How can people safely take control from a self-driving car?

November 30, 2015 byJustin Pritchard
How can people safely take control from a self-driving car?
This Friday, Nov. 13, 2015 file photo provided by Virginia Tech shows Virginia Tech Center for Technology Development Program Administration Specialist Greg Brown behind the wheel of a driverless car during a test ride showing the alert system handing over automation to the driver, while traveling street in Blacksburg, Va. New cars that can steer and brake themselves may lull drivers into a false sense of security. One way to keep people alert may be providing distractions that are now illegal, just one surprising finding from Stanford University research that studied the behavior of students in a self-driving car simulator.(Justin Fine/Virginia Tech via AP, File)

New cars that can steer and brake themselves risk lulling people in the driver's seat into a false sense of security—and even to sleep. One way to keep people alert may be providing distractions that are now illegal.

That was one surprising finding when researchers put Stanford University students in a simulated self-driving car to study how they reacted when their robo-chauffer needed help.

The experiment was one in a growing number that assesses how cars can safely hand control back to a person when their self-driving software and sensors are overwhelmed or overmatched. With some models already able to stay in their lane or keep a safe distance from other traffic, and automakers pushing for more automation, the car-to-driver handoff is a big open question.

The elimination of distracted driving is a major selling point for the technology. But in the Stanford experiment, reading or watching a movie helped keep participants awake.

Among the 48 students, 13 who were instructed to monitor the car and road from the driver's seat began to nod off. Only three did so when told to focus on a screen full of words or moving images.

Alertness was particularly helpful when students needed to grab the wheel because a car or pedestrian got in the way.

There's no consensus on the right car-to-driver handoff approach: the Stanford research suggests engaging people with media could help, while some automakers are marketing vehicles with limited self-driving features that will slow down if they detect a person has stopped paying attention to the road.

Self-driving car experts at Google, which is pursuing the technology more aggressively than any automaker, concluded that involving humans would make its cars less safe. Google's solution is a prototype with no steering wheel or pedals—human control would be limited to go and stop buttons.

How can people safely take control from a self-driving car?
This May 13, 2015 file photo shows the front of Google's new self-driving prototype car during a demonstration at the Google campus in Mountain View, Calif. New cars that can steer and brake themselves may lull drivers into a false sense of security. One way to keep people alert may be providing distractions that are now illegal, just one surprising finding from Stanford University research that studied the behavior of students in a self-driving car simulator.(AP Photo/Tony Avelar, File)

Meanwhile, traditional automakers are phasing in the technology. Mercedes and Toyota sell cars that can hit the brakes and stay in their lane. By adding new features each year, they might produce a truly self-driving car in about a decade.

One potential hazard of this gradualist approach became clear this fall, when Tesla Motors had to explain that its "auto pilot" feature did not mean drivers could stop paying attention. Several videos posted online showed people recording the novelty—then seizing the wheel when the car made a startling move.

A Super Cruise system, which will allow semi-autonomous highway driving in the Cadillac CTS starting late next year, monitors drivers. If their eyes are off the road, and they don't respond to repeated prodding, the car will slow itself.

"We are in no way selling this as a technology where the driver can check out," General Motors spokesman Dan Flores said. "You can relax, glance away, but you still have to be aware because you know the technology's not foolproof."

How can people safely take control from a self-driving car?
This May 13, 2015 file photo shows the front of Google's new self-driving prototype car during a demonstration at the Google campus in Mountain View, Calif. New cars that can steer and brake themselves may lull drivers into a false sense of security. One way to keep people alert may be providing distractions that are now illegal, just one surprising finding from Stanford University research that studied the behavior of students in a self-driving car simulator.(AP Photo/Tony Avelar, File)

Though research is ongoing, it appears that people need at least 5 seconds to take over—if they're not totally checked out.

One riddle automakers must solve: How to get owners to trust the technology so that they'll use it—but not trust it so much that they'll be lulled into a false security that makes them slow to react when the car needs them.

Trust was on the mind of researchers who in August published an extensive report on self-driving cars funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. "Although this trust is essential for widespread adoption, participants were also observed prioritizing non-driving activities over the operation of the vehicle," the authors wrote.

How can people safely take control from a self-driving car?
This Friday, Nov. 13, 2015 file photo provided by Virginia Tech shows Virginia Tech Center for Technology Development Program Administration Specialist Greg Brown behind the wheel of a driverless car during a test ride showing the alert system handing over automation to the driver while traveling street in Blacksburg, Va. New cars that can steer and brake themselves may lull drivers into a false sense of security. One way to keep people alert may be providing distractions that are now illegal, just one surprising finding from Stanford University research that studied the behavior of students in a self-driving car simulator.(Justin Fine/Virginia Tech via AP, File)

Another wide-open question: How to alert the person in the driver's seat of the need to begin driving.

It appears that the car should appeal to several senses. Visual warnings alone may not suffice. Combine a light with spoken instructions or physical stimulation such as a vibrating seat, and people are quicker to reassume control.

"If it is done courteously and subtle and not annoying, it could be missed by someone that is distracted," said Greg Fitch, a research scientist at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. Then again, the way the car interacts with people will be one way automakers differentiate their product—and overbearing warnings may sour potential buyers.

Other issues Fitch cites include "mode confusion" (making sure the car clearly informs the person whether or not it is driving itself) and clear explanations to drivers of what the car can—and cannot—handle.

This May 13, 2015 file photo shows the front of Google's new self-driving prototype car during a demonstration at the Google campus in Mountain View, Calif. New cars that can steer and brake themselves may lull drivers into a false sense of security. One way to keep people alert may be providing distractions that are now illegal, just one surprising finding from Stanford University research that studied the behavior of students in a self-driving car simulator.(AP Photo/Tony Avelar, File)

Cars with the right sensors are becoming really good at monitoring the outside world and have quicker response times than humans. People are much better at making decisions under uncertain circumstances.

One lesson from the Stanford study may be that master and machine are better viewed as collaborators.

"There's really a relationship between drivers and cars," said David Sirkin, who helped run the experiment at Stanford's Center for Design Research, "and that relationship is becoming more a peer relationship."

How can people safely take control from a self-driving car?
This Friday, Nov. 13, 2015 file photo provided by Virginia Tech shows Virginia Tech Center for Technology Development Program Administration Specialist Greg Brown behind the wheel of a driverless car during a test ride showing the alert system handing over automation to the driver while traveling street in Blacksburg, Va. New cars that can steer and brake themselves may lull drivers into a false sense of security. One way to keep people alert may be providing distractions that are now illegal, just one surprising finding from Stanford University research that studied the behavior of students in a self-driving car simulator.(Justin Fine/Virginia Tech via AP, File)

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Lex Talonis
1 / 5 (3) Nov 30, 2015
This autonomous car crap, is like watching a porno, and having to make shadow puppets on the wall, with your fingers.....

And the people from Google, are technically right, but what if YOU want to take a different route, or the car says no and your saying I have too?

So much for the fucking stop / go buttons.

msadesign
5 / 5 (1) Nov 30, 2015
"your saying I have too?"

Take control of your keyboard, Lex.
dogbert
1 / 5 (3) Nov 30, 2015
One riddle automakers must solve: How to get owners to trust the technology so that they'll use it—but not trust it so much that they'll be lulled into a false security that makes them slow to react when the car needs them.


Only an idiot buys a car that interferes with the driver's ability to maintain safety. The new self-braking cars are instructive. When the road has poor traction, for example, and the car slams on the brakes, the driver loses all control of the vehicle.

All these so called improvements come with no ability for the driver to turn off the "improvements"

Mercedes and Toyota sell cars that can hit the brakes and stay in their lane.


I currently drive a Toyota. When it is time to get a new car, I won't be buying one of their self braking cars.
Eikka
5 / 5 (3) Nov 30, 2015
If you can't nod off, what's the point of a self-driving car?

It would be great to have an extra 20 minute nap in the car in the afternoon after work. That's usually when people really start nodding off because they're hungry and exhausted and they've already been awake for 8-9 hours.
shavera
5 / 5 (1) Nov 30, 2015
Eikka: brief asides to other tools are pretty useful. No matter how many warnings exist, people will continue to "text and drive." It would be better if the car could at least handle itself for a few seconds while texting. Digital media has made music more complicated in the car; instead of a few radio stations, I have a device that will let me play all sorts of radios and playlists and albums. Great if the car can handle a few seconds while I pick the music I want.

Granted, I'd very much rather have a car I can doze in, or read a book and completely disconnect from the task of driving... but incremental improvements are still worthwhile
Lex Talonis
5 / 5 (2) Nov 30, 2015
If your too tired or distracted to drive, what are you doing driving?

And to clarify this:

"This autonomous car crap, is like watching a porno, and having to make shadow puppets on the wall, with your fingers....."

The shadow puppet show, IS the porno...

YES fully automated cars - in principle are a great idea... BUT there has to be a fucking off switch, and FULL manual control.....

"Oh no - there is a shoot out at the end of the street and we are headed for it - but don't worry, the car will keep driving until we are right in the middle of it, and then STOP, because there is a stop sign....."

Who's idiot head at Google do I have to punch in for this to register?

I think perhaps, having fully automated driving on highways, and in low speed residential areas etc...

But I think it needs to be optional, and the car must have FULL manual controls - This George Jetson crap is death trap material.

snoosebaum
not rated yet Dec 01, 2015
Lex yes! Exactly I saw some demo of a car that auto brakes very well for pedestrians but I can well imagine a world of self driving cars slowing to a stop as everyone steps in front with no fear.
dogbert
not rated yet Dec 01, 2015
snoosebaum,

Try the auto braking car on ice and snow. A driver can use steering to avoid a pending accident, but a car whose brakes have seized is no longer able to be controlled. A pedestrian steps into the roadway ahead of you on ice and he/she is dead if your car auto brakes.
Lex Talonis
not rated yet Dec 01, 2015
I mean I DO like this fully automatic car stuff..... but not completely.

Kind of like Microsoft windows, and some of the idiotic inopportune stuff that goes on with that - fully automated bullshit.

While I like modern jet aircraft, I also like the idea of being able to sit near a door, wearing a parachute, with an inflatable dingy under my arse.
FainAvis
not rated yet Dec 01, 2015
How does auto car react to road rage, or other mayhem, in the near vicinity? Does it know to get out of the way safely even if that means not adhering to the letter of the law?
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Dec 01, 2015
Try the auto braking car on ice and snow. A driver can use steering to avoid a pending accident

On ice and snow he'd be as helpless as an automated car (more so, since such a car can react much faster to correct oversteer. Just like ABS systems can react much faster to brakes locking than any human)
dogbert
not rated yet Dec 01, 2015
antialias_physorg,
On ice and snow he'd be as helpless as an automated car (more so, since such a car can react much faster to correct oversteer. Just like ABS systems can react much faster to brakes locking than any human)


The self braking car on ice would become uncontrollable when the car locked the brakes. The human driver would be unable to change the direction of the car. That is why a human driver knows that he/she should not lock the brakes on ice/snow. The self braking car has no such sense and the driver has no ability to turn off the self braking system.

A self braking car can get you killed and can cause your car to kill someone else.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Dec 02, 2015
The self braking car on ice would become uncontrollable when the car locked the brakes.

Not really, because even all non-autonomous vehicles today have ABS. So 'locking brakes' is something that probably hasn't happened anywhere in the developed world for the past 10 years or so. Why would you expect that they don't fit ABS to autonomous vehicles?

Even if such a crazy low-tech/high-tech hybrid were to someohow be manufactured (why?): As soon as the driver takes the wheel the pedals and steering are under his control. So the brakes would only be applied if the driver pushes the pedal after that.

A self braking car can get you killed and can cause your car to kill someone else.

If it means that, on average, 1.0001 other fatal accidents are avoided then that'd be great. But as noted your 'scenario' is pretty much non-sensical WRT technical reality..
Eikka
5 / 5 (1) Dec 02, 2015

On ice and snow he'd be as helpless as an automated car (more so, since such a car can react much faster to correct oversteer. Just like ABS systems can react much faster to brakes locking than any human)


The car doesn't know it's travelling on ice and snow. It will first try a full lock-up brake and then react to the fact that the wheels do in fact lock up, and only then it tries to compensate.

Unfortunately the recovery isn't guaranteed because while the computer reacts in microseconds, an actual wheel of a car doesn't stop and start spinning again so fast because it has mass and inertia. It requires traction to spin it back up, which means you've lost control.

In marginal conditions, the computer is just as helpless as the human driver, with the added handicap that it's also dumb, deaf and blind.

If your too tired or distracted to drive, what are you doing driving?


Because you have to?
Eikka
5 / 5 (1) Dec 02, 2015
In winter conditions, all the ABS/ESC/ESP systems are often causing more trouble than they solve, because people drive faster and become too secure with the helpers on. You don't feel how slick the road is if you're driving an automatic with anti-slip on, so you drive as it if was summer and then you really need the ABS because the car won't stop like it was summer.

So when you do crash, you do it at 100 kph instead of 60.

dogbert
not rated yet Dec 02, 2015
antialias_physorg,
A self braking car can get you killed and can cause your car to kill someone else.


If it means that, on average, 1.0001 other fatal accidents are avoided then that'd be great.


You are actually OK with self braking cars knowing that they can and will kill people?

I know that the car manufacturers are OK with that so I guess it is really OK with you.

It is not OK with me to purchase/drive a car with self braking systems which I know will cause loss of control of the car and possible injury/death to others.

Eikka
5 / 5 (1) Dec 02, 2015
Besides, I'm talking of proper winter, when you need studded tires instead of all-weathers. Not some central European "winter" when the main roads stay clear throughout.

You can have clear asphalt, ice on asphalt, snow on ice, salted slush on asphalt or on ice, water puddles, slush puddles, ice potholes, grooves in ice, iced grooves on asphalt... everything even on the same stretch of road. You drive such that you never get the ABS rattling, because it's such a small margin where the ABS can actually save you that it's more likely you'll crash anyways if you try to drive up to the limit.

Self-driving car in these conditions would be more or less helpless, because the "self driving" part they currently have is a line following robot that doesn't understand its environment beyond collision avoidance. It runs on assumptions about what the road surface is and how to safely navigate it, and in the wintertime all the assumptions can be thrown off in the span of 100 meters.
rgw
not rated yet Dec 03, 2015
Eikka is absolutely right. No one developing automated driving programming would ever consider the conditions he has brought up. I have never been on the road more than 10 minutes without someone trying to cause my death by car. Usually by 'accident', but not always.
antigoracle
not rated yet Dec 03, 2015
@Eikka
Hitting your brakes when you're sliding on a patch of ice is an absolute no-no. It's the quickest way to having even less control. Regaining control is about calm, quick thinking, reflexes and knowing your vehicle and less about the road condition at this point. This is one situation where I believe automation may actually benefit.
rgw
not rated yet Dec 03, 2015
Unlike people, if the road is undrivable the car will pull over/exit as soon as is safe.
Eikka
not rated yet Dec 04, 2015
@Eikka
Hitting your brakes when you're sliding on a patch of ice is an absolute no-no. It's the quickest way to having even less control. Regaining control is about calm, quick thinking, reflexes and knowing your vehicle and less about the road condition at this point. This is one situation where I believe automation may actually benefit.


Indeed, but the automation does not think. It assumes, and then reacts if the assumption was wrong.

So the default behaviour would be to apply brakes, and then attempt to release brakes when the wheel loses all traction, but then it's already too late because you need traction to get the wheel spinning again to regain whatever little control you had.

The computer AI does not understand that things are going wrong until they really are going wrong. We tend to ascribe them with more intelligence than they really have (anthropomorphising), which creates the illusion that they'd be better than us in marginal conditions.
Eikka
not rated yet Dec 04, 2015
The tendency is to think that the computer possesses some of the same cognitive faculties as us, maybe not as fine or as many, but the idea is that overall it's a dumber version of us that is however about a thousand times faster at reacting. Like some sort of well-behaving super-chimpanzee.

But the "proper" way to understand what we're actually talking about with self-driving cars is to imagine that instead of a robotic chimp that has some rudimentary level of understanding about its task, your car is actually being driven by a trained worm that is being prodded with electric shocks from all sides. It has no idea what's going on or why -- but it knows that when it wiggles in certain ways the electric shocks stop, so it tries to keep doing that.

In reality, it's not even that, because the worm has a nervous system that can learn new things independently. The car computer doesn't.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Dec 04, 2015
You are actually OK with self braking cars knowing that they can and will kill people?

If they kill less people than people do? Yeah. Just ask that one person (or 100...or 1000 eventually) more who is alive because of them. That's a no-brainer.
dogbert
not rated yet Dec 04, 2015
antialias_physorg,

Yes, I got that from your previous post. Don't know how driving a car which slams on its own brakes and causes you to kill someone does not bother you, but I do understand that it doesn't.

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