Self-Driving Cars are a reality, and so are their shortcomings. This can be readily seen in the fatal accident which occurred in Arizona this past March. Elain Herzberg was killed in Tempe, Arizona, as she walked her bicycle across the street. The investigation into the accident seems to point to an emergency stop system which had been disabled in the vehicle.
Tests Suspended on Self-Driving Cars
Because of this deadly accident, Uber has stopped tests of self-driving cars, for now. This affects test areas in Pittsburgh, Toronto, Arizona, and San Francisco. The final results of the investigation need to be released before testing will resume.
Apparently, the emergency braking system was disabled, while being controlled by a computer. It is not clear why the system was disabled. Had it been working, the car would most likely have stopped in time, or, at least, the human occupant of the car would have had warning and been able to stop the vehicle.
Technology Failed This Time
Self-driving cars are equipped with GPS units and sensors that supply information about their surroundings, video, laser range finders, and Radio Detection And Ranging (Radar) are used to assist the cars in navigating autonomously. The echoes of transmitted radio waves along with laser beam transmission feedback allow the car to “see” its surroundings and detect objects in front of it.
The car creates a 3D map from information supplied by the sensors. GPS and the inertial navigation system help with this. The car is then able to make decisions for next moves, through the control system. Ideally, the system takes into account dangerous or impossible moves and harmful objects. The best path is then delivered from the control system into the car’s actuators. The steering, speed, and braking are controlled through the actuators.
The Price of Advancement
The car in question was traveling at 43 mph. Had the system been functioning, the car would have been able to brake 1.3 seconds before impact. Although the sensors spotted Herzberg, since the emergency braking system was not online, she was hit.
Self-driving cars have the potential to make a huge difference on America’s highways. They could eliminate drunk driving, distracted driving, fatigued driving. They could provide transportation for those who cannot drive. By and large, these advancements could be a very good thing. At the same time, the price for advancements in technology is sometimes very high.
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