US-TECHNOLOGY-CAR
  • US-TECHNOLOGY-CAR
  • A self-driving car traverses a parking lot at Google's headquarters in Mountain View, California on January 8, 2015. AFP PHOTO/NOAH BERGER / AFP / Noah Berger (Photo credit should read NOAH BERGER/AFP/Getty Images)
  • Image Credit: NOAH BERGER via Getty Images
Transportation Sec'y Foxx Discusses Future Transportation Trends With Google CEO
  • Transportation Sec'y Foxx Discusses Future Transportation Trends With Google CEO
  • MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA - FEBRUARY 02: U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx (R) and Google Chairman Eric Schmidt (L) walk around a Google self-driving car at the Google headquarters on February 2, 2015 in Mountain View, California. U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx joined Google Chairman Eric Schmidt for a fireside chat where he unveiled Beyond Traffic, a new analysis from the U.S. Department of Transportation that anticipates the trends and choices facing our transportation system over the next three decades. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
  • Image Credit: Justin Sullivan via Getty Images
Self Driving Cars
  • Self Driving Cars
  • FILE - This May 13, 2015 file photo shows Google's new self-driving car during a demonstration at the Google campus in Mountain View, Calif. Regulators puzzling through how to give Californians safe access to self-driving cars of the future will hear from Google and other companies that want the state to open the road to the technology. The California Department of Motor Vehicles will hold a hearing Thursday, Jan. 28, 2016, at California State University, Sacramento. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar, File)
  • Image Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS
Self Driving Cars
  • Self Driving Cars
  • FILE - This May 13, 2015, file photo shows the front of Google's new self-driving prototype car during a demonstration at Google campus in Mountain View, Calif. The self-driving cars needed some old-fashioned human intervention to avoid some crashes during testing on California roads, the company revealed Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016, results it says are encouraging but show the technology has yet to reach the goal of not needing someone behind the wheel. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar, File)
  • Image Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS
Google Cars
  • Google Cars
  • Google's new self-driving prototype car drives around a parking lot during a demonstration at Google campus on Wednesday, May 13, 2015, in Mountain View, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
  • Image Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS
Google Car
  • Google Car
  • In this May 13, 2015 photo, a reporter walks toward Google's new self-driving prototype car during a demonstration at the Google campus in Mountain View, Calif. The car, which needs no gas pedal or steering wheel, will make its debut on public roads this summer. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
  • Image Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS
Google Car
  • Google Car
  • In this May 13, 2015 photo, Jessie Lorenz, of San Francisco, touches the new Google self-driving prototype car during a demonstration at the Google campus in Mountain View, Calif. The car, which needs no gas pedal or steering wheel, will make its debut on public roads this summer. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
  • Image Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS
  • Image Credit: Google
  • Image Credit: AOL
Autonomous self-driving driverless (drive) vehicle driving on the road
  • Autonomous self-driving driverless (drive) vehicle driving on the road
  • Autonomous self-driving driverless (drive) vehicle driving on the road
  • Image Credit: shutterstock
As automakers and tech companies work on perfecting autonomous vehicles, governments are working to ensure the safety of the public. That's a large reason for creating self-driving cars in the first place, as it is hoped they can be programmed to make fewer mistakes than human drivers. Technology has the ability to respond more quickly to problems that arise, and robots don't get tired, distracted, or drunk. Google has been testing self-driving cars for some time now, and has been reporting its results as required. In order to continue advancing its research, Google pressed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to fast-track rules governing the testing of autonomous vehicles.

Nonprofit consumer safety organization Consumer Watchdog has some major concerns about that, and has made requests of its own to NHTSA. First and foremost, Consumer Watchdog wants a driver behind the wheel, and asks NTHSA to require that autonomous cars be equipped with a steering wheel, brake, and accelerator in case a human needs to take over the controls.

The organization notes that during 15 months and 424,331 miles of testing, Google reported that the autonomous system failed 272 times, and humans felt the need to intervene an additional 69 times. "What the disengagement reports show is that there are many everyday routine traffic situations with which the self-driving robot cars simply can't cope," says Consumer Watchdog's Privacy Project Director, John M. Simpson. "It's imperative that a human be behind the wheel capable of taking control when necessary. Self-driving robot cars simply aren't ready to safely manage too many routine traffic situations without human intervention."

The organization urges NHTSA to reject Google's fast-track proposal. Additionally, Consumer Watchdog puts forth 10 questions it wants NHTSA to ask Google, which you can read below.

Hopefully, driverless cars will help to make the roads safer (and less congested, and more accessible) for everybody. If Google or other groups figure out how to improve safety through vehicle autonomy, it could very well be in their own interest to share that information, if only to help encourage the acceptance of its own technology (think Tesla open-sourcing its own patents). Asking for a "safety net" of human controls or other fail-safes doesn't seem unreasonable. Complete pushback, though, is likely to keep us all in the dark longer, during which time people will continue to die when humans make mistakes behind the wheel.

Related Video:

Google Test Car Crash Footage | Autoblog Minute
Show full PR text
Consumer Watchdog Calls On NHTSA To Require Steering Wheel, Driver In Robot Car Guidelines

Lists 10 Questions Agency Must Ask Google About Its Self-Driving Cars

WASHINGTON – Consumer Watchdog today called on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to require a steering wheel, brake and accelerator so a human driver can take control of a self-driving robot car when necessary in the guidelines it is developing on automated vehicle technology.

In comments for a NHTSA public meeting today about automated vehicle technology, John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog's Privacy Project Director, also listed ten questions he said the agency must ask Google about its self-driving robot car program.

"Deploying a vehicle today without a steering wheel, brake, accelerator and a human driver capable of intervening when something goes wrong is not merely foolhardy. It is dangerous," said Simpson. "NHTSA's autonomous vehicle guidelines must reflect this fact."

Read Simpson's comments here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/nhtsatestimony040816.pdf

The need to require a driver behind the wheel is obvious after a review of the results from seven companies that have been testing self-driving cars in California since September 2014, Consumer Watchdog said.

Under California's self-driving car testing requirements, these companies were required to file "disengagement reports" explaining when a test driver had to take control. The reports show that the cars are not always capable of "seeing" pedestrians and cyclists, traffic lights, low-hanging branches, or the proximity of parked cars, suggesting too great a risk of serious accidents involving pedestrians and other cars. The cars also are not capable of reacting to reckless behavior of others on the road quickly enough to avoid the consequences, the reports showed.

"Google, which logged 424,331 'self-driving' miles over the 15-month reporting period, said a human driver took over 341 times, an average of 22.7 times a month," Simpson said. "The robot car technology failed 272 times and ceded control to the human driver; the driver felt compelled to intervene and take control 69 times."

"What the disengagement reports show is that there are many everyday routine traffic situations with which the self-driving robot cars simply can't cope," said Simpson. "It's imperative that a human be behind the wheel capable of taking control when necessary. Self-driving robot cars simply aren't ready to safely manage too many routine traffic situations without human intervention."

Questions for Google

Consumer Watchdog noted that Google is pressing NHTSA to create a fast-track approval process for its self-driving robot cars that would bypass usual rulemaking proceedings and Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. Simpson said NHTSA should reject Google's proposal and instead ask the company ten tough questions as the agency develops its automated vehicle technology guidelines. They are:

1. We understand the self-driving car cannot currently handle many common occurrences on the road, including heavy rain or snow, hand signals from a traffic cop, or gestures to communicate from other drivers. Will Google publish a complete list of real-life situations the cars cannot yet understand, and how you intend to deal with them?

2. What does Google envision happening if the computer "driver" suddenly goes offline with a passenger in the car, if the car has no steering wheel or pedals and the passenger cannot steer or stop the vehicle?

3. Your programmers will literally make life and death decisions as they write the vehicles' algorithms. Will Google agree to publish its software algorithms, including how the company's "artificial car intelligence" will be programmed to decide what happens in the event of a potential collision? For instance, will your robot car prioritize the safety of the occupants of the vehicle or pedestrians it encounters?

4. Will Google publish all video from the car and technical data such as radar and lidar reports associated with accidents or other anomalous situations? If not, why not?

5. Will Google publish all data in its possession that discusses, or makes projections concerning, the safety of driverless vehicles?

6. Do you expect one of your robot cars to be involved in a fatal crash? If your robot car causes the crash, how would you be held accountable?

7. How will Google prove that self-driving cars are safer than today's vehicles?

8. Will Google agree not to store, market, sell, or transfer the data gathered by the self-driving car, or utilize it for any purpose other than navigating the vehicle?

9. NHTSA's performance standards are actually designed to promote new life-saving technology. Why is Google trying to circumvent them? Will Google provide all data in its possession concerning the length of time required to comply with the current NHTSA safety process?

10. Does Google have the technology to prevent malicious hackers from seizing control of a driverless vehicle or any of its systems?

Simpson's comments to NHTSA concluded:

"NHTSA officials have repeatedly said safety is the agency's top priority. You must not allow your judgment to by swayed by rosy, self-serving statements from companies like Google about the capabilities of their self-driving robot cars. NHTSA has said that autonomous vehicle technology is an area of rapid change that requires you to remain 'flexible and adaptable.' Please ensure that flexibility does not cause you to lose sight of the need to put safety first. Innovation will thrive hand-in-hand with thoughtful, deliberate regulation. Your guidance for the states on autonomous vehicles must continue to require a human driver who can intervened with a steering wheel, brake and accelerator when necessary."

Read our letter to the DOT and NHTSA and 10 questions for Google here: http://capitolwatchdog.org/sites/default/files/FoxxRosekind4-7-16.pdf

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