In doing research for a previous post, I found an article that briefly discussed 5 requirements of a driver. The article was discussing medical conditions that would reduce the capability of a driver in one or more of the areas. Here I will briefly discuss those five requirements, and compare human, automation, and autonomy.
1. A basic minimum of strength and mobility
Humans have a wide variety of strength compared to one another. I don’t think there are any readers who expect me to find a scientific journal to back up my statement that robots can be made universally stronger than people. Mobility is a slightly harder issue. Most robots have far fewer “axis of motion” than people. In the cause of both autonomous and automated vehicles this will not matter. That is because these vehicles don’t need to be mobile since each input (steering, gas, break, gearshift, wipers, and signaling) generally goes to an electrical signal. These electrical signals will be controlled, not the mechanical controls.
2. Ability to see and concentrate adequately on the roadway and traffic,
I’ve touched on this briefly. Let’s break this into two parts: the ability to see, and the ability to concentrate. Humans have a wide variety of compared to one another in both areas. Automated and autonomous vehicles may not be as good as the best humans for some time. However, they may be able to sense things unseen – for example, they may communicate with traffic signals, satellites, and other cars in such a way as to make up for other deficiencies. That said, I believe that a combination of current technologies far surpasses the ability of some – if not all – of our current drivers.
The second part is concentration. We all know the ability of other drivers to concentrate. Autonomous vehicles will be able to concentrate with perfection. There is a possibility that automatic cars may have difficulty determining when to “take over” if there are competing inputs. This is less of an issue with concentration than a decision making decision.
3. Ability to interpret and make judgments about real or impending changes in the traffic situation,
Humans again have a wide variety of abilities here. In slow moving contexts, humans can read other human faces. One day computers may surpass humans at this. For the remainder of my life, I anticipate that most humans will be superior to machines in this area. When roads are completely populated with autonomous vehicles, the entire traffic situation will be communicated amongst all vehicles so that all interpretation and judgments will seem to be made by consensus. Which in fact may be the case.
For a period, I anticipate that a mix of automated, autonomous, and “traditional” cars will coexist. At that time, automated and autonomous vehicles may have an inferiority here. That is, they may not be able to interpret impending changes in traffic situations. This disadvantage will be offset by their faster reaction time. Furthermore, they may be programmed to be defensive enough that if they face a “known unknown” they will slow down. A distinct advantage over a teenage boy.
4. Knowledge of traffic laws
In some previous articles (Scofflaw and Lagalist) I discussed that while this may be perfect in an autonomous car, it may not be desirable. Human drivers are good at best, and downright ignorant at worst.
5. Knowledge of the mechanics and, to a lesser extent, the physics of driving.
Again, humans have a wide variety of abilities here. Autonomous cars will have a far superior knowledge of the mechanics and physics of driving. However, they will not use this strictly for a gain in safety but also for performance reasons. Depending on the feature set, automated cars can understand the limits of physics, interpret driver intentions, and take action that best meets both requirements. They will likely be travelling further within their safety envelop, an therefore may be much safer.
So what’s the score?
Among a mixed crowd, Humans have an advantage in communicating with other humans. It’s possible that automated cars will both be operating well within physical demands AND have a superior knowledge of mechanics/physics. In all other situations, autonomous cars are better drivers.