News Stories

Driverless Cars

The only safe way? - Cars don't cause auto accidents--drivers do, which is why the ultimate goal of some engineers is to create cars that don't need drivers. And if you're the pedestrian and one of these vehicles hits you, you're more likely to die if you don't have insurance.

A team of driverless cars took a 3-month journey from Europe to China. The result, according to PhysOrg.com, was "a pair of fender-benders, two technology-loving hitchhikers and 22 hours blocked at the Russian border." The vehicles were controlled by a group of engineers stationed in Italy, in the same way that US drone war planes are flown by remote control from long distances away.

In PhysOrg.com, Colleen Barry quotes project leader Alberto Broggi as saying, "We were trapped in customs for one long day. We had a small accident, well two small accidents, caused by human error. As far as the technology is concerned, everything has been smooth. We are very happy.''

The first accident happened in Russia, when the group stopped one of the cars and got out. The engineers turned off the sensory equipment, but forgot to turn off the automatic driving mechanism, with the result that Broggi, in Italy with the remote control, was helpless. Barry quotes him as saying, "So it was able to steer and drive, but it had no perception. It couldn't see anything." The vehicle rear-ended another driverless van parked nearby.

Moscow's drivers were also a problem: The driverless vehicles travel in pairs, with the driverless car at the head of the line following a lead van that is being driven normally, while wireless signals are sent between cars. In Moscow, drivers cut in between the vehicles, cutting off the signals. Barry quotes Broggi as saying, "It was impossible. In crowded areas, if no one is respecting the rules, there is no way to navigate. The only thing you can do is avoid hitting someone."

However, he growing number of computers in cars help prevent accidents by changing the way people drive. And if you're in a car crash in the future, the ambulance that gets you to the hospital will already know all about the crash before it reaches you: Sensors embedded in future vehicles could let the EMS figure out the severity of the crash and how many people were involved. In BBC News, Mark Ward quotes researcher Steve Wainwright as saying, "The car is probably going to be the most compute-intensive possession that we will have."

And if you get hit by a car while crossing the street (no matter whether it has a driver or not), you should know that uninsured minority pedestrians that get hit by cars are at a significantly higher risk of death than their insured white counterparts, even if the injuries sustained are similar. The death rate disparity is compounded by the fact that minority pedestrians are far more likely than white pedestrians to be struck by motor vehicles. This may be because they live in neighborhoods where people drive badly in old, unstable cars. It could even be because they have dark skin and are thus harder for drivers to see at night. Surgeon Adil H. Haider says, "It's a double whammy. Do we treat minorities and the uninsured differently? I don't think so, but we've got to ask the question."

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