aNewDomain.net – With Google, Audi, Volvo and others developing autonomous or self-driving vehicles, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently announced a new policy, research plan and guidelines for states and the automobile industry for testing these cars. The move reveals just how serious the federal government is taking the idea of handing over the wheel of cars to the cars themselves.
“America is at a historic turning point for automotive travel,” the NHTSA said in a statement on autonomous cars. “Motor vehicles and drivers’ relationships with them are likely to change significantly in the next ten to twenty years, perhaps more than they have changed in the last one hundred years.”
It announced a four-year study of automated vehicle systems to prepare for regulation and to make recommendations for state laws.
“NHTSA is right telling states to slow down, think this through and don’t rush into regulating driverless vehicles until there is more research,” said Barbara Harsha, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association.
Autonomous cars are being tested in states that permit such tests, which are currently only California, Nevada and Florida. Other states are considering legislation to allow similar tests. The UK is planning to test autonomous cars on its roadways by the end of 2013.
Google has logged more than 500,000 miles on automated Toyota Prius cars. Plus, the Lexus RX 450h uses radar, lasers, cameras and computers to help it drive without human control.
“You can count on one hand the number of years until ordinary people can experience this,” said Google CEO Sergey Brin. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers predicted these cars will “easily” make up about 75 percent of traffic by 2040.
Yet a number of concerns still need to be addressed for self-driving cars to hit the roads. The question of liability for these cars remains a big concern. Nevada and California have passed laws requiring that a licensed driver be behind the wheel of these cars. Texas is working on a bill that would hold the driver in an autonomous vehicle liable for an accident, whether he/she is driving or not.
Another setback for the widespread adoption of autonomous cars is that they would cost an estimated $250,000 to build each one, due to the expensive nature of the advanced technologies used, said Jeffrey Miller, IEEE Member and associate professor in the Computer Systems Engineering department at University of Alaska Anchorage.
Autonomous cars have much more than radar, cameras and global positioning systems. They also require expensive lidar systems, or laser radar with real-time data to give a three-dimensional view of the area surrounding the car. The information is then processed by a series of computers that can take up the entire back seat of a sedan. Google’s robotic car has an estimated $150,000 in equipment.
Yet the possibilities that autonomous cars hold – primarily the potential of reducing driver error and cutting down on traffic – are driving interest from states and the federal government. Google claims it has 500,000 miles without incident and the IEEE estimates human error is responsible for 80 percent of auto accidents at an average of at least one collision every 100,000 miles.
“Is there a chance a computer may have a glitch? Of course, we see this everyday with using computers,” Miller said in Fox Business News. “Is it going to happen as frequently as humans making errors? Absolutely not.”
The NHTSA defined different levels of vehicle automation from 0 to 4. The Level 4 car would completely drive itself with driver assistance. The cars Google is testing are a Level 3, which means a driver must be present to take back control if necessary.
“Level 3 is truly in the testing phase and these guidelines are ensuring that the testing is done so it’s safe for the driver and safe for everyone else on the road,” said David Friedman, deputy administrator at the NHTSA,” in USA Today. “We want to make sure the drivers in these test vehicles, for instance, have appropriate training.”
Friedman said a number of questions need to be answered in regards to Level 3 and Level 4 autonomous vehicles: How does the car warn the driver of the need to take over? How much warning does it give? How does the car interact overall with the person?
Level 2 cars are on roads now, allowing the driver overall control but featuring two or more automated systems like adaptive cruise control and lane centering. Level 1 is a car where the driver is in charge yet “function-specific” systems like stability control may assist the driver. Level 0 is where the driver is responsible for all the core functions of the car.Tags: Government,Technology