. Many others exist such as adverse weather conditions, and the interaction between human drivers and autonomous vehicles. Hopefully, regulators and the manufacturers will not sacrifice safety in the rush to mass produce self-driving cars.

Source: An AP article appearing in the Detroit Free Press on September 21, 2016 entitled 8 big challenges remain for self-driving car makers by Greg Gardner.

ARE SELF-DRIVING CARS THE ANSWER?

Posted on Thursday, May 19th, 2016 at 2:05 pm    

In a recent article the New York Times, reflected on the rapid movement to what appears to be the greatest leap in automobile safety, the self-driving automobile. In this retro report, the Times noted that the theory behind the self-driving automobile is to remove the greatest threat of all to road safety: the driver.

According to this article, human error is believed to be responsible for 90% of automobile crashes making human error the leading cause of the 33,000 motor vehicle deaths that occur each year in the United States. Thus, the thinking behind driverless cars goes something like this; the robotic car will sense lurking danger and take corrective action. The robot does not have one too many drinks, it does not fall asleep at the wheel, and it does not succumb to road rage.

Thus, by eliminating a human as the driver of the automobile, it will significantly reduce the number of automobile crashes and related deaths each year.

However, the New York Times article also points out that throughout the history of automobile safety advances, each new development in safety improvement has typically started with a reluctance by manufacturers and that even once the improvement is adopted there can be some bumps along the way to perfecting the safety device.

One example given was airbags. The first airbags were designed with a 165 adult in mind and, consequently, in the early years of the airbag, approximately 100 children were killed by airbag deployment. But, during the same time period, 6,400 lives were saved. Later improvements in airbag design corrected the one size fits all approach.

The Times article notes that while self-driving cars have great potential for saving lives, there are certainly some potential problems including the possibility that the computer operating the robotic car might crash while the car is moving. Even worse, a hacker may figure out how to seize control of robotic cars purposely causing collisions. Only time will tell how long it is before the dream of robotic cars becomes a reality and how bumpy the ride is to achieving that goal.

Source: Lessons From the Past for a Future in Smart Cars by Clyde Haberman appearing in The New York Times on September 15, 2014.

NISSAN, RENAULT INTENDS TO OFFER 20 MODELS WITH “HANDS-FREE” DRIVING BY 2020

Posted on Thursday, May 5th, 2016 at 3:01 pm    

Carlos Ghosn, the CEO of Nissan/Renault, recently announced that Nissan/Renault intend to launch at least 20 vehicles with significant autonomous drive functionality by 2020.

Mr. Ghosn said that while the vehicles would still require a driver capable of taking over the wheel, the vehicles could effectively drive themselves on the highway and in the city with minimal interaction by a driver.

While Ghosn stated that 2020 was a realistic goal, he also noted that a key hurdle to reaching this goal is the patchwork of global regulations on autonomous cars. Mr. Ghosn noted that it was essential for governments to adjust their laws to allow drivers to take their hands off the wheel and eyes off the road, otherwise autonomous car development will stall out.

Source: An article appearing at usatoday.com on March 23, 2016 Nissan, Renault to deliver 20 models with hands-free driving by Nathan Bomey.

NHTSA SAYS COMPUTERS CAN QUALIFY AS DRIVERS

Posted on Tuesday, April 19th, 2016 at 1:34 pm    

In a major step towards advancing the development of autonomous vehicles, NHTSA recently stated that computers that control self-driving cars can be considered a “driver” just like humans.

This announcement came in response to a request by Google that its artificial intelligence system pilot in the Google self-driving car be considered a driver under federal law.

However, NHTSA also pointed out that current regulations requiring some key safety equipment cannot be waived immediately. For example, regulations currently require a breaking system activated by a foot pedal. Google had argued that there was no need for such a foot brake in its self-driving vehicle since the electronic driver (computer) can stop the car electronically without applying a foot brake.

A spokesman for NHTSA noted that it may be possible for Google to say that certain federal standards regarding safety features are unnecessary for a particular vehicle design, however, Google has not yet made such a showing with respect to its self-driving car.

This announcement follows a statement by NHTSA in January that it might waive some vehicle safety rules to allow for more driverless cars to operate on our highways as part of a general effort to speed up the development of autonomous vehicles. NHTSA has also stated that it will write guidelines for self-driving cars within six months.

Source: An AP article appearing in the LPN on Thursday, February 11, 2016 entitled Feds: Computers can be drivers, too by Tom Krisher and Justin Pritchard. Also, an article appearing at nytimes.com on 02/09/2016 entitled Exclusive: In Boost to Self-Driving Cars, U.S. Tells Google Computers Can Qualify as Drivers by Reuters.

FORD PLANS TO TEST SELF-DRIVING CARS ON CALIFORNIA ROADWAYS

Posted on Friday, April 1st, 2016 at 1:40 pm    

Ford stated that beginning in January, 2016, it will start testing a self-driving Ford Fusion hybrid in and around its research center in Palto Alto, CA. Although initial testing will be limited to one of its self-driving Ford Fusion hybrids, Ford noted that it may add additional self-driving vehicles to the testing in the future.

Google has been testing its self-driving cars in California for approximately six years and recently began testing its self-driving cars on the streets of Austin, Texas.

Many other car manufacturers have been researching self-driving car technology including Mercedes Benz, Audi, Tesla and BMW. However, most automakers seem to be focusing on driver assist technology that requires some oversight and monitoring by the human driver typically in the form of occasionally touching the steering wheel of the vehicle while the car is operating in the self-driving mode.

According to the USA article reporting Ford’s plan, Uber also looks to be getting involved in the self-driving car arena as well since it has recently hired a number of researchers and engineers from Carnegie Mellon University’s robotics program. And, rumors continue to circulate that Apple is planning to enter the self-driving car arena as well given that it has recently hired several engineers away from Tesla.

Meanwhile, Ford has undertaken a partnership with Stanford University’s transportation researchers to undertake a number of research projects related to self-driving vehicles.

Source: An article appearing at usatoday.com on December 15, 2015 entitled Ford to test self-driving cars on Calif. roads by Marco della Cava.

CALIFORNIA WORKING ON REGULATIONS FOR SELF-DRIVING VEHICLES

Posted on Thursday, March 17th, 2016 at 1:54 pm    

According to an article appearing in the LNP, regulators in California are working on regulations to govern self-driving or autonomous vehicles like the Google autonomous cars. These regulations were due in January of 2015, but regulators appear to be taking their time to make sure that the regulations address not only the self-driving vehicles, but any issues related to their owners.

Current California law categorizes vehicles into four different levels and currently does not allow for truly self-driving autonomous vehicles. The law does, however, permit companies such as Google, Tesla and major auto firms to test self-driving cars on the highway with trained safety drivers behind the wheel.

While Tesla Motors recently introduced software allowing its drivers to switch on an Autopilot Mode which includes adaptive cruise control and which allows the car to change lanes by itself after the driver turns on the turn signal, this system falls just short of crossing the line under California’s current rules. According to the LNP article, in order to discourage Tesla drivers from relying too heavily on its autopilot system, Telsa’s autopilot will beep after about 10 seconds of hands-free driving to remind the drivers to grab the wheel again. And, if that warning is ignored, it can sound a louder warning and turn off the radio.

A spokesman for the California DMV stated that they are comfortable with the Tesla system as they note that Tesla is saying that the driver still needs to be in control. However, based on videos posted on YouTube, some drivers apparently are trying to let the car take control.

With Telsa working on new software that could make its vehicles an experiment in semi-autonomous technology, California could be feeling a bit of pressure to complete its long awaited rules.

Source: An article appearing in the LNP on Thursday, November 12, 2015 entitled Self-driving cars raising lots of questions by Matt O’Brien of the San Jose Mercury News.