JAN 14, 2014 12:00 AM PST

Self-Driving Cars

WRITTEN BY: Jen Ellis
Cars that can drive themselves are inching closer to reality. Google driverless vehicles have passed the 500,000-mile mark on public highways without a driver, and have sustained no crashes (a better mark than many cars with drivers). With many of the technical challenges overcome, it's time to consider the associated policy issues. A recent study by the RAND Corporation attempts to tackle these issues.

The RAND group interviewed groups from all perspectives-regulators, automakers, communications groups, and others-and concluded that the overall benefits to society are likely greater than the potential problems created by autonomous vehicle technology.

It is intended that this study help to guide policymakers as they grapple with the practical issues created by this new technology. For example: should this be regulated at the state level, federal level, or both? It seems likely that some regulation will exist at both levels, but some states and the District of Columbia have already produced some laws regarding the use of driverless vehicles. Regulation must be carefully crafted to avoid stifling the technological benefits.

Those benefits are quite significant, according to the study. Assuming the technology works as intended, crash reduction is an obvious benefit. With efficient communication between vehicles and control systems, commuting time should decrease and congestion should be reduced, consequently saving energy and reducing pollution. Populations with reduced mobility (the blind and otherwise disabled, for example) will have new opportunities. Collective efficiency may be increased as people can do other tasks while commuting. Autonomous cars can drop off and park themselves, reducing parking requirements.

Of course, there are corresponding potential detriments. Correctly interpreting foreign objects in the roadway is not straightforward for autonomous vehicles. The efficiency and congestion assumptions may prove to be false if more people are encouraged to "drive" by the newfound ease of a commute. The interdependent nature of a smoothly flowing autonomous traffic system may produce massive chain-reaction accidents from a software or communications error. Security will be extremely important as hackers can cause significant, immediate damage.

Further technological challenges include building relatively economical fail-safe, redundant systems to handle things like sensor failure-for example, a sensor that is sending no data is easy to dismiss, but what about a sensor sending incorrect data? The best analogy is the control system used in manned spaceflight, but redundant systems of that nature aren't economically practical for commercial vehicles. Who will decide how safe is safe enough?

Considering all these factors, the Rand group makes four basic recommendations:
• Resist the urge to regulate before the technology is viable; let it evolve.
• Determine how to update distracted-driving laws to accommodate self-driving vehicles.
• Address the privacy issues raised by the new data streams from self-driving vehicles, and establish ownership.
• Compare performances of self-driving vehicles to average drivers when considering regulations and liability assessment, and take into account the long-term benefits when considering liability (in other words, don't let potentially catastrophic events scuttle the whole technology without a serious risk assessment).

Many years are likely to pass before you climb into your self-driving vehicle and take a relaxing commute to work while reading the paper or watching a movie...or, for you Type A personalities, doing work before getting to work. Even so, this study should help to pave the way for an event-free commute when the time comes.
About the Author
You May Also Like
OCT 10, 2022
Cell & Molecular Biology
How STR Analysis Supports CAR-T Cell Manufacturing
OCT 10, 2022
How STR Analysis Supports CAR-T Cell Manufacturing
Engineered T cell therapies involve the genetic modification of a patient’s own immune cells with chimeric antigen ...
OCT 24, 2022
Technology
3D Printing Breast Cancer Tumors
OCT 24, 2022
3D Printing Breast Cancer Tumors
Breast cancer is among the most common types of cancer, particularly among women. In fact, other than skin cancers, it i ...
OCT 24, 2022
Technology
Can Smartwatch Apps Overcome Limitations to Detect Atrial Fibrillation?
OCT 24, 2022
Can Smartwatch Apps Overcome Limitations to Detect Atrial Fibrillation?
In a recent study published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology, an international team of researchers led by Laval Uni ...
NOV 05, 2022
Space & Astronomy
Earth-size Exoplanet Lacks an Atmosphere
NOV 05, 2022
Earth-size Exoplanet Lacks an Atmosphere
In a recent study published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, an international team of researchers led by the Univer ...
NOV 04, 2022
Earth & The Environment
Grad Student Highlights: Ian McDowell (University of Nevada, Reno)
NOV 04, 2022
Grad Student Highlights: Ian McDowell (University of Nevada, Reno)
This interview series is focused on the graduate student experience across all STEM fields that allows them to get their ...
NOV 17, 2022
Drug Discovery & Development
Implantable Pump Delivers Chemotherapy Directly to the Brain
NOV 17, 2022
Implantable Pump Delivers Chemotherapy Directly to the Brain
An implantable pump can bypass the blood-brain barrier and deliver chemotherapy to specific brain areas. The correspondi ...
Loading Comments...