In one of the new experiments, Gerdes points an autonomous vehicle at a simulated road crew. The software then must decide to barrel into the mass of cones or break the law by crossing a double-yellow line. While the decision would be obvious for a human, the machine has a much more difficult time deciding. Gerdes has also been doing workshops about the issues for engineers from top companies, including Tesla and Google.
Gerdes has been at the forefront in the autonomous field for years. He and his team built Shelley, the Audi TTS that sprinted up Pikes Peak without a driver. More recently the coupe has been lapping Thunderhill Raceway Park faster than an amateur racing driver.
After years of autonomous vehicle ethics being largely a thought experiment, they are quickly becoming a real-world issue with legal implications – Volvo accepting liability for autonomous vehicle accidents being the latest example of this trend. That means Gerdes important work will have practical implications in the not-so-distant future.