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Humans · Technology

Self driving cars are leading our future in autopilot

June 11th, 2018
in:Humans, Technology
by:Shira Jeczmien
located in:USA
tags:autonomous driving, citizen safety, self-driving car, Uber

A front view of a car’s windscreen depicts an evening scene, with nothing out of the ordinary. Passing street lights and cat’s eye reflections. A woman pushing a bicycle suddenly appears in the frame. The car doesn’t stop nor does it slow down before it crashes directly into her. An interior view of the same moment depicts a driver of an autonomous Uber vehicle. The night vision footage shows him passive, glancing down at his phone and frequently out of the window. Until the moment he too notices the crossing woman, but it’s too late.

A front view of a car’s windscreen depicts an evening scene, with nothing out of the ordinary: passing street lights and cat’s eye reflections. A woman pushing a bicycle suddenly appears in the frame. The car doesn’t stop nor does it slow down before it crashes directly into her. An interior view of the same moment depicts a driver of an autonomous Uber vehicle. The night vision footage shows him passive, glancing down at his phone and frequently out of the window. Until the moment he too notices the crossing woman, but it’s too late.

On March 18, an autonomous driving car operating in Tempe, Arizona, killed 49 year old Elaine Herzberg in what appears to be the first reported fatality of self-driving car technology operating outside of test environments. The car was an Uber service, boasting the company’s recently launched autonomous driving vehicles. In response to the fatality, Uber tweeted a statement saying, “Our hearts go out to the victim’s family. We are fully cooperating with local authorities in their investigation of this incident.” Following which the global corporation was said to have paused its autonomous taxi service in various cities.

While this specific incident received international media attention, it is not the only example of a fatality caused by autonomous vehicles. In 2016 Tesla Motors was the first to publicly disclose a fatal accident of its autonomous driving vehicles, which resulted in the death of an employee who was testing a Model S on the road. The vehicle failed to recognise a large truck in its front view and drove directly towards it, ultimately cramming the man and the car underneath the truck’s belly. On March 23, just days after the Uber SUV crash, yet another Tesla car operating on autopilot, headed straight off course and killed 38 year old Wei Huang – this time it was not a test drive but real-life circumstance. Fatal accidents aside, both Uber, Tesla, Waymo and other companies currently developing and deploying autonomous cars into the roads of our cities (with the U.S. acting as a playing field and Arizona in particular, with its Governor’s lax and determined vision to implement the technology in his state), have had their vehicles frequently caught ignoring red lights. In response, San Francisco has forced Uber autonomous services off the city roads and opened a high profile dispute between the State of California and the corporate tycoon.

The nascent autonomous vehicle industry is facing a pivotal crux. It is a forward thinking sector that has spent billions in the development of this apparently safer model of future transport, but in conjunction it is experiencing hesitation and restriction that is not uncommon nor surprising for innovation that touches on an extremely sensitive and global subject: citizen safety. The collision between state legislators and the company’s future-focused ethos stands as a gauge for technological advancements that hold the potential to be life saving and revolutionary, but at the same time are too far ahead of the crucial involvement of policymakers, the law and those who advocate and reform it. Autonomous driving technology’s advancement means those at the forefront of its development currently have free reign on extremely wide reaching decisions; standards that are otherwise set to a society’s framework, not to the tech company’s profit and progress driven agenda.

Until the law catches up to the deployment of self-driving cars, companies operating in this semi-legal space continue to develop their product while awaiting legislation that would place the federal government and laws in charge of the performance, design, transparency of data collected and used, construction and even testing. The Self Drive Act bill has already passed in the House of Delegates at the end of 2017, yet its companion Senate bill, the AV Start Act, which will push the legislation forward, “has been held up by a few senators who wonder whether the young technology needs more aggressive oversight” as reported by WIRED. This means that until there is a unified federal regulation, each State is free to restrict the autonomous industry as it pleases, with Arizona offering its roads by the handfuls with no regulations needed: there are currently no requirements to report on the service and with Governor Doug Ducey’s recent executive order, driverless autonomous cars will soon flood its roads.

“WHEREAS, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration 37,461 people lost their lives in traffic crashes in 2016 a 5.6% increase from 2015.” Reads the order. In many regards, Ducey’s seemingly sovereign decision to use Arizona as a (possibly dangerous) testing field is questionable and deserves accurate criticism.Yet what is crucial here is that moving forward, such decisions must be made in unison with citizens of countries and cities, with experts in the field and legislators who are well versed in the technology of this brave new world. With a monopoly of self-driving technology already beginning to form, many smaller companies are hoping to challenge the pattern. London based Humanising Autonomy for example, are convinced that safe autonomous driving AI will prevail if the different cultures of pedestrians and drivers are taken into consideration. By combining deep machine learning technology together with behavioural and cultural studies, the startup aims to humanise a technology that is set to become the status quo.

Following both the Uber SUV and Tesla fatalities, it has been reported that Uber settled the case privately between Herzberg’s husband and daughter, with the terms of the settlement undisclosed, as approved by Arizona state police. Cases such as these stand as a reminder that this is a matter of public concern and not a ‘mishap’ to be locked up in Uber’s – or any tech company’s – legal team boardrooms. Self-driving and driverless autonomous vehicles are coming, with that there is no arguing. In many regards, this promises a safer road culture and perhaps even a future where road fatalities are but a memory of past times. It is important however that in the race to both excel and dominate this emerging market, companies and decision makers do not turn the streets of cities, states and countries into test environments for the benefits of the technology and the detriment of citizens.

Article written by:
Shira Jeczmien
Author, Contributing Editor
Current Map: Our coverage
Embed from Getty Images
The car was an Uber service, boasting the company’s recently launched autonomous driving vehicles.
Embed from Getty Images
Fatal accidents aside, both Uber, Tesla, Waymo and other companies currently developing and deploying autonomous cars into the roads of our cities.
Embed from Getty Images
The U.S. acting as a playing field and Arizona in particular, with its Governor’s lax and determined vision to implement the technology in his state – have had their vehicles frequently caught ignoring red lights.

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