Technologies, Safety, Ethics: The Autonomous Car In Question

We’ve been talking about it for years without actually seeing the color: the driverless car could still see the day, according to some manufacturers, by 2020. But many questions still do not have answers today … let’s do a point on the autonomous car!

To settle in a car and go from point A to point B today, the only solution is to be driven by a human being, in driver mode. It’s not unpleasant, but we still depend on someone. So, for those who do not like driving but who need it, the real solution is to wait for the arrival of autonomous cars … simple on paper, but complicated in reality!

The step of the assisted driving

Today, with vehicles like those of Tesla, we are in the era of assisted driving: you have to have your hands on the wheel, but the car is able to anticipate problems as an obstacle that appears on the road, the dangerous driving of another motorist … the Tesla is able to park themselves, guiding them only with a mobile application. Admittedly, it’s already futuristic, but it’s far from the promises of many companies like Google, Volvo, Ford, Uber, BMW, and of course, Tesla.

Waymo is a new autonomous car project from the Alphabet Vehicle Division, the parent company of Google.

If assisted driving is presented as a transition stage by the manufacturers, it could remain so however for a long time. Because lately, the stakes of the autonomous car are questioned, and they concern around the public authorities that the drivers and the technology companies.

Dilemmas of conduct and data processing

In recent years, one of the topics that has been much talked about is that of the dilemmas that will be solved by autonomous cars: faced with two deadly choices, which one to take? Should the driver potentially be sacrificed to a group of people crossing the road and fatally impacted? When you entrust human reflexes to a car, the result is not always consistent with what the driver would have done. And even if, at the wheel of a vehicle, we are not confronted every day with this type of dilemma, the question arises all the same … and it is cold in the back.

These very serious moral choices must, moreover, be taken in a fraction of a second to be effective … and not necessarily to the advantage of the driver of the vehicle. The amount of data processed will be huge. “We estimate that one million autonomous cars on the road will require as much data exchange as three billion people connected on their phones or tablets,” said recently Stéphane Nègre, the president of Intel France. “To fix things differently, a self-driving car traveling for an hour and a half will create a flow of information comparable to that produced during a day by three thousand people hanging on their smartphone.”

The challenge is as much ethical of technology. To ensure safe, reliable and thoughtful driving, we will have to brew millions and millions of data. And make sure everything goes smoothly for the driver, who has only become a passenger, and for other road users. And that, studies show that few people are willing to accept it.

Perplexed drivers, even worried

Even if the technologies evolve very quickly thanks to billions of euros unlocked in R & D in dozens of companies, it is still necessary to make accept the idea of a driverless car to the drivers themselves. And recent studies around the world show that it is far from won. Last August, an OpinionWay survey of the French put forward that less than one in two drivers (43%) would be ready, today, to ride in a completely autonomous car. And even if half of them are aware of the benefits of such technology: less tiring journeys, fuel economy … the enhanced security is even evoked. But more than half of French people (56%) are also not ready to trust an autonomous car.

Globally, most studies around the world show similar results. Including the United States, where autonomous cars are frequently tested on the roads of California or Nevada. The problem is that in most cases the tests are biased against the actual reality of the traffic. Experienced cars drive more slowly than a “real” car, roads are sparsely populated, areas are demarcated. Difficult, then, to project yourself into real driving. On the other hand, it is also difficult to test experimental vehicles in the middle of heavy traffic and full of pedestrians.

Long tested in California, the original Google Car was abandoned by the American firm a few months ago.

However, studies also reveal that, in the context of experiments with autonomous or semi-autonomous cars, 90 to 94% of accidents are due to human error. “The foundations are laid for the cars to be fully autonomous, at a level of safety that we think is at least twice that of a person,” said Elon Musk, the boss of Tesla.

A road still long, but more and more secure?

The horizon 2020 is still within reach, according to many manufacturers. While some, like Google, has decided to abandon the market for the moment despite extensive testing, some intensify more than ever trials.

The future of the driverless car today is as much about maximizing technology, the computing power of vehicles, artificial intelligence, sensors …. than convincing motorists and the authorities in place of the relevance of this kind of vehicle. Because the technology will be as much as possible, if the drivers do not want to let go of the steering wheel in the end, it will serve no purpose.

And talking about 2020 to mark the arrival of the first driverless cars on the market does not mean that the date will mark their democratization. It is reassuring, the steering wheel and pedals will remain for many years for the motorists, even if the future nibbles little by little the present!

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