Driverless Cars & Human Control

With the development of driverless cars pressing forward, just how much monitoring & assistance will they require?

Jun 03, 2015

Autonomous cars have the promise of many benefits such as safer, faster, transportation that is geared to being more environmentally friendly. Although, there are many benefits that isn’t to say that driverless cars won’t be without complications. A recent study across the USA found that many concerns with transportation were about self-driving cars. Such worries as legal liability, data privacy, interactions with other vehicles, system performance in poor weather and self-driving cars not being as efficient as a human driver.  

The main concern is the pre-conceived view that human control will be completely eliminated. If within the future this is the case, at present we shouldn’t ignore the human element of automated driving.

Automation is the term for when a machine takes over a human operated task. Driverless cars were once something only pictured in a sci-fi movie, but in a world of advanced technology it is hardly a surprise that this is becoming a reality. The real issue is whether automation can be advanced enough to not require any human control at all; technology isn’t 100% reliable and can still be unpredictable, no matter how intelligent.  


Automation works well for repetitive tasks, such as dishwashers and over recent years developed more within aviation. Many aspects of piloted planes are controlled by computer systems, but still require human monitoring. Although monitoring can also bring complications; an example being the increase in plane accidents, where interaction with automation systems has failed. Safety is paramount, with driverless prototypes being supported by teams of dedicated engineers to ensure that all vehicles are safe on the road. However, there is a concern that without human interaction, there won’t be a significant difference in the amount of car accidents.

The way in which we interact with our vehicle will evolve, similar to how we interact with computers and technology. The human aspect would become monitored and our role would change so that we can still intervene. With this said, adapting our driving experience so that automation becomes cooperative between human and vehicle may take some getting used to. Not to mention changes within insurance policies, the law and drivers in general. Displays to inform the driver what the automated system is doing could be an integral part of self-driving vehicles. In many prototype models, steering wheels have been removed allowing you to read, watch a film and even take a nap. It would seem that concerns may change such features during the development and production of manufacturer’s models. With spare time and relaxation originally being sold as the main selling point of a driverless car, this may now be a restricted feature.

Recently a Delphi – engineered self – driving vehicle completed a cross-country trip, driving 99% of the way without encountering any problems. The human engineers only took control when a police car was present or a zone was lined with unusual markings. The monitoring ensures that failures and problems are corrected and avoided. Ford already has project vehicles on the road to develop self-driving cars. The aim of these cars is to establish how systems such as lane keeping, cross traffic alert, active park assists, blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control and collision warning can work together to keep traffic moving safely.

As well as cameras and sensors, laser technology is also helping the development of autonomous vehicles. Greg Stevens, manager of Ford's global driver assistance and active safety programme, said "This technology can create a 3D map of the car and its environment in real time. This way the vehicle will know what's around it all the time and alert the driver to any hazards”.

Although many predicted that we could see driverless cars on the road by 2017, the date has been pushed back again due to more testing. It may be some time until all aspects of automated driving have been approved and are advanced enough, only then will they be a more common sight on the road. One thing for certain is that these advanced models will still need a certain amount of monitoring.

Further advancements in driverless technology

  • Robot Taxis – Google is working on driverless taxis, named ‘robo-taxis’ that will be able to pick up passengers on command.
  • Self-Parking Cars – Another benefit of driverless cars may be the possibility of you leaving your car for it to find a space and park by itself!
  • A corridor for driverless vehicles – There is deliberation about introducing a North American corridor for autonomous vehicles from Mexico to Manitoba.
  • Freightliner's Inspiration Truck, unveiled at the Hoover Dam is the first licensed, semi-autonomous commercial truck to operate on a U.S. public highway.

The British transport secretary, Vince Cable has approved the testing of driverless cars in numerous cities over the UK backed by £19 million worth of government funding. The Meridian is an autonomous vehicle that will transport passengers on a short commute around the beside the O2 arena in Greenwich, it is said that the investment could lead to a £900 billion autonomous vehicle industry. 


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