Robotics Expert: Self-Driving Cars Not Roadworthy - InformationWeek

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3/16/2016
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Robotics Expert: Self-Driving Cars Not Roadworthy

Missy Cummings, a Duke University robotics expert, told a US Senate committee that self-driving cars and autonomous vehicles are not ready for use on American roads. Cummings also expressed concerns about how these vehicles collect and protect data.

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While Google, Ford, and numerous other automakers are pouring millions -- if not billions -- of dollars into developing self-driving vehicles, a prominent robotics expert at Duke University has attempted to put the brakes on the notion that autonomous vehicles are fully ready to hit the road.

Missy Cummings, director of Duke University's robotics program, told the Senate Commerce Committee this week that she feels self-driving cars are "absolutely not" ready to hit the country's highways en masse, arguing these vehicles cannot yet handle adverse weather conditions, among other circumstances, according to an AP report.

"I am decidedly less optimistic about what I perceive to be a rush to field systems that are absolutely not ready for widespread deployment, and certainly not ready for humans to be completely taken out of the driver's seat," according to the March 15 AP report. "It is feasible that people could commandeer self-driving vehicles … to do their bidding, which could be malicious or simply just for the thrill of it."

(Image: Ford)

(Image: Ford)

Some automakers are in fact already working to improve the performance of self-driving vehicles in snowy weather. Ford uploaded a short video to YouTube in January featuring footage of the company's self-driving fleet of Fusion sedans cruising the wintery roads of Michigan.

Cummings, who is also an affiliate professor with the University of Washington's Aeronautics and Astronautics department, also expressed concerns that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is not prepared to craft standards that would prevent the data these vehicles collect from being stolen.

"These cars are going to be one big data-gathering machine," Cummings said. "It's not clear who is going to be doing what with that data."

Cummings' testimony comes following the crash of one of Google's self-driving cars in Mountain View, Calif., in which one of the company's vehicles hit a public bus on El Camino Real as it was attempting to reenter traffic.

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Despite the accident, Google's director of the self-driving car program, Chris Urmson, told the Senate Commerce Committee that the federal government should help automakers craft standards to put self-driving vehicles on roads.

"We propose that Congress move swiftly to provide the secretary of transportation with new authority to approve life-saving safety innovations," Urmson's stated in prepared testimony, according to Reuters. "This new authority would permit the deployment of innovative safety technologies that meet or exceed the level of safety required by existing federal standards, while ensuring a prompt and transparent process."

In a February letter to Urmson, the NHTSA noted that it would consider the company's self-driving vehicles (SDVs) as having a driver under federal regulations, despite being controlled by a computer.

"NHTSA will interpret 'driver' in the context of Google's described motor vehicle design as referring to the [self-driving system], and not to any of the vehicle occupants," the letter from the NHTSA stated. "We agree with Google its [self-driving car] will not have a 'driver' in the traditional sense that vehicles have had drivers during the last more than one hundred years."

Nathan Eddy is a freelance writer for InformationWeek. He has written for Popular Mechanics, Sales & Marketing Management Magazine, FierceMarkets, and CRN, among others. In 2012 he made his first documentary film, The Absent Column. He currently lives in Berlin. View Full Bio

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Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Author
3/26/2016 | 8:50:54 AM
Re: Contortion of logic
I rather think there should be different levels of license.

You get your standard driver's license.  And then if you want to talk on your cell phone while you drive, you have to test for that.
impactnow
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impactnow,
User Rank: Author
3/23/2016 | 1:07:07 PM
Re: Bah to self-driving cars
Joe as do many drivers on the road today! I feel like I am playing cross road everyday!
Joe Stanganelli
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Joe Stanganelli,
User Rank: Author
3/23/2016 | 11:39:57 AM
Bah to self-driving cars
More importantly, autonomous cars are being programmed to not drive like a "normal" person but rather to adhere far too strictly to laws -- such that they become unsafe to drive around.

When I learned to drive, my dad taught me that there are only two rules of driving: "Don't hit anything, and don't let anything hit you."

Google has yet to figure that out.
impactnow
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impactnow,
User Rank: Author
3/21/2016 | 4:47:12 PM
Re: Contortion of logic
Exactly we are far from perfect our driving skills are variable based on illness, age, experience, time of day sleep etc. We are far from ideal drivers.
impactnow
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impactnow,
User Rank: Author
3/18/2016 | 5:44:57 PM
Re: Contortion of logic
Broadway I don't think drving will ever be risk free self driving or person based. There are too many variables invovled from weather, to illness, to drugs, and texting. While self driving cars a have a ways to go I don't think fear shouldoverwhelm our interest in developing the technology. It can truly change transportation as we think of it today.
impactnow
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impactnow,
User Rank: Author
3/16/2016 | 11:45:19 PM
Re: Contortion of logic
Broadway while self driving cars may not be ready for the roads yet there are millions of accidents caused by human error every year. I don't think that self driving cars will be ready tomorrow but hopefully in the next 5-10 years. It will change the lives of so many people who cannot drive for the better.
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