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Is perfection the enemy of good for automated driving?

Minor fender benders won't hold up automated driving (Photo: Keolis)

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Stephan Giesler
Stephan Giesler

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Hello, automated driving community! A driverless bus crashes as the ink is drying on a new report that promotes earlier deployment. Meanwhile, Continental secures a new tech firm: we bring you this week’s key stories from the world of automated driving!

As Voltaire wrote in his moral poem, ‘La Bégueule’: “Dans ses écrits, un sage Italien, Dit que le mieux est l'ennemi du bien,” – or as it’s come to be known in English, “perfection is the enemy of good”. Such is the sentiment of a report on autonomous vehicles released this week by the RAND Corporation, a policy think-tank. Its take-home message is this: putting AVs on the road even before they’re perfect could lead to faster technology improvements while also saving hundreds of thousands of lives over time.

The researchers modelled three possible unfolding AV deployment scenarios and found that the one where AVs take to the roads when they’re only 10 percent safer than the average human driver scenario saved the most lives and best improved the safety of the technology both in the short and long term. If you want to manipulate the numbers and see for yourself, RAND has provided an online tool do so.

Of course, it’s easy to understand this position from a solely numbers point of view. It relates back to the ethics of autonomous vehicles and the utilitarian stance: if humans kill x lives per year on the roads then a safety threshold of x-1 lives is already grounds for AVs to become an ethical imperative. As the authors rightly acknowledge however, gaining public support is somewhat more complex.

Because as we’ve learned, people are much more likely to forgive an error to a human than to a machine. If a machine commits an error, distrust sky-rockets. And if they are unintelligible errors, even more so. Despite the numbers game - unless machines prove a very substantial improvement in traffic safety, they’ll be – at best – sent back into the labs.

What happens in Vegas…

“Fender Bender: Move vehicles from travel lanes”. That’s the message to motorists on many of America’s freeways.

Indeed, a ‘Fender Bender’ was what happened in Las Vegas last week when a new driverless shuttle bus crashed on its very first day at work. It had just started its series of half-mile loops around The Strip as part of a joint project between insurance giant American Automobile Association, transportation company Kelois and French tech firm Nayva, when a truck emerged from an alleyway “clipping its bumper”.

Nobody was even remotely injured in the incident – thanks to the autonomous system: “The shuttle did its job in that the sensors hit on the truck, knew the truck was coming and stopped as it was supposed to do. The problem was the truck didn't stop,” said city spokesman Jace Radke. In fact, reports say that the truck driver was cited, suggesting some fault on their part. And that, given what I’ve just said about blame bias, is an important detail.

However, even though the incident has received quite some media attention: Given the practical benefits automated driving is promising (safety, CO2-reduction, comfortable driving), I wouldn’t expect this incident to be more than a “fender bender” on the road towards automated driving – after a thorough analysis and consequential actions, the community will move on.

Continental secures a strong position

In our almost weekly update on takeovers, last week it was Continental AG, announcing that it will acquire Israel’s Argus Cyber Security for an undisclosed amount. The Tel-Aviv-based firm is an established market leader which will become part of Continental’s stand-alone software company, Elektrobit.

The acquisition comes amid on-going discussion in the industry (and within our community) as to whether or not the players are doing enough to protect the internal communications of vehicles from hackers, i.e. the onboard system that controls everything from what’s on the screen to braking on time.

And that’s where the technological solutions that EB and Argus have already been working on together come in. These include fleet cyber security health monitoring and management via a remote security operations center (SOC) and over-the-air software updates. The technical solution is the first step when it comes to cyber security and data privacy. And it’s a must-have in order to gain public acceptance.

So long, drive safely (until cars are driverless),

Stephan Giesler

Editor-in-Chief, 2025AD

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