Friday, 20 May 2016

inventing a mona lisa overdrive for robocars

There's been some coverage of self-driving cars over the last few days, as the next round of manufacturers' tests get under way.

The Google sticky car paint springs to mind as a 'you can't make it up' moment. The patent is for a special kind of paint that becomes ultra sticky if the car hits something. It is supposed to ensure that any person hit by the vehicle then remains on the vehicle instead of bouncing to the ground. Human (no) fly paper?

My current car has some self driving functions. They include a radar based active cruise control which responds to cars in front and slows down or speeds up accordingly, up to my pre-defined speed limit. There's also a traffic jam mode, where it will edge forward in traffic as the cars in front move.

Even these basic autonomous functions can create slightly unexpected results. The main one is when I'm in slow traffic on a motorway and a car in front moves out of my lane causing my vehicle to speed up. This sometimes takes a 'push-along' driver in the outer lanes by surprise when my car accelerates to close the gap in my lane.

In stop-start traffic the car will edge forward using its own safety pattern and sometimes a twitchy car to the left will think there's a gap opening to switch lanes.

It raises the wider question as cars become more autonomic. Like an early form of Asimov's Laws, how will the cars respond to unexpected events?

As some cars get cleverer, what happens to the motorists in vehicles without the same capabilities? Will we start to see driving hacks designed to slow down, stop, or divert the intelligent cars and trucks? Geo-fenced routes using the sat-nav to keep the robocar on selected routes? What about police cars? taxis?

Will the new cars know about cyclists? How about eye contact when at a tricky junction where someone has badly parked? Handling outside schools at pickup time? Maybe a law abiding robocar will refuse to park in dangerous spots?Will robo-cars properly observe speed limits? Even when there is a pushy driver on the tailgate? What about defensive braking such as at the approach to a roadworks? The list goes on.

Current cars with autonomous facilities don't have to advertise it externally. I wonder, as the capabilities increase, whether there will become a new equivalent of an electronic 'red flag'?

And then how long before the Slick Henrys create hacks for the autocars? Or after-market add-ons? A kind of Mona Lisa Overdrive?


RFM said...

It's the behaviour of other drivers in traffic jams which would terrify me the most, I think. But what happens when a child runs out in front but swerving would mean hitting 3 people at a bus stop?

rashbre said...

Terrifying, and I'm sure there won't be an excuse about being able to blame the car for the bad driving.