We already trust our robocars


This story from the Register about a test at the Stanford VAIL Lab reports an interesting result. They created a fake robocar, with a human driver hidden in the back. The test subjects then were told they could push the autopilot button and use the car. And they did, immediately picking up their newspapers to read as they would in a taxi (which is what they really were in.)

Not only that, when they were told the robot could not figure out the situation and needed human assist, they gave it, and then went right back to autopilot.

So trust of a robocar is already at a higher level than we might expect. I've ridden in Junior, and K. has stood in front of it, but that was with a human ready to take over the controls. Like many others pondering the future of robotic transportation, I believe we'll only put robocars on our ordinary streets once they demonstrate a level of safety much superior to human drivers what I call the "robocar vision." This does not mean a perfect level of safety, though, and the resulting accidents and occasional fatalities will be the cause of much debate and legal wrangling which will slow the development of the technology when it is saving lives.

Update: You might also like the Cute VW concept video where the dad explains to his son all the strange concepts like petrol, driving, traffic jams, accidents and parking.


There's no way, in this modern world, that if someone said "this is totally safe, go ahead and do it", and we went ahead and did it and got hurt, that this person wouldn't be sued off the face of the Earth.

What I'd have preferred to see would be a second experiment setup, where they say "this car is equipped with an experimental autopilot device. If you wish, you can push the button and let the autopilot control the car. However, we warn you that the autopilot may make unexpected maneuvers or abrupt stops if it believes that it has detected a dangerous situation." I wonder if the drivers would be so happy if you filled the description with a bunch of warning statements.


But, on the gripping hand, the general public already thinks that computers can do anything, so it's not surprising that they'd be happy to let a computer drive their car.

I don't believe that people will be buying robocars until they are at a level that is as good (or better) than this hidden driver at the back, so your test is not appropriate. The VW test is the right one as they want to judge acceptance levels for robocars that give a smooth, safe and reliable ride. Indeed, the public can often be tricked into thinking computers are way smarter than they are, and that allows such a test.

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