As the recent kerfuffle around Tesla’s Autopilot has shown, we still have some way to go before everyone is on board with the idea of people being driven by their cars on public roads. Until we get to a point where fully autonomous (level 4) cars are capable of taking us from A to B with no human intervention beyond telling it the destination, self-driving cars are going to need a (relatively) alert human occupant in the driver’s seat, ready to take control if necessary.
While it is true that many automakers are pushing for self-driving vehicles, they’re not the only ones. Both in the US and elsewhere, governments are also gung-ho for the technology, as it has the potential to make a real dent in the annual death toll on our roads.
Over in Germany, Reuters reports that the country’s transport ministry has issued a proposal that would allow for drivers of autonomous cars to relax their guard somewhat. They will have to remain seated behind the controls—so don’t expect chairs that swivel out of the way just yet—and there will have to be on-board data recorders that log the car’s autonomous behavior.
Arguably, Tesla has shown the way here. The company’s electric vehicles are all continually in communication with the company’s servers, and it’s not afraid to pull data logs in the event of a crash to determine exactly what state the car was in at the time. Indeed, one of the recent incidents which set media pearls a-clutching was shown by Tesla not to have involved Autopilot at all.
Other improvements to current semi-autonomous driving modes are in the works from automakers. Right now, the only way your Tesla, Audi, or Volvo (or any of the other level 2 cars) knows whether you’re paying attention is by monitoring whether or not the steering wheel is being held. But Autocar tells us that the next Audi A8 will add a camera trained on the driver to the mix, with the idea being that if the system believes the driver isn’t capable of taking control, the car will pull over to the side of the road.