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Electronics & Test
Automakers Lay Foundation for Semi-Autonomous Driving
7/16/2012

Jeremy Salinger of GM: 'If you're not careful in the way you implement this technology, people will be less attentive to the road than they are now.'
Jeremy Salinger of GM: "If you're not careful in the way you implement this technology, people will be less attentive to the road than they are now."

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Beth Stackpole
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Risky but addictive behavior
Beth Stackpole   7/16/2012 10:13:25 AM
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We all know that texting and checking email while driving--even answering the phone and trying to dial out a number--is risky business, but I imagine it's the rare few that don't indulge in this dangerous practice on occasion, myself included. That said, some of the semi-authonomous driving capabilities would be a welcome extra in terms of safety, but my concern is then being overly reliant on the car taking care of basic driving and safety functions, only encouraging the driver to engage more freely in those guilty distractions.

Charles Murray
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Re: Risky but addictive behavior
Charles Murray   7/16/2012 10:00:23 PM
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Yes, Beth, I particularly liked the findings of the AAA study. It said that 95% of drivers see phoning and texting as serious threats, yet 68% have made cell calls and 35% have texted or e-mailed. We all complain, yet most of us do it.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Risky but addictive behavior
Rob Spiegel   7/16/2012 11:16:57 PM
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While I can understand resistance to this technology from attentive drivers who don't wish to relinquish any control over the vehicle, I still see this as a welcome advance. Inattentiveness aside, any technology that can help avoid a collision or lessen the impact of that collision will certainly save lives.

Beth Stackpole
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Re: Risky but addictive behavior
Beth Stackpole   7/17/2012 9:39:18 AM
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Here, here, Rob. I completely agree with you. My guess is that this technology will evolve just like GPS technology has evolved. More and more cars come with it and drivers take advantage of different levels of the capabilities. Likely the same here.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Risky but addictive behavior
Rob Spiegel   7/17/2012 10:22:42 AM
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I agree, Beth. I see this as an important move forward. I try to be a careful, attentive driver. Yet the cars around me all seem to be going mad. Any technology that can keep those cars from hitting is certainly welcome.

TJ McDermott
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Sending a mixed message
TJ McDermott   7/16/2012 10:22:29 AM
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It feels like a mixed message from Mr. Salinger.  I don't necessarily want to crawl into the back seat with an autonomous vehicle, but isn't the point to remove the dangers of an inattentive driver?  The one who puts all focus on that important text, not seeing the traffic stopped to the front?

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Sending a mixed message
Ann R. Thryft   7/17/2012 1:15:02 PM
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It sounds like a mixed message to me, too. I don't really get why automakers would want to encourage risky behavior. If drivers are breaking the law by texting or talking on the phone, then shouldn't they be cited? We don't make cars that accommodate drinking while driving, so why should we make cars that accommodate these habits?

TJ McDermott
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Re: Sending a mixed message
TJ McDermott   7/17/2012 1:31:31 PM
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Ann, I would go the other way.  In the manner tha prohibition did not work, banning cell phone usage while driving doesn't work either.

The right approach is not "semi" autonomous.  Whole-hog full autonomy should be the goal, for sooner rather than later.  Semi is good for the short term (like diamond lanes on highways).

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Sending a mixed message
Rob Spiegel   7/17/2012 2:40:34 PM
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I'm not crazy about the idea of fully autonomous, but if it saved lives, I would welcome it. I didn't like seatbelts at first. But the statistics on lives saved became compelling very quickly.

TJ McDermott
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Re: Sending a mixed message
TJ McDermott   7/17/2012 4:15:36 PM
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Think of the lost time sitting behind a wheel in everyday commuter traffic that could be put to better use.  It's a two-fold savings, because the autonomous vehicles will supposedly handle traffic more efficiently.

ricardo
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Re: Sending a mixed message
ricardo   7/17/2012 5:12:56 PM
We have had the technology to solve all these problems for over a century.  It's called a chauffeur.

robatnorcross
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Aside from having a professional driver...
robatnorcross   7/17/2012 8:06:44 PM
May be if the roads were MORE crowded people would begin (slowly) to migrate closer to work for their living quarters.

Even most "dumb" animals seem to figure out the best places to live and don't migrate too far from home. But then they don't have politicians that tell them "just stay where you are we will make things better.

The states keep telling us that more tax money will make for quicker commutes and keep our hopes up so no one moves. The only ones it seems to benefit are the asphalt paving people.

Freeways were originally designed to move military vehicles rapidly in the case of "Communist attack". Russia never attacked but finally crushed us with traffic jams.

Back in the old days people just wouldn't have lived 30 or 40 miles from work.

In my area it's common for people to spend 1 to 2 hours traveling to work.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Sending a mixed message
Rob Spiegel   7/18/2012 12:47:24 PM
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Yes, TJ, autonomous driving would be a significant prodctivity gain across the country, and it would also be a quality of life improvement for individuals. 

Charles Murray
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Re: Sending a mixed message
Charles Murray   7/17/2012 6:51:23 PM
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I agree on both counts, Rob. On a gut level, I don't feel comfortable giving up control to an autonomous car. On the other hand, I think that in a hundred years, people will look back at our era and view us as primitive for having put up with 30,000 highway deaths per year (and that's just in the U.S.).

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Sending a mixed message
Rob Spiegel   7/18/2012 12:50:50 PM
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Good point, Chuck. They will look back and see us a gladiators fighting it out on dangerous roads. They will be shocked to find out we resisted the idea of atonomous driving.

Bryan Goss
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What happens when it fails
Bryan Goss   7/17/2012 10:06:21 AM
It sounds like useful technology, but I wander what the problems will be? When the new technology fails, i.e. a sensor is covered with bug guts, or the radar from the car next to you interferes with your radar, then who is liable for the accident? The driver who is not watching because he trusts the car to drive, or the car company because it failed? Or what of the driver who forgets to turn it off, and then can't change lanes to get off the freeway?

As to driving and phone/texting, life is dangerous. The question is do people who know phoning and texting are dangerous, also think that it is a reasonalbe risk to take for the benefit of phoning and texting while driving? Based on the statistics they obviously do think the benefit is worth the risk. How do we convince them otherwise?

jhankwitz
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Re: What happens when it fails
jhankwitz   7/17/2012 10:56:41 AM
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Looks like 'Litigation Heaven' for lawyers.  Auto manufacturers have far deeper pockets than us regular drivers.  There's bigg-bucks to be made if an automated car is involved in an accident.

Bryan Goss
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Re: What happens when it fails
Bryan Goss   7/17/2012 12:41:08 PM
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Yes Jhankwitz, they have very deep pockets. I think that is why Jeremy Salinger of GM is pushing for the importances of drivers still being attentive, in the hopes of lessening their possibility of being held liable.

Beth Stackpole
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Re: What happens when it fails
Beth Stackpole   7/18/2012 8:55:52 AM
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@Bryan: I don't think it's a conscious effort to buck the rules or thumb their nose at safety. I think people are just indoctrinated in the "always connected, always on" culture so that if you're driving and your text beeps, your automatic reflex is to check it. It requires some significant will power to ignore it. Now that begs the question, why don't we all shut off our phones while in our cars. But again, the culture has evolved to the point where your office expects to hunt you down wherever you are and you're looking for a constant connection to your kids and family. It took a decade or two to get to this place where this is the expected norm. Try convincing people to go back.

Bryan Goss
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Re: What happens when it fails
Bryan Goss   7/18/2012 10:51:45 AM
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@Beth, If Charles' statistics from the AAA are correct that 95% of people know it is not safe, yet 68% still do it, how can that not be a conscious decision to do something they know is not safe. Although that sounds harsh, I think we (as I use the phone with headset while driving) see it as an acceptable risk for the benefit of staying in touch. Or a drunk drives home from the bar sees that as an acceptable risk for the benefit of being home with his car. Or just like any person who drives and risks being part of that 30000 killed each year sees it as an acceptable risk for the benefit of getting somewhere. If we wanted to remain safe at all times we would never get anything done, as almost everything has some risk. The question is, is the risk acceptable in trade for the benefit.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: What happens when it fails
Ann R. Thryft   7/18/2012 12:30:36 PM
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I think the argument that banning cell phone usage "hasn't worked" isn't much different from arguing that banning drunk driving hasn't worked because people still drive drunk: so should we make it OK for people to drive drunk with autonomous driving? Actually, banning drunk driving has worked (if not 100%), at least in lowering the rate of accidents due to it. And that's mostly because of enforcement. I think what's lacking in the case of texting/phoning while driving vs that of drunk driving is that a) people don't see it as wrong, and b) apparently it's not being enforced as much, probably because such a higher percentage of people do it than drive drunk, even before drunk driving enforcement efforts went up. As Bryan points out, people are making a conscious decision to do something they know is not safe: and that goes for both situations. The problem with talking about "acceptable risk" is, acceptable to whom? The risk is not just to the driver, it's also to innocent victims of the driver. I don't see how that's OK, or why it should be rewarded or accommodated.

TJ McDermott
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Re: What happens when it fails
TJ McDermott   7/18/2012 12:51:33 PM
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Ann, the ban on cell phone usage in cars will fail the same way prohibition failed.  In an intellectual sense, people see the idea as good, but in the real sense, they just had to make that one quick call.

When even the COPS are using cell phones while driving (honest, I personally saw this last week), then the law is a bad law.

Bryan Goss
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Re: What happens when it fails
Bryan Goss   7/18/2012 1:43:13 PM
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@JT, I don't think the laws will fail, but I think the only law that will stick is the hands free one, and honestly I do see a big difference in the control of my car between holding a phone to my ear and hands free. I think with hands free it lowers the risk to acceptable. Now, maybe someday fully autonomous driving will let drunks drive home safely. That being said, I do not think we should make something legal just because a lot of people want to do it. Laws are made to restrain the evil desires that we all have.

As for the cops doing it, I have been tailgated so close by a cop on the way to the police station to leave for the day, that I could see the whites of his eye in my rear view mirror. The cops can get any with almost anything they want and they know it. All they have to say is that "they have to sometime break the laws to enforce them." That is what I was told when I tried to report that cop.  

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: What happens when it fails
Ann R. Thryft   7/19/2012 2:07:46 PM
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I don't agree with TJ that the analogy holds, because it doesn't structurally. And that's what analogies are about in order to work and to clarify thinking. I also don't agree with the idea that because people flout a law it's a bad law. I do agree with Bryan that the hands-free law makes the most sense, and that "I do not think we should make something legal just because a lot of people want to do it." Well said. Also well said about some cops' attitude to breaking the law.

Scott Orlosky
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Re: What happens when it fails
Scott Orlosky   7/22/2012 7:12:40 PM
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There has been a lot of work done in aviation to avoid collisions in 3D space.  I have to believe that the technological problem for cars has been pretty much solved and that issues of "personal freedom" and "control" are what limit the implementation.  Frankly I'd love to see a system that prevents "tailgating" become a mandatory part of the care just like air bags.

Charles Murray
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Re: What happens when it fails
Charles Murray   7/24/2012 6:22:47 PM
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To some degree, the technology you mentioned already exists, Scott. Adaptive cruise control would prevent tailgating (at least in some situations) and GM's Super Cruise would probably do it, too. The problem is that the tailgaters probably wouldn't use it.

Headhunter
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Re: What happens when it fails
Headhunter   7/30/2012 8:37:04 PM
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The point of tailgating is well understood, but with drivers being more competitive and less courteous and road sharing, the system cannot work. The system will brake every time someone cuts them off. The drivers behind you will get impatient and start taking risks with the overtaking cars in order to get around you.

 

So many people are so wrapped up in their tiny little lives that they don't recognize their actions as being sinister. They are nearly unaware of the hazards they face or that they produce. The decent driver can only drive to defend himself, continuously.

I think the DMV forgot about Franklin's rule: most people forget in 72 hrs. That includes driving rules and practices. Throw in a decade or so of impatience.

And you have America at it's best.

 

Charles Murray
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Re: What happens when it fails
Charles Murray   8/10/2012 6:05:18 PM
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Headhunter, you've cited a lot of good reasons here for automakers to consider full autonomy. As long as we have systems that can be overruled by dumb drivers, accidents will continue.

david_banks1330
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Re: What happens when it fails
david_banks1330   9/28/2012 6:36:34 AM
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the new technology for automakers are really getting very competitive. not just because they produce very high quality car parts but also because of their very high-end gadgets and technology installed in their cars. just can't wait to see what's next in line.

Charles Murray
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Re: What happens when it fails
Charles Murray   10/2/2012 5:31:54 PM
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It's worth noting that California Governor Jerry Brown signed an autonomous vehicles bill into law last week, legalizing the testing of self-driving cars on the road in that state. The bill will set up procedures and requirements for determining when the cars are road-ready.

http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/25/tech/innovation/self-driving-car-california/index.html

Charles Murray
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Re: What happens when it fails
Charles Murray   7/18/2012 6:45:38 PM
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TJ, as you probably know, the National Transportation Safety Board called for an all-out ban on cell phones in cars (including hands-free phones) last December.  Just as you said, the idea was met with derision. I agree with you, there's a parallel to Prohibition.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: What happens when it fails
Ann R. Thryft   7/19/2012 11:52:55 AM
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TJ, banning cell phone usage in cars is not a valid analogy to prohibition: that's an apple and a banana. The valid analogies are banning cell phone usage in cars and banning drunk drivers, as I pointed out--i.e., the usage of the thing--or banning cell phones altogether and prohibition--i.e., the thing itself--which was not being suggested. And if I saw a cop using a cell phone, I'd call the cops on him/her. Unless they have a special exemption, which might be the case. Does anyone know?

TJ McDermott
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Re: What happens when it fails
TJ McDermott   7/19/2012 12:19:51 PM
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Ann, one of the reasons for the introduction of prohibition WAS medical.  In that regard, the analogy holds.

If safety is the goal, then speed limits should also be returned to 55 mph, and strictly enforced.

A law that is constantly and consistently flouted is a bad law, no matter the good intention.  Prohibition had terrific intentions, but no one wanted it to affect them personally.  It got repealled.

Cell phone bans also are a good intention, but will be revised in some way (such as permitting use in semi-autonomous vehicles).  If the law is intended to prevent distracted driving, then the NTSB's prohibition of ALL hand-held electronics should be put in place.

However, the NTSB rule should go further than that.  Mirrors in the sun visors should be added to the forbidden list, lest someone be distracted by looking in the visor.  Car radios should be on the list as well.  Even the environmental controls can cause a driver to become distracted.

Mothers are able to manage unruly offspring ("Don't make me come back there!"), but the idea of passengers being able to distract drivers means the driver should be in an enclosed space dedicated to the driver alone (the word chauffeur was used in an earlier response).

 

ChasChas
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attentiveness
ChasChas   7/17/2012 11:31:42 AM
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If the system still requires full driver attentiveness, the driver may as well be doing driving. It is a lot easier to be attentive if you have a dependent chore to do.

apresher
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Semi-Autonomous Driving
apresher   7/17/2012 2:55:58 PM
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As much as this is interesting technology, I agree with Jhankwitz that the lawyers (or certain types of lawyers) would potentially have a field day with this.

Gorski
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Semi-automatic driving
Gorski   2/19/2013 3:55:28 PM
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I think the idea of semi-automatic driving can be a good one if used properly. In traffic it would allow cars to be closer together with an automatic brake to maintain a safe distance according to vehicle speed. On long drives the driver could get more comfortable by not having to steer and be locked behind the wheel. The danger would be if the system is not foolproof people would br hurt andf lawyers would get richer.

 

Gorski PE

Charles Murray
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Re: Semi-automatic driving
Charles Murray   8/28/2013 4:34:11 PM
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High-end cars have some of those features today. Adaptive cruise control, lanekeeping and collision avoidance are gaining broader acceptance and winning the trust of vehicle owners, from what I hear.  

Cabe Atwell
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Re: Semi-automatic driving
Cabe Atwell   6/10/2014 2:42:24 AM
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I remember watching Humvees driving by with nobody in them while working at Lockheed Martin's Colorado facility. Talk about autonomous but then again, they were probably driven remotely through RC as they were outfitted with an antenna array. 

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