Driverless car ethics: Who should die?

A large truck speeding in the opposite direction suddenly veers into your lane.Jerk the wheel left and smash into a bicyclist?Swerve right toward a family on foot?Slam the brakes and brace for head-on impact?Drivers make split-second decisions based on instinct and a limited view of the dangers around them. The cars of the future — those that can drive themselves thanks to an array of sensors and computing power — will have near-perfect perception and react based on preprogrammed logic.While cars that do most or even all of the driving may be much safer, accidents still happen. Driver's license for driverless car moves ahead in NJIt's relatively easy to write computer code that directs the car how to respond to a sudden dilemma. The hard part is deciding what that response should be."The problem is, who's determining what we want?" asks Jeffrey Miller, a University of Southern California professor who develops driverless vehicle software. "You're not going to have 100 percent buy-in that says, 'Hit the guy on the right.' "Companies that are testing driverless cars are not focusing on these moral questions.The company most aggressively developing self-driving cars isn't a carmaker at all. Google has invested heavily in the technology, driving hundreds of thousands of miles on roads and highways in tricked-out Priuses and Lexus SUVs. Leaders at the Silicon Valley giant have said they want to get the technology to the public by 2017. Driverless cars? Alternative fuel? They're already hereFor now, Google is focused on mastering the most common driving scenarios, programming the cars to drive defensively in hopes of avoiding the rare instances when an accident is truly unavoidable."People are philosophizing about it, but the question about real-world capability and real-world events that can affect us, we really haven't studied that issue," said Ron Medford, the director of safety for Google's self-driving car project.One of those philosophers is Patrick Continue Reading

Driverless cars? Alternative fuel? It’s already here

Our homes are tricked out with the latest technology, as is our office and even our pockets and purses. So, why aren't our vehicles?Actually, it's not a question of it happening "down the road." A lot of the tech is available now. Auto manufacturers are doubling down on ways to make your commute safer, entertaining, more connected and better on the environment. The following is a look at a few examples of the latest in emerging automotive tech. Semi-autonomous and autonomous carsGiven the fact human error accounts for more than 90 percent of road accidents, perhaps we ought to rely more on our vehicles to help keep us safe? That's the idea behind "autonomous" cars. Also referred to as "driverless cars" these vehicles are capable of sensing their environments and navigating without any human input. "There's still a lot of work ahead, but along with many tech giants (like Google), all the major automotive companies are working on this because it's the future," confirmed John O'Dell, a senior editor at, a popular online resource for automotive information. "Many baby boomers, for example, have the money and desire for this kind of this technology."O'Dell, who specializes in technologies and environmental trends in the automotive world, said society has to catch up with the technology. "Whether we're talking price, legislation or liability – for instance, what insurance policies will look like and who will be responsible if something goes wrong – we're still a few years out from fully autonomous vehicles."In the meantime, "semi-autonomous" technology is becoming more popular. As the name suggests, the vehicle assists the driver rather than take complete control.One such example is adaptive cruise control, where cars – embedded with cameras, radar, sonar and infrared sensors – slow down if getting too close to another vehicle or pedestrian. O'Dell said a similar technology called Traffic Jam Assist allows some Mercedes Benz S-Class Continue Reading

Driverless cars and trucks threaten some jobs

Ronald De Feo has watched robots take factory jobs for years. Now he sees them threatening a new class of worker: People who drive for a living.“I am in Pittsburgh; it’s a test market for Uber’s autonomous vehicle,” says De Feo, CEO of the industrial materials firm Kennametal. “We see all these (automated) Ubers running around the streets of Pittsburgh, a confusing and difficult place to navigate. If they can make that work, what do you think happens to the job of being a taxi driver?”Computer scientists and economists say the threat isn’t merely theoretical: Automated cars pose an existential threat to the many Americans who drive for a living: 2.9 million truckers and delivery drivers, 674,000 bus drivers, 181,000 cab drivers and chauffeurs.The big question is how long it will take auto and tech companies to clear the technical hurdles to turning the streets over to driverless cars.“I don’t see herds of robotic trucks running down the highway in the next few years,” says Vern Meyerotto, a 61-year-old truck driver in Denver. “There’s an awful lot of development that needs to be done on it.”Meyerotto, who’s been driving since 2007, points to the self-driving Tesla Model S car that crashed in May, killing the driver, after the car’s cameras failed to detect a tractor-trailer crossing its path. He doesn’t expect to see robotic trucks doing much driving for 10 or 15 more years.But the quick development of driverless cars has caught economists by surprise.Assessing which jobs were vulnerable to robots in a 2004 book, economists Frank Levy of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Richard Murnane of Harvard University reckoned that truck drivers were safe. Surely, a machine couldn’t negotiate rush-hour traffic without a helping human hand. MORE: Foreigners didn't take U.S. jobs; robots did MORE: Tesla’s not the only automaker pushing autopilotSix Continue Reading

Waze’s growth chief: Even driverless cars need a better route

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Countless tech start-ups say they want to change the world.A visit to the folks who run Waze, the traffic app, gives a more precise variation of that goal: to ease traffic congestion globally and save folks 10 minutes a day on their commute.“Traffic won’t be gone in five years,” says Di-Ann Eisnor, the No. 2 exec for the Israel-based  unit of Alphabet's Google. “It will be better managed.” Google paid $1.1 billion to swallow up Waze in 2013, while still operating its own navigation app, the more widely used Google Maps.Waze is the app for finding the best route around town, usually offering side streets you’ve never considered. It's beloved by a loyal core of users. When USA TODAY asked readers on Facebook and Twitter recently to name the most useful app of the year, Waze won hands down, followed by Uber, Google Maps, Evernote and Yelp.You can find the U.S. operations for Waze on the sprawling Google campus here, in a transportation "Geo" wing that is mostly all about Google Maps. Visitors are greeted by a branded Google Maps car and tour bus, and a big Maps icon before entering the building, which also houses operations for Google Earth.In the small section of the building devoted to Waze, there’s a wall-size Waze map of San Francisco and assorted Waze swag, along with a handful of employees, including Eisnor, whose title is head of growth; Noam Bardin, the "Chief" U.S. Wazer; and sales, marketing, public relations, business development, engineering and advertising. But the lion's share of Waze's 200 employees are based in Israel.That modest presence masks the impact Waze has had on commuting life."It makes your trip more efficient and faster," says Frederick Lean of Los Angeles. Without Waze, "it would take much more time to get from point A to point B."Google was “lucky” to have nabbed Waze for the $1.1 Continue Reading

Intel exec claims driverless cars will be available in less than a decade

Intel CTO Justin Rattner claimed on Monday that driverless cars will be available within 10 years and will, of course, contain Intel chips. Autonomous or driverless cars have been garnering headlines in recent months. In September, the state of California signed a bill clearing the way for driverless cars to share the road with other vehicles. In October, Google's executive chairman Eric E. Schmidt claimed that in his vision of the future, automated cars to drive us to and from work would be commonplace. U.S. GOVERNMENT TO BEGIN PROCESS TOWARD PROPOSING STANDARDS FOR AUTONOMOUS CARS Rattner added his two cents in an interview with Computerworld prior to the start of Intel's European Research and Innovation Conference. "I think in the past the automakers expressed a lot of doubt about the long-term viability of [autonomous auto] technology. Some were more dismissive than others," he said. "But I would say the automobile industry is definitely warming up to the idea." As such, he believes that by early next decade they will be on the forecourt ready for the average driver to buy. Driverless technology nothing new But the simple fact is that driverless and remote controlled cars have been with us in one form or another since 1936, and carmakers from around the world have invested heavily in their development. The Mercedes S Class has been able to autonomously avoid collisions, restrict speed relevant to traffic in front and behind and automatically brake at junctions since 2005. What's more, the 2013 model will have a fully autonomous mode for sub-25mph speeds, enabling it to drive itself through cities, around car parks and in heavy and slow-moving traffic. Meanwhile Volkswagen has been producing a completely autonomous Golf since 2006. Called the VW Golf GTi 53+1 (the 53 refers to Herbie, the cinematic VW Beetle with a mind of its own, while the +1 signifies it's one better), it has sufficient intelligence not just to follow a route but Continue Reading

Driverless cars from Toyota and Audi bring high tech mainstream at Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas

Automakers and technology firms are jumping on the bandwagon of the driverless car, which remains a concept as well as a platform for new technologies to improve safety on the road. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, Toyota and Audi showed off their ideas for autonomous vehicles, in the wake of the push by Google on its driverless car. And others may follow suit. Toyota drew considerable attention with its electronically gussied-up Lexus sedan, equipped with a host of sensors and cameras that can detect what is around the vehicle. READ MORE: STUDY SAYS DRIVERLESS CARS COULD QUADRUPLE HIGHWAY CAPACITY "It has the ability to drive itself, but we won't allow it," said Jim Pisz, corporate manager at Toyota North America. Pisz said the technology is similar to Google's with the use of electronics, but that "the Google focus is on software mapping, that's what they're really good at. Toyota focuses on safety programs and more integrated programs." The Japanese automaker maintains that its 2013 Lexus LS, also being shown at the expo, already has "the world's most advanced pre-collision safety system" but its driverless cars are only being used in closed research centers, unlike Google's publicized road tours. The growing use of advanced electronics for auto safety, communications and entertainment has prompted a record eight automakers to attend the Las Vegas show, along with dozens of firms working on related products and services. "Electronics are vital to our cars. Today's cars are rolling computers," Audi executive Wolfgang Duerheimer told reporters at CES. The German automaker's Ulrich Hofmann told AFP that the new technology "helps the driver in situations where it's boring to drive, and leaves you to drive when it is fun." At the Las Vegas tech confab, Audi showed its concept for a driverless vehicle in a simulator. Hofmann said an autonomous car could be developed within five to eight years but noted that Continue Reading

For driverless cars, a moral dilemma: Who lives or dies?

Boston — Imagine you’re behind the wheel when your brakes fail. As you speed toward a crowded crosswalk, you’re confronted with an impossible choice: veer right and mow down a large group of elderly people or veer left into a woman pushing a stroller.Now imagine you’re riding in the back of a self-driving car. How would it decide?Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are asking people worldwide how they think a robot car should handle such life-or-death decisions. Their findings so far show people prefer a self-driving car to act in the greater good, sacrificing its passenger if it can save a crowd of pedestrians. They just don’t want to get into that car.The findings present a dilemma for car makers and governments eager to introduce self-driving vehicles on the promise that they’ll be safer than human-controlled cars.“There is a real risk that if we don’t understand those psychological barriers and address them through regulation and public outreach, we may undermine the entire enterprise,” said Iyad Rahwan, an associate professor at the MIT Media Lab. “People will say they’re not comfortable with this. It would stifle what I think will be a very good thing for humanity.” RELATED:  Driverless cars for travelers: More questions than answers RELATED:  Case IH is developing driverless tractorsAfter publishing research last year surveying U.S. residents, Rahwan and colleagues at the University of Toulouse in France and the University of California, Irvine, are expanding their surveys and looking at how responses vary in different countries.They also are using a website created by MIT researchers called the Moral Machine , which allows people to play the role of judging who lives or dies. A jaywalking person or several dogs riding in the driverless car? A pregnant woman or a homeless man?Preliminary, unpublished research based on millions of responses from more Continue Reading

Driverless cars may bring new age of suburban sprawl

It’s 2027 (or 2037) and the age of the self-driving car. City-dwellers have traded in their car keys for ride hails. Street parking has been replaced by wider sidewalks and bike lanes, while developers are busy converting garages into much-needed housing.That’s one vision of how self-driving cars will affect U.S. real estate, laid out in a report by MIT’s Center for Real Estate. But it’s not the only one. Even as reclaimed parking spaces fuel a downtown building boom, autonomous vehicles will encourage builders to push deeper into the exurban fringe, confident that home buyers will tolerate longer commutes now that they don’t have to drive, according to the report, sponsored by a unit of Capital One Financial Corp.In the first scenario, cities become more like New York, with walkable streets and fleets of autonomous vehicles for public transit. In the second, they become more like Dallas or Phoenix, which already function as a collection of suburbs.“It’s a polarization,” said Albert Saiz, a co-author of the paper, which also covers subjects such as the future of retail space and strategies for producing more-affordable housing. “I see both things happening at once.”It’s far from clear how long it will be before fully autonomous vehicles are ready to rule the road, or how governments will choose to regulate them. The 25 biggest U.S. cities generated a combined $5 billion last year from parking tickets, vehicle registrations, and other related revenue, according to data compiled by Governing magazine. Governments will also have to grapple with the likelihood that as the cost of the vehicles comes down, fleet companies may overburden roads with them.In New York, it won’t be until 2040 that “land use planning is permanently altered” to accommodate self-driving cars, according to a study this month by the Regional Plan Association, an urban research and advocacy group for the metropolitan Continue Reading

Michigan bills expand use of driverless cars beyond testing

LANSING — The U.S. auto industry's home state of Michigan is preparing for the advent of self-driving cars by pushing legislation to allow for public sales and operation — a significant expansion beyond an existing state law that sanctions such vehicles for testing only.While widespread use of driverless cars may be years away, lawmakers and transportation leaders say the technology is progressing so rapidly that Michigan must stay ahead of the curve or risk losing automotive research and development to other states.Under a newly introduced package of bipartisan bills that would update 2013 laws to allow for the operation of autonomous cars on public roads without anyone at the wheel, tight "platoons" of smart commercial trucks could travel in unison at coordinated speeds. Also, the Detroit Three — General Motors, Fiat Chrysler and Ford — and other auto manufacturers would be authorized to run networks of on-demand self-driving vehicles.It is a nod to the manufacturers' increasing efforts to reinvent themselves as "mobility" companies. GM this year invested $500 million in ride-hailing company Lyft and bought a startup that makes autonomous-vehicle software. Toyota recently announced an investment in Lyft's rival, Uber. Google, which is opening a self-driving tech development in the Novi, is partnering with Fiat Chrysler to test software in 100 minivans."It's coming. It's coming fast," Michigan Department of Transportation Director Kirk Steudle said of the merging of Silicon Valley and Motor City technology. "The technology is at a point where it will be incorporated into something that is mass-produced."Michigan is among seven states with laws related to autonomous cars, while Arizona's governor has issued an executive order. Nevada was the first state to authorize self-driving vehicles in 2011, and California, Florida, North Dakota, Tennessee and Utah followed.Google, based in California, has said it wants to make cars available to the Continue Reading

Uber dispatches driverless cars to Arizona

SAN FRANCISCO — Arizona governor Doug Ducey welcomed Uber's self-driving pilot one day after the California Department of Motor Vehicles moved to revoke the vehicles' registrations.“Arizona welcomes Uber self-driving cars with open arms and wide open roads," Ducey said in a statement. "While California puts the brakes on innovation and change with more bureaucracy and more regulation, Arizona is paving the way for new technology and new businesses."The Uber vehicles were loaded onto trucks headed for Arizona on Thursday. "We’ll be expanding our self-driving pilot there in the next few weeks, and we’re excited to have the support of Governor Ducey," the company said in a statement.Uber began testing 16 self-driving vehicles in San Francisco earlier this month. State regulators ordered the cars off the road until the ride-hailing company obtained a permit. It said the driverless cars were not properly marked as test vehicles."Uber is welcome to test its autonomous technology in California like everybody else, through the issuance of a testing permit that can take less than 72 hours to issue after a completed application is submitted," regulators said.Uber claimed it did not need a permit because the cars do not continuously drive themselves.Uber said it remained committed to California and would redouble its efforts "to develop workable statewide rules."A signature effort of Ducey has been opening Arizona to the "sharing" economy. He supported granting ride-hailing access to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. He also formed a Governor’s Council  to loosen regulations on startups.Ducey said he signed an executive order in 2015 supporting "the testing and operation of self-driving cars in Arizona with an emphasis on innovation, economic growth, and most importantly, public safety." Continue Reading