If you’ve got a couple of hours to digest important driverless car questions, try this online course from the University of Michigan: Self-Driving Cars Teach-Out.
The university’s Ann Arbor campus is home to the 32-acre Mcity test facility, the first purpose-built proving ground for connected and automated vehicles (CAVs).
Carrie Morton, deputy director of Mcity, describes it as “the ultimate sandbox”, a place to foster collaboration with industry, government and academic partners.
Following a quick overview of the key on-board technologies – sensors, lidar, GPS etc – the university’s experts get into the nitty gritty of their specialisms.
Liz Gerber, professor of public policies, sets the scene, saying: “The promise of driverless vehicles is super exciting for communities and for society. We talk about the promise of reduced congestion, increased mobility options and enhanced safety and convenience.”
Professor Matthew Johnson Roberson discusses the fragility of artificial intelligence (AI) in dealing with new systems, the challenge of getting from 95% to 99.99% accuracy, and the importance of failing gracefully in the event of an error.
Professor Dan Crane looks at balancing competition, differentiation and standardisation, asserting that we should encourage “a thousand flowers to bloom”, because no one yet knows which technologies will work best.
Ian Williams, inaugural fellow for the Law & Mobility Program, addresses privacy concerns and the ability to change settings. He also raises the possibility of motorists being encouraged out of driving via the prohibitive cost of insurance.
Big picture thinking comes from Alex Murphy, assistant professor in sociology, who considers the profound impacts of a lack of transportation – from the kinds of jobs people can take to the schools they can access. “It has huge implications for inequality,” she says.
Lionel Robert, associate professor in the School of Information, predicts that we’ll see level five, fully autonomous, go anywhere CAVs “in our lifetime”. He focusses on giving consumers “accurate trust” in the technology, not under- or over-trust.
One reassuring point which crops up time and again is the continuing need for humans – from John the safety conductor on the Mcity Shuttle, to roles variously described as truck operators, fleet attendants, concierges and guides.
This evolution could potentially help to offset the fear that driverless technology will immediately put people out of a job, a belief which has been blamed for attacks on self-driving test cars.
CAV’s potential to help the blind community was also particularly thought-provoking.