While “wholeheartedly” supporting the research and development of self-driving cars, a Duke Univ. robotics expert warned the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation against rushing implementation of the technology.
“I am decidedly less optimistic about what I perceive to be a rush to field systems that are absolutely not ready for widespread deployment, and certainly not ready for humans to be completely taken out of the driver’s seat,” said Mary Louise Cummings in a testimony to the committee on Tuesday.
The hearing was titled “Hands Off: The Future of Self-Driving Cars,” and included participation from Google X, General Motors Company, Delphi Automotive, and Lyft.
In Cummings’ view, self-driving cars are not equipped to handle bad weather conditions, such as drizzling rain, sudden downpours, and snow. “These limitations will be especially problematic when coupled with the inability of self-driving cars to follow a traffic policeman’s gestures,” she said.
Cummings is the director of both Duke Robotics and the university’s Humans and Autonomy Laboratory. She’s done research and provided recommendations for a variety of automotive companies, including Ford, Nissan, Toyota, and Google X.
“Another major problem with self-driving cars is their vulnerability to malevolent or even prankster intent,” she added. “Self-driving car cyberphysical security issues are real, and will have to be addressed before any widespread deployment of this technology occurs.”
She said that it’s “relatively easy” for a hacker to get into a driving system’s GPS and veer it off course. Additionally, previous research has shown that a $60 laser device is capable of fooling self-driving cars into thinking objects are present in the vicinity.
Further, Cummings said there should be concern regarding the amount of data self-driving cars will collect. “These cars carry cameras that look both in and outside the car, and will transmit these images and telemetry data in real time, including where you are going and your driving habits,” she said. “Who has access to this data, where it is secure, and whether it can be used for other commercial or government purposes has yet to be addressed.”
However, Chris Urmson, the director of Google X’s Self-Driving Cars, said that fully self-driving vehicles could significantly reduce accidents since around 94 percent of accidents in the U.S. are due to human error.
“Last December, we were disappointed that California released draft regulations for operation of autonomous vehicles that specifically excluded fully self-driving vehicles, despite strong public support for this technology, particularly from the disability community,” Urmson said.
Michael F. Ableson, the vice president of General Motors’ Strategy and Global Portfolio Planning, said GM is expected to introduce new technology features in two 2017 Cadillac models. In the 2017 Cadillac CTS, the company will introduce Dedicated Short Range Communications, which allows vehicles to communicate safety and mobility information to one another.
“Super Cruise, a driving automation feature that allows hands-free and feet-free driving on the highway, will also debut in 2017 on the Cadillac CT6,” Ableson said. “It incorporates many of the camera, GPS, mapping and radar technologies that will be crucial to increasing automation in the future.”
Urmon urged federal leadership in the implementation of self-driving vehicles. In the past two years, he said, 23 states introduced 53 pieces of legislation affecting self-driving vehicles. The different approaches and concepts create a patchwork of laws and regulations, he said.
“We propose that Congress move swiftly to provide the Secretary of Transportation with new authority to approve life-saving innovation,” Urmson said. “This new authority would permit the deployment of innovative safety technologies that meet or exceed the level of safety required by existing federal standards, while ensuring a prompt and transparent process.”
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