Self-driving cars may require human assistance

Self-driving, or self-driving, vehicle makers have raised tens of billions of dollars based on promises to develop the fully robotic product. However, industry leaders and experts say the technology may still require human oversight.

Proponents of autonomous vehicles, or AVs, claim that computers and robotic technology will reduce the number of traffic accidents. But in reality, making self-driving cars safer than those driven by humans is complex. Autonomous programming lacks the human ability to predict and quickly recognize risks.

Kyle Vogt is the head of Cruise, a unit of American automaker General Motors (GM). When asked if he believed humans could ever be completely free to drive vehicles, Vogt questioned the value of such a goal.

“I can offer my clients peace of mind knowing that there is always a human to help them if needed,” he said. “I don’t know why I would ever want Discard of this.”

GM reminded and updated software in 80 Cruise self-driving vehicles this month after a crash in June. Two people were injured in the accident in San Francisco, California. US safety officials said the recalled software could “incorrectly predict” the path of an oncoming vehicle. Cruise said his vehicles won’t make the same mistake again after the update.

For some, the need for human supervision increases doubt about the technology. And fully autonomous vehicles are far behind in the development that industry leaders have promised.

In 2018, GM sought US government approval for a fully self-driving car. It had no steering wheel or brake or gas pedals. It was supposed to go on sale in 2019. But that vehicle, the Cruise Origin, isn’t expected to start production until spring 2023, Vogt said.

In 2019, Tesla chief Elon Musk promised that one million robotaxis would be in place by 2020. His company’s “Full Self Driving” feature has been criticized because its cars use human operators.

In June, Musk said building self-driving cars had been much more difficult than he had anticipated.

Mike Wagner works for Edge Case Research, which helps AV companies analyze risk.

He said, “If these companies don’t succeed in the next two years, they won’t exist.”

AB Dynamics staff hold a demonstration of the Advanced Vehicle Driving Simulator (aVDS) in Bradford on Avon, Britain on June 20, 2022. (REUTERS/Matthew Childs)

A human eye looks

Many audiovisual companies today use humans as remote flight supervisors. They help self-driving cars cope with unexpected events on the road. The industry calls these “edge cases”.

Extreme cases can include street closures for road works or unpredictable actions of a human driver or walker.

When a self-driving car encounters a borderline case, “it raises its hand and says, ‘I don’t know what’s going on,'” Koosha Kaveh said. He’s with Imperium Drive, which uses humans as remote operators for cars in the UK town of Milton Keynes. Kaveh said their job is similar to that of air traffic controllers, but for self-driving cars instead of airplanes.

Cruise’s Vogt says the company’s AV vehicles on San Francisco roads currently rely on humans less than one percent of the time. But on thousands, if not millions, of AVs, that would represent a large amount of downtime on the road waiting for human guidance.

Hadyn Kiff, Applications Engineer at AB Dynamics, demonstrates the Emergency Steering Assist (ESS) system.  (REUTERS/Matthew Childs)

Hadyn Kiff, Applications Engineer at AB Dynamics, demonstrates the Emergency Steering Assist (ESS) system. (REUTERS/Matthew Childs)

“Rush to Market”

Autonomous systems are not as efficient as humans because their “Perception and prediction algorithms are not as good as the way a human brain processes and decides,” said expert Chris Borroni-Bird. He has worked with autonomous vehicles with GM and Waymo.

For example, Borroni-Bird said that a human seeing a ball rolling down a road is likely to immediately recognize that a child might be chasing that ball. AVs won’t. Thus, a human driver will reduce speed much faster than an AV in such a limiting case.

This worries Borroni-Bird.

“I fear that audiovisual companies will Rush on the market without proving that safety is better than human-driven vehicles,” he said.

I am Dan Novak.

Reuters reported this story. Dan Novak adapted it for VOA Learning English.

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words in this story

to get rid of -v. do something so that you no longer have or are affected or disturbed by

recall — nm an official order for someone or something to return

pedal — nm a flat piece of metal, rubber, etc., that you push with your foot to make a machine move, run or stop

remote — adj. connected to a computer system from another location

Perception — nm the way you think or understand someone or something

algorithm — nm a set of steps that are followed to solve a mathematical problem or to complete a computational process

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