dangerous, Dolgov says, so its autonomous car can go up to 10 mph (16 kph) above the speed limit when traffic conditions warrant.
‘NOT A TOY’
In addition to the model I tested – and other such adapted versions of conventional cars – Google also has built little bubble-shaped test cars that lack steering wheels, brakes and accelerator pedals. They run on electricity, seat two people and are limited to going 25 mph (40 kph.) In other words, self-driving golf carts.
Google’s isn’t the only driverless car in development. One of the others is just a few miles away at Stanford University (where Dolgov did post-doctoral study.) Getting the cars to
recognize unusual objects and to react properly in abnormal situations remain significant research challenges, says professor J. Christian Gerdes, faculty director of Stanford’s REVS Institute for Automotive Research.
Beyond that, there are “ethical issues,” as he terms them. “Should a car try to protect its occupants at the expense of hitting pedestrians?” Gerdes asks. “And will we accept it when
machines make mistakes, even if they make far fewer mistakes than humans? We can significantly reduce risk, but I don’t think we can drive it to zero.”
That issue, in turn, raises the question of who is liable when a driverless car is involved in a collision – the car’s occupants, the auto maker or the software company. Legal issues might be almost as vexing as technical ones, some experts believe.
Self-driving cars could appear on roads by the end of this decade, predicted a detailed report on the budding driverless industry issued late last year by investment bank Morgan Stanley. Other experts deem that forecast extremely optimistic.
But cars with “semi-autonomous” features, such as collision-avoidance radar that maintains a safe distance from the car ahead, are already on the market. And the potential advantages – improved safety, less traffic congestion and more – are winning converts to the autonomy cause.
“This is not a toy,” declared the Morgan Stanley research report. “The social and economic implications are enormous.”
For video of a car similar to the one tested, see reut.rs/YfiJez
Paul Ingrassia, managing editor of Reuters, is the author of three books on automobiles, and has been covering the industry since 1985. The car he drives is … a red one. (Reuters)[eap_ad_3]