Don’t expect Level 5 Autonomous cars for decades

Why I don’t expect fully autonomous city driving in my lifetime (approx 25 years).

Paraphrase: The strange and crazy things that people do. .. a ball bouncing in front of your car, a child falling down, a car running a red light, head-down pedestrian. A level-5 car has to handle all of these cases, reliably.

These situations require 1) a giant set of learning data 2) Very rapid computing 3) Severe braking. Autonomous cars today are very slow + very cautious in order to allow more time for decisions and for braking.

My view:

There is no magic bullet that can solve these 3 problems, except keeping autonomous cars off of city streets. And all 3 get worse in bad weather, including fog much less in snow.

Also, there are lots of behavioral issues, such as “knowing” the behavior of pedestrians in different cities. Uber discovered that frequent braking/accelerating makes riders carsick – so they re-tuned their safety margins, and their car killed a pedestrian.

A counter-argument (partly from Don Norman, jnd1er): Human drivers are not good at these situations either, and occasionally hit people. Therefore, we should not wait for perfection, but instead systems that on balance are better than humans.  As distracted driving gets worse, the tradeoff in favor of autonomous cars will shift.

But there is another approach to distracted driving. Treat it like drunk driving. Make it socially and legally unacceptable. Drunk driving used to be treated like an accident, with very light penalties even in fatal accidents.

Finally, I’m not sure if any amount of real-life driving will be good enough to develop  training datasets for the rarest edge cases. Developers will need supplemental methods to handle them, including simulated accidents and some causal modeling. For example, the probabilities of different events change by location and time of day. Good drivers know this, and adjust. Perhaps cars will need adjustable parameters that shift their algorithm tuning in different circumstances.

Source of the quotation: Experts at the Table: The challenges to build a single chip to handle future autonomous functions of a vehicle span many areas across the design process.

Source: Semiconductor Engineering – Challenges To Building Level 5 Automotive Chips

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