There are a lot of challenges that designers and engineers face when it comes to making driverless cars do what we want them to do. However, while we really want the road ways to become more autonomous, with cars talking to one another over wireless networks and exchanging information constantly to make sure they don’t collide and can even drive more efficiently because of it, one of the biggest challenges that needs to be overcome isn’t making them drive more like each other, but making them drive more like you and me.
It would be nice and easy if one day we all stopped using our traditional cars and switched over to automated ones, but we can’t do that tomorrow and we won’t be able to do that next year. In-fact it’s going to take the best part of two to three decades to change over most of the current driver-required cars on the roads to fully automated ones and we can’t expect the majority of cars on the road to be self-piloted until at least 2040.
So, in the mean time, these cars need to be able to drive with us inferior humans and that means driving like us. Not in the way we can be unpredictable, but just in a fashion that’s more courteous to our sensibilities. Tailgating us for example would be worrying for a human, even if the automated car behind knows the instant we start pressing the brake pedal and can mimic us in-kind, stopping before rear-ending us. Similarly so, they need to factor in that sometimes the human driver ahead may not know that your piloted car is coming up the fast lane, even though all of the other automated cars on the road would do.
On top of that, passengers may not feel so safe in an automated car, since they are used to drivers taking things slowly some of the time. In one example highlighted by Citylab, is if an automated car is approaching a narrow gap that it needs to fit through, a human driver would slow down before to make sure it went through fine, whereas a self-piloting car wouldn’t have any qualms about sailing through at the speed limit, knowing that it can make it through from earlier calculations.
In those instances, passengers that aren’t playing on their phones are likely to get very scared.
“It’s perfectly fine and safe, but the people inside the car, they basically freak out in these situations,” says Dietmar Rabel, head of automated driving product management for HERE, the branch of NOKIA that is helping develop tools to help those engineering driverless cars.
This may mean that automated cars need to drive like your granny in order to make everyone feel safe, but Rabel believes that we may have automated cars that offer different driving profiles. Some will prefer a profile that’s a little more adventurous, and will be able to set it as such, leaving the car to race off and take corners a little more aggressively. Presumably, until these cars are near-perfected, that will bring with it some measure of risk, but it will likely be far less than we have with our current generation of human-piloted vehicles.