Tuesday, 18 October 2016 08:18

Did you see the 7:30 Report's story on driverless cars cars last night?  It's an interesting look at how ready we are as drivers and legislators for driverless cars in Australia.

As global high-tech companies rush to be the first to develop fully autonomous driverless cars, an Australian expert has warned they might be moving too fast.

Check out the full story on the ABC 7:30 Report website: http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2016/s4558203.htm# 

As global high-tech companies rush to be the first to develop fully autonomous driverless cars, an Australian expert has warned they might be moving too fast.

Key points:

  • Testing of driverless cars is proceeding too fast, expert warns
  • Professor Ann Williamson says technology is not advanced enough
  • Experts say transition to driverless cars will be a dangerous time

For Australian consumers the shift to autonomous vehicles has already begun, with Tesla and Volvo both selling cars which feature automatic steering functions.

The vehicles are able to steer on their own, negotiate surrounding traffic and change lanes. They are not yet able to read traffic lights.

But the recent death of a Tesla driver in the United States has sparked safety concerns.

Professor Ann Williamson from the University of New South Wales said the testing was proceeding too quickly.

"At the moment we're asking drivers to just sit passively and wait until something happens and then it asks them to just take over really quickly and that's something human beings don't do very well."

Joshua Brown, 40, was killed in Florida in May when his Tesla failed to differentiate between the side of a turning truck and the sky while operating in autopilot mode.

His vehicle failed to stop and ploughed into the truck, killing him.

Tesla Australia communications manager, Heath Walker, said drivers should keep their hands on the steering wheel at all times when their car was in autopilot mode.

He said the software in Tesla vehicles had been updated since Mr Brown's death to rely more heavily on radars instead of a camera.

"If the same scenario was to occur again, we've been on the record in saying that what we believe would happen is that it wouldn't have occurred," he told 7.30.

Cyclists and pedestrians have also raised concerns about the transition to driverless cars.

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The Amy Gillett Foundation's Rod Katz predicted a moral hazard in which an autonomous vehicle was programmed to protect the passenger in the vehicle, even if it meant hitting a pedestrian or cyclist on the road.

"It could be fantastic but there are also real risks there," he said.

"That's my concern, that the risks are not going to get picked up in the excitement."

The executive director of the Australian Driverless Vehicle Initiative, Rita Excell, has called for industry and regulators to work closely to manage the safety concerns.

Once adopted, the use of driverless cars will have huge implications for traffic management, city planning, home design. It could even threaten private car ownership.

Safety experts fear the transition period will be the most dangerous time, when the roads are shared by a mixture of humans and computers.

"The transition to autonomy is one that we really need to be careful of and I don't believe we are being careful enough at the moment," Professor Williamson said.

Source: www.abc.net.au, 17 October 2016

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