You Snooze, You Lose: A New Challenge for Autonomous Vehicles

The old saying “your safety is in your own hands” may become a thing of the past if the technology behind self-driving cars lives up to its promises. But as we become more reliant on self-driving technology, will we ever reach a point where we can do away with human drivers altogether?  A recent article from Bloomberg highlights just one of the unexpected challenges with transitioning from human-controlled to fully-autonomous vehicles.

A Whole New Level

The automotive sector recently elected the Society of Automotive Engineers’ automated driving levels in order to give consumers a stepping stone in understanding new self-driving technology. These levels range from Level 0 vehicles, which entirely require constant human control to Level 5 vehicles, which are completely autonomous.

As the automotive industry continues to reinvent itself, Ford Motor CO. has its hands full with its attempts to completely take out the all-important human component. Unlike BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen’s Level 3 qualification, Ford is focusing on skipping that level to offer total vehicle automation. Ford’s vision is for not only autonomous driving by 2021, but also the outright removal of the steering wheel, brake, and gas pedal. Although this driverless vehicle will literally be on a whole new level (between Level 4 & Level 5), controversy has been sparked amongst automakers that believe safety is at risk.

A Drive for Safety

Following testing for its self-driving cars, Ford has released information that even its trained engineers are snoozing while observing the vehicle.  In the midst of this problem, company researchers have tried to keep their engineers alert by using bells, buzzers, warning lights, vibrating seats and shaking steering wheels. These attempts to stimulate attention are a temporary solution to a looming problem. Instead, Ford concluded that human intervention is unreliable and thus, unnecessary in their vehicles. In fact, according to Nidhi Kalra, co-director of the Rand Center for Decision Making Under Uncertainty, “There’s evidence to suggest that Level 3 may show an increase in traffic crashes.” On the other hand, supporters of human intervention believe that in dire situations, putting real hands on the wheel can make a huge difference. There is even talk of Level 4 and Level 5 vehicles not yet having a sensor that would allow for future crash prediction. Yet, Ford still advocates that human intervention lacks the understanding of the “human factor”- meaning that it is impossible to know how long it could take for a person to get their attention off of their emails, texts, or nap time, onto the road. As a matter of fact, with so many distractions on the road, safety can never be an issue solely drawn out in black and white.

Navigating into the Future

Self-driving cars are now the cornerstone for automotive innovation. Yet, with so many challenges, how can companies like Ford guarantee a reliable and safe driving experience? Ford is a long-time Dassault Systèmes customer and has invested in our design and simulation capabilities to ensure the company’s ability to innovate can stay ahead of changes across the automotive industry. To learn more about how Dassault Systèmes is helping manufacturers bring the concept of autonomous vehicles to life, visit our Transportation & Mobility page.

Rebecca Shpektor

Rebecca is a currently a senior at Boston University majoring in public relations and mass communications. She loves creative writing, binge watching episodes of Black Mirror while cuddling with her Pomsky puppy, and eating sushi in excessive amounts. One day, she hopes to explore every country.

Latest posts by Rebecca Shpektor (see all)