US regulators discuss reliability, safety of self-driving cars

By on October 24, 2012, 4:00 PM

Self driving cars are moving closer to reality as a research initiative to determine the safety and reliability of the technology prepares to launch in the US.

During an industry gathering sponsored by Swedish automaker Volvo and the Swedish Embassy in Washington, David Strickland, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said automated vehicles are the next evolutionary step in car technology and they hold the potential to save thousands of lives. His agency has already engaged extensive discussions with automakers and Google about the path to consumer adoption.

Strickland noted that human error was a factor in around 90% of the over 33,000 traffic deaths on American roads in 2010. That is expected to drop drastically once computers take the wheel, but changes in how vehicle safety is regulated are still required. So far three US states -- Nevada, Florida and California -- have authorized testing of automated cars on their roads to help the technology and regulation around it mature.

Currents tests involve the driver ceding control of the vehicle to its computers but still require one person to take manual control when necessary and another to monitor the course plotted by the computer system.

Google has already logged over 300,000 miles in testing, accumulating all that experience and putting it back into the vehicle. Meanwhile, Volvo has been testing vehicle-to-vehicle communications and plans to introduce a "traffic jam assist" system in 2014 that will let a car follow the vehicle in front of it in low-speed (up to 30 mph) situations, making acceleration, braking and steering corrections as needed without input from the driver.

Besides the potential for general road safety, self-driving cars could provide a convenient means of transportation for people with physical limitations -- as highlighted by Google in the video below.

So, when will people get to buy self-driving cars? Google is certainly moving fast but a lot more work is required to make sure the technology is safe in complicated driving situations. Strickland declined to say when the government might propose safety standards for automated cars.

User Comments: 12

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Timonius Timonius said:

One of the complications will be the shift of blame from the individual to the technology (and company creating it) when it comes down to 'errors' (ie. human injury and/or death). The other complication involves a paradigm shift in the way we think and approve of such technologies.

1 person liked this | 9Nails, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Question is: am I ready to let me car do the driving for me?

1 person liked this | cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Question is: am I ready to let me car do the driving for me?

Question is: am I ready for a hacker to crash my car for me?

Timonius Timonius said:

Question is: am I ready to let me car do the driving for me?


Question is: am I ready for a hacker to crash my car for me?

Gives new meaning to the term 'wardriving'? :p

treetops treetops said:

If every car had a synced gps this would be cake, they already have robots that use depth perception, I always though we should put magnets under the roads and have hover cars, maybe in the year 3000 lol

Gareis Gareis said:

Inb4 auto theft becomes 100% easier.

cliffordcooley cliffordcooley, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Inb4 auto theft becomes 100% easier.

I'm pretty sure a physical device (such as a key or local transmitter) would still be required to activate automated features.

Gareis Gareis said:

I meant in terms of hacking the vehicle and activating it from a distance. It was ever so slightly in jest

negroplasty negroplasty said:

Can't be worse than some of these ****** they seem happy to give licenses to...

ikesmasher said:

Ill stick with driving myself.

Guest said:

Self-driving cars? we already know that concept since long ago, we just sit in the back and tell where we'd want to go.. and it's called taxi or cab

Guest said:

I can see this happening now. They'll let the concept dwell a little until people give in to the idea. Once self-driving cars are common enough it will be like windows. Hackers everywhere. You know someone is rich? Awesome! Just execute code, crash their car, steal their money and nothing blows up. Your going to the bank? Me too but I'll let you do the driving and I'll just wait until you have they money.

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