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Continental CEO: What it takes to solve the ethical dilemma

CEO Degenhart intends to go all-in on driverless mobility. (Photo: Continental)

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Dr. Elmar Degenhart discusses the ethics and the timeline of automated vehicles.

When automated driving came up in a recent interview with the German newspaper “Welt am Sonntag”, Continental’s CEO Elmar Degenhart gave an insight into the timeline of automated driving - and  whom to protect in case of emergency. Here’s what he had to say on the topic.

In addition to electric mobility, much is being discussed about self-driving cars. When will they actually be on the road?

There is no lever to pull where suddenly the world changes to fully automated driving! The development has already begun with driver assistance systems, which are now becoming the norm. In the future, we will gradually add more features.

What sort of features will we see next?

We’ll soon get used to automated driving over long distances on highways. As a first step, the driver will still have the responsibility to monitor the driving situation. The big step after that will come with highly automated driving. The driver will then be able to use some of the time behind the wheel for other things while the vehicle assumes control – and responsibility under insurance law.

And when will we see that?

We believe that this step can take place by 2020, but this very much depends on what the legislation will allow. From a purely technical point of view the required level of data analysis cannot be handled yet. Sensor technology and vehicle networking also still have a bit to go.

We’re always talking about the highway: when will I be able to travel to work in the city in an automated vehicle?

Fully, or even highly automated driving in cities will take significantly longer. The traffic situation is so much more complex. But you can already find pilot projects in some German cities.

In addition to the technical requirements, the legal framework for automated driving is not yet in place. Can regulation keep pace with the technology?

I am convinced that here in Germany, we are fast enough. We are the only country to have a dedicated ethics commission. Now is the time to think about the rules we want to give engineers for programming the algorithms that will eventually determine how vehicles behave in emergency situations.

There are some ethicists who say that such dilemmas cannot be solved at all. If that is the case, who would want to drive an automated vehicle that can only choose between the pedestrians on the left or the right?

Such situations are extreme cases. We believe that rules can be found. If there are possibilities to avoid a collision, then the priority is to reduce the speed.

Nevertheless, there may be situations where the car must decide whether it protects its occupants or the pedestrian…

We need to be pragmatic and use our common sense when it comes to these issues. I think that in the case of doubt, the protection of pedestrians must take precedence over the protection of the occupants of the vehicle. After all, the driver and passengers are relatively well protected within the vehicle.

But why should car owners pay for a technology which, when it comes down to it, doesn’t protect them, but someone else?

I, as a driver, would have no problem with such a directive. There are currently 1.3 million vehicle deaths a year worldwide. With technology, many can be avoided, so we have to industrialize it. This is indeed the moral duty of the automobile industry.

Source: Welt am Sonntag, January 1, 2017

Read the full Welt am Sonntag interview here (article in German). 

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