Electronic News & Comment

Problems Loom Large for Autonomous Cars

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Bug free software for safety critical applications
Battar   4/3/2014 9:55:49 AM
If you want to see an example of a high powered, high speed, 21st century (2008) vehicle with 100% bug-free software, guaranteed, look here - 


Other than that, no one can assure you that the software will be free of bugs.

Elizabeth M
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Interesting post
Elizabeth M   4/3/2014 10:37:16 AM
I have to admit that when I read the headline I thought this was going to be about something different! But it's actually really interesting to hear about the problems in terms of cooperation and compatibility that car makers and others in this industry have, and how crucial it actually is to making technology like this work. It is an interesting angle to a complicated story, Chuck, and I think it's really good you called them out on this. Safety is going to be a key issue if this vision of autonomous cars and "smart highways" is going to work. I am personally quite skeptical!

User Rank
Re: Interesting post
Zippy   4/4/2014 8:54:40 AM
In principle, requiring common safety standards for automotive software is no different than requiring seatbelts that meet load standards, but it is 1) technically more complex and 2) the current political polarization would prevent anything reasonable from happening.  It is a quirk of human nature that 35,000 fatalities in the US annually due to car accidents is a yawn, but 200 people dying in a plane crash is headline news for weeks.

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Re: Bug free software for safety critical applications
Davek3gau   4/4/2014 9:19:08 AM


That's funny!  You are absolutely right, and no buggy software! :-)

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Re: Bug free software for safety critical applications
Jim_E   4/4/2014 9:27:52 AM
There may be no software in the 60163 Tornado, but isn't the boiler out for repairs for the seconds time since being built?  Apparently modern steels and welded boiler construction can't match the older stuff!  Okay, I'll admit that the rapid fire-ups of this locomotive aren't helping matters.

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Software Safety
Reliabilityguru   4/4/2014 9:35:45 AM
Software reliability and safety are not new topics anymore. Not in the defense industry anyway. There are books and experts and a wealth of experience in software design that does everything from drive by wire to arming and firing lethal mechanisms without human oversight or intervention. Because of weapon system lethality, these software designs are more safety critical than autonomous control of cars. Establishment of requirements and standards is always the first step.

User Rank
Re: Interesting post
fm   4/4/2014 10:33:09 AM
The avionics industry has been dealing with software safety for lots of years. There's an industry standard for software development that sets out the degree of oversight and rigor that they have to go through just to be able to fly a single line of code. The amount of overhead combined with writing the code in the first place results in an average of just a few lines of code written PER HOUR. It's a tremendous effort, and it does pay off - software problems on airplanes are rare (a Blue Screen of Death takes on a whole new meaning!). The downside is that the software becomes very expensive. If the automotive folks go down that road (not a bad idea -- and pun not intended!), we can expect to pay big $$$ for it.

Parris Boyd
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Consumers deserve better
Parris Boyd   4/4/2014 10:40:33 AM
Government agencies have become mouthpieces for the businesses they are supposed to regulate. This was demonstrated in no uncertain terms when freelance writer David Benjamin asked the Department of Justice - point blank, in writing - if they were aware of Michael Barr's findings. The DOJ's response? A curt "No comment."

Right on for Charles Murray and Design News exposing the facts about the pathetic state of affairs in the auto industry. Insofar as Toyota is concerned, I've been blogging about the Recall King - Beware of Toyota. Their next victim may be YOU... - and took great pleasure writing yesterday's post, "March sales DOWN for Toyota brand cars." The much ballyhooed Prius - which has figured prominently in the sudden unintended acceleration issue - took a 16 percent drop. Consumers have good reason to wonder if there are unresolved problems in Toyota's electronic throttle control.

William K.
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Re: Interesting post
William K.   4/4/2014 11:28:12 AM
FM is certainly correct in that there are standards and processes for creating software that is a lot more bug free than what is currently offered on cars. Of course following those procedures is a bit more time consuming and it does take more effort, and a whole lot of lazy programmers would have no concept about what it was all about. BUT that is not the major roadblock for the autonomous automobile. Rather, the problem will be that they are simply unable to handle exceptions, and they will most likely NEVER be able to handle exceptions. In addition, the computerized car will not be able to make correct judgements based on human evaluations. Just consider the child-sized empty cement bag on the expressway that gets floipped up by the draft from the vehicle ahead: a human would understand that it was only a piece of litter and not initiate a panic stop to avoid it, while the computerized system would either initiate a maximum panic stop or else swerve to miss it, which either one is the wrong choice in 70MPH traffic. And what about tha5t huge pothole that we see, but the vision system and the radar just don't detect?Those are only two examples of the sort of exceptions that happen. And we know for certain that a large portion of drivers in such cars would not be paying any attention to the situation if the computer was driving the car. Why else would they spend the money for the system, if the car would not take over the respnsibility of driving? The best we can hope for is that the driverless technology would get drunks home safely and reduce drunk driving fataalities.

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Not Buying in on this
irishmuse   4/4/2014 11:47:20 AM
I guess I will be continuing to maintain my existing vehicles for a long time.  Not interested in a self-driving car, or willing to trust that it will be reliable.

Systems CAN become too complex.  We CAN expect too much perfection.  Sometimes simpler is better.

I have enough trouble with engine computers that are bug filled and subject to hardware failure.

Those of us in industrial controls see the complexity and cost required to get high reliability and robust safety.  Are we prepared to purchase cars with SIL3 control systems.  OF COURSE the reliability of these systems will be compromised, they will be unable to get the cost down any other way!  Not just redundate control computers, but redundance in the sensors and the actuators!

Self driving car? Perhaps for thee, but not for me.

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