Misunderstanding Humans

Justin Fritz has a really valuable article at the WS daily.  The gist of the story is “How many times have you avoided an accident by a fraction of a second because of a gut reaction or just plain old defensive driving skills?… It’s not likely that a driverless car could make the same accident-avoiding call.”

His example is one in which a human driver cuts off the u-car.  Mr. Fritz envisions the u-car maximally breaking in order to prevent a collision with the offender, and getting hit by a following human driver.  As a human, Mr. Fritz believes he would slow down more human-like (humanely?) as he saw the leading car entering his lane.

He makes a very important underlying point – (experienced) Human drivers chose to drive “inefficiently” and gain a safety advantage.  Mr. Fritz points out that a u-car wouldn’t HAVE to make that trade, but that other human drivers would be more likely to hit the u-car if another human made an aggressive maneuver.

First and foremost, programmers (a cohort to which I belong) have long had to implement indications to guide users (and bystanders) in cases where the automated system could no longer control ideally.  A simple example is that of an alarm in a factory.  Needing to have safety alarms and manual back-ups doesn’t mean a fully manual system is to be preferred.  In this case, the u-car could implement a warning device in the rear of the car.  Hey- we already have and use tail lights, don’t we?

One of the advantages of the U-car would be its ability to better determine actual conditions.  Many people are terrible at depth perception, and relative speed evaluation.  The u-car has the potential to be perfect at both.  In this example, while a person would break and back off in order to provide the space needed for a safe following distance, the u-car wouldn’t have to.  It’s superior reaction time would mean that it wouldn’t need to do anything as long as the new car in front was going at an appropriate speed.  Not only that, it is conceivable that the u-car could indicate breaking a second before actually doing so.  The reason it may want to break would be for comfort of the leading driver.

So what are some key points for u-car developers to remember?

  1. Just because a human would do something in your seat does not mean you have to.
  2. Do what is expected.  If you can safely act like a human, you probably should.
  3. Signal Smartly – the human mind is limited in its ability to send communications, but can process many incoming signals.

Overall, I thought it was a great article, identifying a common fear.  Thank you!


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