The future is here and the future is going to be sleepy:
As Ford Motor Co. has been developing self-driving cars, the U.S. automaker has started noticing a problem during test drives: Engineers monitoring the robot rides are dozing off.
Company researchers have tried to roust the engineers with bells, buzzers, warning lights, vibrating seats and shaking steering wheels. They’ve even put a second engineer in the vehicle to keep tabs on his human counterpart. No matter — the smooth ride was just too lulling and engineers struggled to maintain “situational awareness,” said Raj Nair, Ford’s product development chief.
Maybe a taser collar or a spike to the bottom would help. And such technology would also help the S&M market to really take off.
“These are trained engineers who are there to observe what’s happening,” Nair said in an interview. “But it’s human nature that you start trusting the vehicle more and more and that you feel you don’t need to be paying attention.”
The struggle to prevent snoozing-while-cruising has yielded a radical decision: Ford will venture to take the human out of the loop by removing the steering wheel, brake and gas pedals from its driverless cars debuting in 2021. That sets Ford apart from most automakers including Audi and General Motors Co., which believe drivers can be counted on to take the wheel if an accident is imminent.
I’m an old Luddite when it comes to cars. I don’t even trust an automatic transmission to find the right gear, and prefer to row my own. Even carburetors have their limited upsides – like simplicity if you’re a home wrencher. But I’m also the sort of guy who hates driving long distance, so in the future a self-driving luxury barge could be added to my fleet.
BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen AG’s Audi plan to roll out semi-autonomous cars starting next year that require drivers to take over with as little as 10 seconds notice. On a scale embraced by the U.S. government, these cars would qualify as Level 3 — more capable than cars where drivers do everything, but short of full automation.
Ford plans to skip that level altogether. The automaker has aligned with Alphabet’s Inc’s Waymo, which made similar discoveries related to human inattention while researching Google’s driverless car.
“There’s evidence to suggest that Level 3 may show an increase in traffic crashes,” Nidhi Kalra, co-director of the Rand Center for Decision Making Under Uncertainty, said this week during a U.S. congressional hearing. “I don’t think there’s enough evidence to suggest that it should be prohibited at this time, but it does pose safety concerns.”
Well that fills me with good cheer. I can already imagine hordes of self-driving cars skittering into an ice storm as the passengers sleep, smoke the Devil’s Weed, or fornicate. On second thought maybe paradise has finally come to Earth.
One matter both sides agree on is that too many requests for human intervention could wreck the autonomous experience.
As part of its testing, Ford used sensors that monitor facial expression and track eye movement to determine if a driver was alert and ready to take over. This led to an unenviable experience in which drivers felt they were being constantly reminded to pay attention. “The car is actually yelling at you all the time,” Nair said.
My Mother The Car comes true! My dream has been broken. Now the roads will be filled with cranky passengers who just want to sleep, fuck, or smoke but instead are being badgered by the Nanny Car. Maybe it would be better to just pay someone to drive me around. Now I know where the Open Borders folks are coming from.