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Feds Set Guidelines for Driverless Cars


The US Transportation Department has finally weighed in officially on driverless cars, and the verdict is good news for the tech’s supporters. Though officials don’t think the cars are ready for commercial use, they do recommend that states proceed with testing them. Moreover, the statement released by the department states that semiautonomous and driverless cars will significantly increase driver safety when they are eventually rolled out. It could also have pointed out that they can help decrease commute times and air pollution.

The prospect of fully-automated cars still makes many nervous, which explains the department’s focus on continuing testing. Fortunately, while we wait for the testing phase to play out, we will be able to enjoy several new car models with limited automated features. NYT:

Most people will have the option of buying a car that is part robot in some sense next time they visit a dealership. Vehicles ranging from German luxury cars to mass-market American sedans are now equipped with automated safety systems, which rely on computer processors, software and sensors.

Future models from Mercedes-Benz have radar systems that brake a car in the event of an impending collision, stay in its proper lane around curves and sense when a driver is fatigued. Ford Motor Company’s midsize Fusion sedan has a lane-assist system that alerts drivers when they stray on the roadway. Many cars come with adaptive cruise control that automatically cuts the speed when the distance between vehicles gets too close.

The availability of semiautonomous cars and the encouraging federal support for driverless cars are all of a piece with the broad shifts that will transform American society in coming decades. We’re moving from an economy based around moving meat to one that moves information. Driverless cars, telecommuting, and the rise of satellite offices all are a part of this trend.

While this transition will be driven from the bottom-up by technological change, it will also needed to be guided by smart policy and regulation. The feds getting into the driverless car business—supporting the technology but urging patience as the new technology is tested—is good news.

[Driverless Google car image courtesy of Wikimedia.]

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  • Mark Sizer

    Except for the fact that the Feds are idiots.

    [self-driving cars] should have the capability of detecting that their automated vehicle technologies have malfunctioned “and informing the driver in a way that enables the driver to regain proper control of the vehicle.”

    Yeah. Right. Human reaction time is – at the very best – just under a half second. Given that the human will not be paying attention (if you are, why do you have an automated car?), that means several seconds – an eternity in computer time – before the driver can take control.

    There is no way that an automated system will know that is going fail 3 seconds in the future. It’s going to fail at the time of the problem.

    “Excuse me, sir, but I’ve detected there is nothing under the wheels. Please take over,” as you’re soaring over an embankment is not helpful.

    These systems are going to be risky, at first. No amount of regulation – short of banning them completely – is going to help. How many people died due to blow-outs before steel belted radial tires were invented?

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