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UMTRI researchers suggest autonomous vehicles should pass a licensing test

Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) are suggesting that self-driving vehicles should be required to pass a licensing test.

Most driver-licensing tests evaluate three aspects of driving readiness, they observed: visual performance; knowledge of rules and regulations related to driving and traffic in general; and driving-related psychomotor skills. The reasons for the need to test prospective drivers are that:

  1. Vision is essential for driving;

  2. Driving and traffic laws and regulations need to be learned and followed;

  3. Driving-related skills need to be acquired through practice; and

  4. People differ in performance for all of the above aspects.

In a new UMTRI white paper, they suggest a number arguments in support of their proposal for testing autonomous vehicle as well:

  1. Sensing hardware, spatial maps, and software algorithms will vary among manufacturers of self-driving vehicles, resulting in variability of on-road performance—as is the case with humans.

  2. Visual and sensing performance of self-driving vehicles in inclement weather is not yet sufficient.

  3. Visual-pattern recognition is a potential problem for current sensing systems in self-driving vehicles.

    Flood
    An example of a difficult pattern-recognition task for a computer: Flooded roadway. (Photo: © Chris Talbot.) Source: Sivak and Schoettle. Click to enlarge.
  4. Current self-driving vehicles have not yet been tested thoroughly under a variety of demanding conditions (e.g., in snow).

  5. On-road performance of some current self-driving vehicles is not yet perfect, even in good weather.

  6. Self-driving vehicles will face, on rare occasions, ethical dilemmas in their decision-making.

For self-driving vehicles, Sivak and Schoettle observe, experience under one set of conditions that requires certain hardware or software capabilities does not improve performance under a different set of conditions that requires different hardware or software capabilities. This is in contrast to novice human drivers.

Thus, they suggest, the underlying logic for the use of graduated driver licensing (GDL) systems used for novice young drivers does not apply to self-driving vehicles: A self- driving vehicle either has the hardware and software to deal with a particular situation, or it does not. If it does not, experience in other situations will not be of benefit.

On the other hand, the GDL approach would be applicable should a manufacturer explicitly decide to limit the operation of its vehicles to certain conditions, until improved hardware or software become available. For example, a manufacturer might feel confident that its vehicles could handle all situations except nighttime and snow. In such a situation, after passing a licensing test related to the limited conditions, the vehicle would be given a provisional license that would exclude nighttime driving and driving in snow. A full license could then be obtained once future updates to hardware or software are developed and made available, and the updated vehicle passes an unrestricted licensing test.

—Sivak and Schoettle (2015)

Resources

Comments

Davemart

Here is the BBC on the Tesla's dangerous driving:

'Videos posted online appear to show Tesla's new self-drive mode causing its cars to drive dangerously and speed.

One appears to show a car suddenly swerving off the road after exiting the motorway in the US city of Portland.

Another appears to show a Model S Tesla swerving towards an oncoming vehicle.

Autopilot takes over driving functions such as steering and changing lane.'

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-34603364

Bob Wallace

In those cases the Tesla auto lane-keeping was being used in situations for which it is not intended. Operator error.

"Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle of the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) are suggesting that self-driving vehicles should be required to pass a licensing test."

That's dumb. Autonomous driving systems will have to pass rigorous testing before they will be approved for open road use. Both government agencies and insurance companies will require it.

"Thus, they suggest, the underlying logic for the use of graduated driver licensing (GDL) systems used for novice young drivers does not apply to self-driving vehicles: A self- driving vehicle either has the hardware and software to deal with a particular situation, or it does not."

But this is exactly how autonomous driving will be introduced. One skill at a time. We've already become very comfortable with two parts of autonomous driving, automatic transmissions and cruise control. Some drivers have been using self-parking for years.

We should rapidly accept adaptive cruise control and collision avoidance systems. Lane keeping is not fully worked out yet, it's not ready for windy two lane roads and it is having trouble with high glare situations. Over time lane changing will improve. Over time our cars will be able to drive more and more situations without driver assistance.

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