No self control?

There are pluses and minuses to the increasing application of driver assistance systems that seem to be pointing us towards full automation

Published:  14 March, 2019

Having witnessed the growth of passive driver assist systems and the intent to move towards fully autonomous vehicle control, my topic this month is to raise both thought and debate towards the implications. My first intention is to separate assistance from autonomy.

I fully support assistance as it provides a safer environment for the driver to concentrate on vehicle control. Many of these systems have been available for a very long time, including possibly the very first, power steering and power windows.

ABS to power steering
Anti-lock braking systems (ABS) are, I think, an excellent example where drivers may be misled as to the safety improvements. However, the laws of physics still apply, and the co-efficient of friction and kinetic energy will always dictate the retardation distance and vector. Obvious enhancements to ABS work as a fully integrated system, including dynamic chassis stability.
Early variants simply monitored the wheel speed sensor frequency, reducing the engine throttle angle to reduce torque through the driving wheels when a significant differential existed. Recent additions now include variable geometry anti-roll bar and adjustable rate shock absorber damping with self- levelling.

Evolving in parallel with these systems, and this is where there is an arguable transition from passive to active or automatous control, is the steering system. The introduction of power steering does have great advantages in reducing driver fatigue and improving mechanical response to steering wheel input. The next evolution was variable rate steering assist, whereby the assistance is proportional to steering angle and road speed. with the evolution of brushless motors and highly accurate position sensor technology, steering systems now offer corrective suggestion to the driver via a subtle torsion bar within the upper steering column. Should the driver resist this small force the system will disengage leaving the driver fully in control.
I am choosing to ignore for the moment fully autonomous steering control as it embodies a whole array of additional control input requirements.  This allows me to focus on some of the more peripheral driver support systems which I do fully endorse. Matrix vehicle lighting control is possibly one of the best safety improvements. This enables full beam lighting always, yet avoiding oncoming vehicle light stray. Smart cruise control is also especially useful on motorways in uniform traffic conditions.

Compliance
The next group of driver assist starts to cross the boundaries of assistance, this is due to the introduction of long- range transmitters and receptors, lane divergence, and vehicle proximity awareness. This technology does of course lend itself to other previously mentioned systems.  

There should be a very sobering pause at this point.  To maintain system integrity and accuracy from the above systems a little thought should be given to the almost non- existent function called calibration.it is critical. If you fully consider the implications of everyday servicing and repairs that affect these systems, compliance is the responsibility of the repairer. This means you.
This is the point where I cannot avoid the transition towards full driverless autonomous control. Due to several critical considerations, technical compliance, political compliance, legal compliance, and public acceptance, it is to be rolled out in five steps over several years. Ford recently suggested it could be implemented by 2021, with level zero full human control, to level five where the human has no input responsibility.

What of the globe’s biggest commerce giant’s? Intel has just purchased an Israeli autonomy tech company for $15 billion. Google has spent a modest $30m, and Facebook is in it too. All hellbent on convincing us of the benefits in total vehicle automation. Given their past and current dishonesty, self-interest, and responsibility avoidance you can bet it all going to be a financial beartrap.
 However, my personal feelings are more complex. Humans has evolved over many thousands of years by overcoming and controlling a multitude of challenges. It has enabled our brain and cognitive functions to develop to incredible levels. Imagine then, being trapped in an autonomous container with absolutely no functional requirement. What will you do by way of brain stimulation or choices. I accept traffic jams are worst than toothache, but driving is a socially shared experience. Think of the simple activities that release endorphins, such as cycling and walking. Why? because of the brain stimulation and cognitive responses, a form of achievement.

If you must have total autonomy for your travel requirements, then public transport is available now. My acid test for the techno maniacs out there is, given that the technology is currently available and has been proven over several years, would you choose to fly in an aircraft with no pilot? Remember that even in autopilot there are teams of humans constantly monitoring the flight path and technical systems.

Credibility
I’m not ignorant of the accident statistics that give credibility to automation, if that was the true motivation, then smoking and alcohol would be banned tomorrow as they kill and maim an awful lot more.

It has been suggested that our home environment would be improved as our car could drop us off and then park its self in a less congested place, so if you live in central London your car could end up in a South Downs village. On a more sinister note, if an autonomous vehicle faced with an inevitable collision from a oncoming car, would it mount the pavement and choose the mother with a pram as the better survivable outcome for its occupants?

The very best qualities of life always come back to interaction, be it with other people, pets or machines, what next? When do machines decide we are the redundant component? Disagree, or debate, but don’t accuse me of not embracing technology, I have spent my life trying to master it.





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