Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Now Is the Time for Substantive Conversations about Safety for Autonomous Vehicles

Society expects autonomous vehicles to be held to a higher standard than human drivers. Following the tragic death of Elaine Herzberg after being hit last week by a self-driving Uber car operating in autonomous mode in Arizona, it feels like the right moment to make a few observations around the meaning of safety with respect to sensing and decision-making. 

First, the challenge of interpreting sensor information. The video released by the police seems to demonstrate that even the most basic building block of an autonomous vehicle system, the ability to detect and classify objects, is a challenging task. Yet this capability is at the core of today’s advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), which include features such as automatic emergency braking (AEB) and lane keeping support. It is the high-accuracy sensing systems inside ADAS that are saving lives today, proven over billions of miles driven. It is this same technology that is required, before tackling even tougher challenges, as a foundational element of fully autonomous vehicles of the future.