Self-Driving What it’s like to be behind the wheel of a driverless car – and it’s not as relaxing as you’d think By BMaaS Contributor Posted on November 27, 2017 11 min read View original post.The Chancellor , asked by the BBC’s Andrew Marr if he’d ever been in an autonomous or self-driving car, said he hadn’t but he hoped to the next day on a trip to the Midlands. Unfortunately, Downing Street put the brakes on Philip Hammond’s plan because it was concerned about the negative publicity as people made the obvious analogy between a member of the Cabinet in a driverless car and the Tory party. During his interview, Hammond said his objective was to see fully driverless cars on roads by 2021. In his budget speech last week, he reiterated his commitment to the technology, declaring “our future vehicles will be driverless”. Now, there’s a difference between being positive and naively optimistic. Hammond hasn’t been in an autonomous car… I have. I’ve travelled in several top-end luxury cars fitted with individual autonomous systems that will be part of a driverless car’s full suite of technology. For example, a system by which it will change lane on a motorway, overtake and then pull back in. Sounds good, but in my experience you can’t rely on the system to work every time. A colleague, a very experienced motoring journalist, was in a car that had this function fitted and had to intervene as it tried to move itself into the path of a speeding (albeit over the speed limit) white van. A car I was in mistook a repair in the road surface for a white line and started following it towards a hedge. If you don’t have 100% faith in a system it makes driving more stressful, not less. The Society of Automotive Engineers has come up with definitions for the various different levels of autonomy adopted by the car industry. We’ve explained them in a separate panel but basically there are five levels – Level 5 being cars that need no human intervention. Level 2 includes systems like the lane changing function and other systems in which it takes control of steering, brakes and acceleration. The Chancellor is confident about the timing of fully self-drive cars, a confidence that puts him ahead of the global industry. Ford says it will put on sale a fully self-drive mass-produced car by 2021. Elon Musk has said by the end of this year one of his Teslas will be able to drive from California to New York with no driver input. But there’s a big difference between driving on US highways and from Land’s End to John O’Groats. Other manufacturers are more circumspect. “Historically, humans have shown nearly zero-tolerance for injury or death caused by flaws in a machine,” said Gill Pratt, chief of Toyota’s Research Institute, at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. “Yet we know the AI systems on which autonomous cars depend are presently and unavoidably imperfect.” On Level 5 autonomous cars, Pratt reckons we’re “Not even close”. Logically, we will move from having Level 2 to Level 3. The SAE describes this level as “Eyes off”. The driver will be able to text or even watch a film but must still be prepared to intervene within some limited time set by the manufacturer or by legislation. Governments are talking of six seconds or so but a Volvo engineer said it might take a driver minutes to get “dialled back into taking control”. The development of cars that don’t need any human assistance will be the greatest challenge the car industry has faced (Image: Getty) The Tories want driverless cars on Britain’s roads by 2021 – and Jeremy Clarkson is very worried Audi, with its A8 luxury saloon, claims to have produced the first commercially available Level 3 car. There are those – including one of NASA’s top AI specialists, now working in a car firm’s autonomous vehicle research team – who reckon Level 3 will never happen. The problem is the potential danger of a driver whose skills have deteriorated through lack of practice suddenly facing a complex and dangerous situation. The development of Level 5 vehicles is the greatest challenge the car industry has faced. Not just because of the difficulty of developing safe soft and hardware but legal and moral considerations. It will be best for all of us that autonomous driving cars are declared ready for use by engineers, not politicians. The five levels on our road to full automation Level 1 (hands on): Driver and automated system share control. For example, Adaptive Cruise Control allows the car to control speed and the driver controls steering. Parking Assistance allows the driver to control speed while the car steers. Level 2 (hands off): The automated system takes full control (accelerating, braking and steering), like with an automatic lane changing system. The driver has to be ready to intervene immediately. In practice, contact between hand and steering wheel is often mandatory. Level 3 (eyes off): The car will take care of all driving and the driver can read or send texts. However, the driver must still be prepared to intervene within a certain timeframe. Level 4 (mind off): As in Level 3 but no driver attention is required. Self-driving is supported only in limited areas or circumstances. Outside of these, the vehicle must be able to safely abort the trip and park the car if its driver does not retake control. Level 5 (steering wheel optional): No human intervention is ever required. Legal and insurance There are many questions to be asked regarding insurance and the legal ramifications of having an accident in a car that you weren’t actually driving. It’s a subject the insurance sector is looking at closely. So far it has defined the key features and performance criteria required of a self-drive car. The Association of British Insurers has a list of 10 such points, most derived from the SAE’s definitions but including the requirement for a vehicle to log which systems were in use. So it’s complicated. I believe manufacturers will take out insurance, not owners or users, against a system failure in Level 4s or 5s that result in an accident. Are driverless cars the future?