LA Auto Show: Waking Up the Autonomous Car Driver

1000 volts of electricity. Is that what it will take to re-engage the driver of an autonomous vehicle?

One of the sub-topics at the Connected Car Expo’s panel on Autonomous Driving was the re-engagement of the driver. All the panelists attested to the fact that the technology is here. Up for debate is how that’s going to be implemented and what the issues and regulations should be.

Director of Safety for Self-Driving Cars at Google, Ron Medford said that his company has made no final decision on the form or function of how it plans to implement self-driving cars. But he did say that it was an aspiration. His company, Medford says, has big ambitions on technology that can provide valuable services for the general population, not just the ones who have a lot of money.

Jeff Keli, President, NAFTA Region, Continental North America, said that it’s incumbent upon manufacturers and government to all work together to build policy and develop infrastructure. Should there be designated lanes? Where will those cars be allowed? Are you a driver or passenger in an auto-driven car?

Sven Beiker, executive Director of the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford University brazenly said that if 100% of cars were taken, autonomous driving can occur by January 1, 2014.

Beiker also brought up the point about the re-engagement of the driver. Essentially with the self-driving car, a task is being taken away. If the driver still has to monitor the activities, the potential for resistance to paying more for something that doesn’t allow complete disengagement might be a hard sell. “Now I’m more bored,” Beiker warned the buyer might say.

And the questions remains about the mode in which re-engagement would take place. Will the “driver” be able to gather cognitive facilities soon enough for that deer in the middle of the road? Will an electric shock be quick enough to force the driver to drive?

Klei said that being in an autonomous car would be an assumed risk and said there certainly will be deaths. While zero accidents is what the goal is, Klei said it’s certain fatalities will happen. It is incumbent, he said, to look at the value of the technology and the quantity of the lives saved.

The brand-new Connected Car Expo runs concurrently with the LA Auto Show Press Days November 19-21. The auto show opens to the public November 22-Dec 1.

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