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Autonomous driving. What could possibly go wrong?


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Me: What could possibly go wrong?

Anxiety: I’m glad you asked.

As an insurance company, it’s our job to protect you from things that can and do go wrong.

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Autonomous driving is a thing, and it’s only going to get bigger. Car manufacturers have already invented cars that can park themselves, overtake and warn of obstacles.

But Level 5 autonomous driving means no human interaction is needed at all. Pushing aside the images of cars crashing into each other and falling off bridges, what does this really mean for us humans?

How developed is autonomous driving technology now?

The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) classifies autonomous vehicle technology into six different levels. They are:

Level 0 - Where automated systems issues warnings to the driver but does not control the vehicle.

Level 1 - Hands on, where both the driver and the automated system share control of the vehicle, but the driver is able to take back full control at any time. Examples include Active Cruise Control and Park Assist.

Level 2 - Hands off, where the system assumes full control of the vehicle but under human supervision. The driver must be able to intervene at any time if the system fails to respond appropriately.

Level 3 - Eyes off, where the system is able to handle all situations, including emergency safety scenarios, with the driver able to focus on other tasks. Limited driver intervention may still be necessary. You think?

Level 4 - Mind off, where the system can operate with no human intervention required, in limited areas or situations. Outside of these situations, the system should be able to safely abort the trip (i.e. park the car) in necessary scenarios if there’s no input from the driver.

Level 5 - Wheel optional, where no human intervention is required or needed at all.

Right now, autonomous vehicular development sits somewhere between Levels 1 and 2, so it’ll be quite a while before we achieve full autonomous driving.

2) What are some of the developments in store for the next levels?

Quite a lot really, but it’s a gradual process. Electric car company Tesla’s latest Autopilot system, for instance, is at an advanced stage, whereby it is capable of performing lane-changing maneuvers without any driver input, as well as park the car in a parking space all by itself.

Other car manufacturers, as well as companies such as Uber and Google, are also developing technologies that offer fully autonomous driving for cars of the future. And while the software and hardware are now being realised, there is greater work needed to sort out the nitty-gritty of having these systems interact appropriately with their environment in order to minimise or avoid incidents. In other words, crashing or falling off things.

3) What about self-driving cars in Singapore then?

Singapore has embraced self-driving technology, and has allowed limited trials for self-driving vehicles since 2015. In 2016, a self-driving taxi service was launched, although it was limited to operate in a small area and had a driver on board for intervention.

Developers are striving to produce systems that can minimise or eliminate potential accidents, but the key issues that remain to be resolved are those of liability, namely who is responsible in case of any incidents. And these topics - responsibility and liability – have to be addressed before fully autonomous systems can be rolled out for public use and service.

There is bound to be plenty of legislative debate among lawmakers and relevant stakeholders - road users and insurance companies alike. So while autonomous technology is definitely moving along, these legal issues will mean it’ll be quite a while before cars can truly drive themselves, without any driver input.

Want more good reads? You'll love these too:
Autonomous cars. Insurance dream or nightmare for customers?
Autonomous cars. Who’s leading the drive?
Autonomous driving. What’s on offer right now?
Autonomous driving. Should you be scared or excited?

For more car reviews and motoring tips, look out for regular posts in this series.

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