This is a guest post. The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not represent positions of IEEE Spectrum or the IEEE. Only recently, Tesla Motors revealed that one of its self-driving cars, operating in Autopilot mode, had crashed in May and killed its driver. How much responsibility Tesla has for the death is still under debate, but many experts are already reminding us of the huge number of lives that could be saved by autonomous cars. Does that mean we shouldn't worry much about the single death--that we should look away for the sake of the greater good?
Auto accidents kill more than 33,000 Americans each year, more than homicide or prescription drug overdoses. Companies working on self-driving cars, such as Alphabet and Ford, say their technology can slash that number by removing human liabilities such as texting, drunkenness, and fatigue. But Christopher Hart, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, says his agency's experience investigating accidents involving autopilot systems used in trains and planes suggests that humans can't be fully removed from control. He told MIT Technology Review that future autos will be much safer, but that they will still need humans as copilots. What follows is a condensed transcript.
When Joshua Neally left his office in Springfield, MO, climbed into his Tesla Model X, and merged onto the highway to head home, he did what many Tesla drivers do--he switched on Autopilot mode. Neally, who reportedly pays close attention while driving Autopilot, following Tesla's guidelines for use, may have expected the advanced driving feature to kick in, braking if a vehicle crossed its path or alerting him if a nearby car slid too close into his lane. But, when Neally began experiencing tightness in his chest and, after calling his wife, realized he needed to get to the hospital, he used Autopilot in a way he probably never expected: To rush him straight to the hospital. SEE: Tesla's Autopilot: The smart person's guide (TechRepublic) The tightness in his chest turned out to be caused by a pulmonary embolism, and Neally was able to make a full recovery. "I don't really think I could have [made the drive without Autopilot]," Neally told CBS.
Uber's new self-driving car has begun testing on the streets of Pittsburgh. SAN FRANCISCO - The first Uber car that doesn't need a driver has hit the streets. The ride-hailing behemoth announced in a blog post Thursday that it has begun testing a self-driving car in Pittsburgh, home of the company's nascent Advanced Technologies Center. The car, a Ford Fusion Hybrid with a roof-full of radar, lasers and cameras, will be collecting road-mapping data as well as testing its real-world traffic reactions. Uber's interest in autonomous car technology dates to a year ago, when the 60 billion startup began hiring Carnegie Mellon University robotics experts to staff its new center not far from the Pittsburgh-based school.
Ford is taking autonomous vehicle research to the next level by testing a pilot car equipped with sensors capable of driving safely in the dark. A few years ago, Google revealed plans to develop a self-driving car. Now being tested in California -- with few accidents -- automakers and technology firms across the globe are also exploring this area as a potential future revenue earner. Our own cars are now being equipped with rear-view cameras, cruise control and sensors which warn us when we are heading too close to obstacles, but autonomous vehicles are still a long way off. The purpose of self-driving cars, according to Google and other firms, is to reduce human error and therefore accidents, injuries, and fatalities.