What’s Your Definition of ‘Autonomous’ Car?

We all know what an “autonomous” car means. By now, we even have a formal classification system that goes from Level 0 to Level 4, as defined by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

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'Intended and Unintended Consequences of Autonomous Cars Monday, October 26, 2015, 1 PM Eastern / 10 AM Pacific

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“Intended and Unintended Consequences
of Autonomous Cars
Monday, October 26, 2015,
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During one of the panels — entitled “Connected and Automated Driving” — at this week’s Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) World Congress, Doug Patton, CTO of Denso International America, Inc., asked the audience: “What’s your definition of ‘autonomous cars’?”

He said, “My idea of the autonomous car is sleeping in the backseat” while the car does the driving.

If that’s what a truly autonomous car is, which by the way makes total sense to me, it will be a very long time before the automotive industry gets that far. After all, as Patton put it, “If that’s the definition, the autonomous car has to work all the time, every time and 100 percent.”

(Source: Daimler)
Click here for larger image

(Source: Daimler)

The crux of the issue seems to me in autonomous cars that are defined as Level 3. NHTHSA says that’s “when the driver can fully cede control of all safety-critical functions in certain conditions.” But it also says, at Level 3, “The car senses when conditions require the driver to retake control and provides a ‘sufficiently comfortable transition time’ for the driver to do so.”

Now, that’s worrying. How much time is enough to for a driver – who might not have been paying attention to driving for more than 30 minutes — to smoothly retake control?

Any span less than 10 seconds renders the autonomous a potential “death trap,” as one of EE Times readers recently commented. Continental’s senior vice president Ralf Lenninger believes the handover needs at least 18 seconds.

Lars Reger, Chief Technology Officer of NXP Automotive, in contrast, said, “No, that won’t happen. When the car senses it can’t handle the situation, it will drive itself to a curb – in a safe place.”

Add to these concerns the issue of Human-Machine Interface (HMI). The consensus among attendees at the ITS World Congress was that the HMI will become the next-generation safety battleground for cars of the future. After all, in the course of connected and automated driving, a driver has to come back into the loop at some point.

Patton said, “By 2019, it’s been reported that Apple is coming into the automotive market. Now, that scares everyone [here], because Apple is pretty good at HMI.”

Jacob Bangsgaard, Federation Internationale de l’Auotomobile, pointed out in the panel, “how to train a driver and how to inform a driver any changes happening on the road” as two key issues for connected cars.

To read the rest of this article, visit EBN sister site EE Times.


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