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Fully self-driving cars may still be years away

businesspaper Updated: Jul 04, 2016, 07:27 IST
Neal E Boudette and John Markoff
Neal E Boudette and John Markoff

NEW YORK: Even as automakers and technology companies promote a euphoric vision of a future where cars will drive themselves and serious crashes will be rare, their engineers have been engaged in a sobering debate.

Just how autonomous should cars become? Is there an inherent danger in technology that invites humans to sit back and relax-but still needs them to be ready to hit the brakes ?

These questions have take non new urgency after the driver of a Tesla Model S died in a crash in Florida while his electric car was in the Autopilot mode. The man, Joshua Brown, 40, was driving on a highway, when a tractor truck made a left turn and crossed in front of Brown’s lane . Tesla said neither Brown nor the car’s self-driving system noticed the white truck against a bright sky.

For now, other automakers give no sign of slowing down efforts, but mainly say the technology isn’t ready yet . As the world was absorbing Brown’s death as the first known fatality of autonomous driving, German auto maker BMW said it intended to offer a “self-driving car” - but not until 2021. Harald Kruger, BMW’s CEO, said the Tesla crash was “really very sad” and that BMW would need “the next few years” to perfect its system.”

The world’ s largest car maker, Toyota, is a notable hold out in the rush toward completely autonomous cars. Last year, the company said it would invest $1 billion in a research effort to focus on “guardian angels”, cars that will save humans from errors, not replace them. Tesla also emphasized the system isn’t intended to take complete control

Ford Motor, Google and Volvo want to offer autonomous cars that operate without intervention - or Level 4. They are wary of semi-autonomous, or Level 3, as drivers can be lulled into turning attention away from the road. Amnon Shashua, whose technology is part of Tesla’s self-driving feature, said the technology was close, but not ready without human drivers staying engaged.

The New York Times

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