Researchers Probe The Moral Code In Autonomous Cars

Australia Experiences Her First Driverless Test Drive


Currently, driverless cars have been extensively tested in the United States, especially California, which has now even legalized the vehicles. On 7 November 2015, Australian roads received a new entrant, a driverless Volvo XC70s, cruising at about 70kph on an expressway near Adelaide. This unveiling was held in conjunction with a driverless car conference, which was backed up by the South Australian government.


Despite The Latest Advancements, How Is The Moral Code In Driverless Vehicles?

Even as plans to have driverless vehicles on the road by 2020 intensify, researchers have probed the moral code in autonomous cars, giving the public more impactful knowledge to help them make informed decisions.

The ability of autonomous vehicles to accurately assess risks and make the best decision has greatly been in question. A team of researchers from the United States and France teamed up to understand public perception of a driverless car with built-in utilitarian moral code.

The researchers ran a series of surveys, in which 900 participants were exposed to different scenarios. In one particular and interesting scenario, one or more pedestrians could be saved if the car swerved into a barrier killing the driver instead of the pedestrians. Alternatively, the car would simply drive through the pedestrians, killing them and saving the driver as a result.  Generally, the participants were presented with three options- stay, random or swerve. They were then expected to individually rate the morality of each option and state if they would buy self-drive cars that had their respective choice options built-in.

One of the team members, Jean-Francois Bonnefon, from Toulouse School of Economics, told the ABC that majority of the participants chose self-drive cars which would sacrifice their passengers and in turn save pedestrians. These people highly preferred this type of cars and even recommended them to others. The irony, however, was that these same people would not buy the passenger-sacrificing driverless cars.


The Social Dilemma

Collectively, humans think that the self-sacrificing cars are great and ethical but individually, they are hesitant to adopt them. According to Mr. Bonnefon, this is a tricky situation for manufacturers because they strive to create vehicles consumers will buy and still ensure they are morally upright- a balance that’s hard to find at the moment.

What Car Makers Are Now Doing

In the 1960s, a famous thought experiment in ethics known as the trolley problem, was simply a parlor game for academic philosophers. In this day, this dimension of thinking is being seriously considered by car makers in a bid to develop publicly accepted vehicles.

Car makers have already began consulting ethicists on whether self-drive cars should and could use algorithms to make ethical decisions just like humans. Herbert Winner, head of the automotive engineering faculty at Darmstadt University of Technology, warns that in the event of an accident, humans will still blame robots. He therefore asserts that car makers should strive to find this much needed balance.

In conclusion, just like Bonnefon and his colleagues suggested, more research should be conducted to help car manufacturers identify a moral algorithm that will simultaneously incorporate the public’s collective view while at the same time, ensure that individuals are protected, to give them confidence to invest in self-drive cars.



Driverless Cars and the Law: Assigning Liability

As driverless cars become an actual, affordable possibility, questions are being raised on the pros and cons of a sizable percentage of cars driving autonomously on the nation’s roads. Liability for accidents involving driverless cars is one of the top concerns.

Google’s self-driving cars have been involved in several accidents during the testing phases in California. The autonomous technology was not found to be at fault but raised questions on who will be liable if a driverless car crashes.

Volvo is one of the first companies to accept liability for accidents involving its driverless cars. Google has made similar claims that they will back their driverless technology.

Questions over liability for a driverless car crash is one of the top obstacles to driverless cars reaching the market soon. Volvo has assured the US government and insurance companies that they will take responsibility for driverless car errors. They’ve been proactive in working with federal regulators in an attempt to reduce government uncertainty in the technology and expedite guidelines in the US. Their close work with US regulators comes from their belief that America could be one of their biggest markets for driverless cars.

In a Volvo press release, Hakan Samuelsson the president of Volvo Cars voices his concerns: “The US risks losing its leading position due to the lack of Federal guidelines for the testing and certification of autonomous vehicles,” he said. “Europe has suffered to some extent by having a patchwork of rules and regulations. It would be a shame if the US took a similar path to Europe in this crucial area.”

In an attempt to reduce accidents, Volvo plans on introducing a training program for its first driverless car customers offering special training on using their new driverless cars. The company plans on working with a diverse age range of drivers, especially older customers that are normally suspicious of new technology.

Tesla Motors, who plans on adding a self-drive mode to its electric cars by summer, will be the industry guinea pig for liability issues.

Autonomous self-driving car accident law firms are watching the developments carefully. In accidents with self-driving autonomous vehicles, there are process and legal issues yet to be resolved, especially when determining liability at a crash site. How will an officer investigating a traffic collision be able to question an autonomous vehicle? Will the vehicle provide a printed report and a video of the accident?

With technology progressing faster than the law, there is the potential for driverless vehicles to be in operation (and potentially causing accidents) before each state’s Department of Motor Vehicles or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration can fully address the risks and liabilities.

But other organizations think that the worry is unnecessary. The University of Washington’s Technology Law and Policy Clinic submitted position to the Uniform Law Commission states, “Product liability theories are highly developed, given the advance of technology in and out of cars for well over a century, and are capable of covering autonomous vehicles.”


Who Takes Responsibility In An Accident Involving Driverless Cars?

Barriers To Adoption Of Driverless Cars

Autonomous car adoption has faced several barriers such as costs, regulations and liability in case of an accident. Even though driverless cars are said to be safe, like all machines, we expect to have a few accidents. Usually, a human driver would take responsibility if he or she causes an accident. But, in the case of self-drive cars, no human drivers are involved, leaving people wondering who will be liable in case of an accident.

What Is The Landscape Like For Self-Drive Car Manufacturers?

Liability concerns have been predicted to be a major headache for driverless cars. Questions touching on methods to apportion blame between an automated car system and human driver have indicated how difficult and complicated such a legal issue could be. This has led to different views across the board.

In 2013, an article in the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that according to some experts, if left unresolved, the issue of liability could delay or kill the vision of driverless vehicles set to dominate the markets in future. In a different article, MSN wrote about the possibility of lawsuits driving autonomous vehicles to extinction. The Wall Street Journal also weighed in on this matter, addressing the grievous issue of liability in the autonomous world.

Obviously, the case of liability could be a contentious issue. Fortunately, some car manufacturers have opted to take responsibility in case of an accident.

Who Will Accept Liability?

Mercedes and Google were the first two companies to announce that they will accept liability in the event their vehicles are involved in an accident.

On October 8 2015, Volvo became the third company to join the  liability  bandwagon. While addressing a seminar on autonomous vehicles, Volvo Car Group President and C.E.O, Håkan Samuelsson, indicated that regulations are currently the biggest hurdle in the adoption of this technology.

Will It Be Full Or Part Liability?

Although they were the latest to announce acceptance of liability, Volvo C.E.O was keen to point out that Volvo was the first car manufacturer to promise full liability in the event of an accident. He however cautioned that the company would only accept full liability only if the accident resulted from the car design, and not the user’s misuse of the technology. Additionally, Volvo would not accept responsibility in the event of a third-party influenced crash.

Will This Make A Difference?

Whilst this news may seemingly be exciting to a consumer, Prof Sandor Veres, director of autonomous systems at Sheffield University, thinks that manufacturers are not adding much value by accepting responsibility. According to his line of thinking, this move by manufacturers would only help streamline global legislation on autonomous vehicles.

Currently, only 3 self-drive vehicle manufacturers are willing to accept liability. Hopefully, the rest of the manufacturers such as Audi and Ford will follow suit, further encouraging consumers to invest in these cars. Additionally, as noted by these companies, the government should streamline a number of legal issues delaying release of driverless vehicles on the roads, to ensure a productive future.


Top Companies To Invest In To Reap From Driverless Cars

On October 4 2015, CBS aired “Hands Off the Wheel“, a 60-minute documentary highlighting the Mercedes-Benz Self Driving car. This feature further increased publicity for the driverless vehicles. The immense and progressive awareness on driverless cars has resulted in several companies formulating plans and willing to invest in self-drive vehicles.

According to a CB Insights report, these companies are at different levels of investment. The report also showed that the arrival of self-drive vehicles will spark the largest auto-industry shake-up, insinuating that people should take a share of this market soon enough.

Top companies you could invest in, as identified in the report include;


Apple, an aggressive company seeking to dominate every area of technology from phones, laptops, televisions and even ‘pencils’, is now thinking of investing in autonomous vehicles. The Wall Street Journal reported that Apple is currently developing an electric car known as Titan, which is expected to be on the streets by 2019.

At a re/code conference earlier in May 2015, Apple Senior vice president Jeff Williams, said that Apple was exploring a lot of different markets. By all indications, autonomous vehicles market is one of them, at least according to a report by the Guardian published in August 2015. By the time of that publication, Apple was scouting for locations in San Francisco to test a driverless car. Additionally, Apple has recruited engineers experienced in autonomous vehicles from Volkwagen, Tesla and Nvidia among other players.


After announcing a joint self-driving research project in April 2014, Baidu and BMW are set to release an autonomous car by the end of 2015.  The large search Chinese giant, is using technology to assist drivers other than replace them. It has also invested in Indoor Atlas and created its own mapping technology. Currently, the test cars are navigating the highways of Shanghai and Beijing.

A major advantage of using Baidu is the Chinese government’s flexibility and quick action in enacting large-scale legislation for driverless cars, a process that would take the American government much longer.


In January this year, Ford made public the Ford Smart Mobility Plan that aims to enhance innovation in the auto industry through projects that will promote autonomous vehicles and vehicle connectivity. At the time, a fully autonomous Ford Fusion Hybrid research vehicle was undertaking road tests.

In June 2015, the company made another announcement stating that it had engaged a full team dedicated to developing self-drive vehicles, with the company hoping to be a major player in this market in the next 5 years.

General Motors

Seeking to be a market leader in autonomous vehicles, General Motors announced a rather new innovation. In early October 2015, the company announced that it would introduce a fleet of autonomous plug-in gas-electric hybrid Chevrolet Volts by late 2016.

The company, through its Chevrolet brand has also partnered with SAIC Motors, a Chinese auto-manufacturer, to create a driverless and fully electric Chevrolet-FNR expected to be in the market by 2030.


Google is undoubtedly one of the most talked about self-drive car manufacturer. To show its commitment to the driverless car future, the company has dedicated a website to its self-drive car project. After testing a fleet of autonomous vehicles including Lexus SUVs, the company has moved a notch higher and recently employed auto industry veteran John Krafcik.

These are just a few companies you could consider investing in. According to them, the driverless future seems bright, and you can be part of it now as you wait to reap big in future.


Are Driverless Cars Safer?

Statistics have showed that 90% of vehicle accidents in the United States are caused by human error. Consequently, the nation loses 30,000 lives per year and $300 billion in accident damages. In effect, driverless cars have been marketed as the solution to this problem, promising accident reduction by 90%, thereby saving 30,000 lives yearly that would otherwise get lost on the roads. Additionally, consumers and the government have been promised that autonomous vehicles will reduce vehicle crashes in the United States from second to ninth place in lethality ranking of accident types.

The pertinent question that lingers in consumers’ minds is whether these vehicles are actually safer.

They Are Actually Too Safe: This Can Be Bad

Recently, Google ran into a rather unique problem, which is potentially good and bad news to everyone. On one hand, they follow traffic rules to the letter but on the other, their religious adherence to the rules does not match up to humans. This means that when sharing the road, these evasive measures could confuse humans and cause accidents.

During testing, one car slowed down as it approached a cross-walk to allow a pedestrian cross.  Unfortunately, this car was hit from behind by a human-driven sedan. This incident indicated that driverless cars, especially Google cars are too safe. As a matter of fact, they are programmed to strictly adhere to the rules, which as seen, could cause accidents.

Since 2009, Google autonomous cars have been involved in 16 accidents, all of which, the company blames on human drivers and not their innovation.

Accidents Don’t Need Eyewitnesses

Eyewitnesses have sometimes been dismissed as unrealiable, shockingly inaccurate and untrustworthy. Eyewitness testimony relies on the accuracy of human memory, which can be distorted at times. Based on this, scientists have warned against relying on eyewitness accounts. The wrong testimony has the potential of unfairly sending someone to jail.

Fortunately, driverless vehicles such as the Google self-drive cars have been fitted with cameras that provide an annotated map of the surroundings. On average, there are four cameras, each relaying data over 60 times in one second. The data shows exactly what happened in an accident or incident, assuring motorists that they will not be unfairly charged and forced to make their insurance claims.

They Are Smoother Than Human-Driven Vehicles

Speaking at a robotics conference, Chris Urmson, director of Google’s self-driving car program, presented results from Google studies that aimed to assess the safety of driverless cars. In one of the studies, the researchers observed that when humans were behind the wheel, Google cars were forced to accelerate and brake significantly more sharply than they did when they drove themselves.  In a different study, the car software was more accurate at keeping a safe distance from the vehicle ahead compared to human drivers.

Autonomous vehicles are definitely safer than human-driven vehicles. However, it should be noted that these are machines designed to operate according to stipulated rules. In order to maintain safety and prevent accidents on the roads, humans will need to learn to follow traffic rules to the letter.


How Driverless Cars Will Shape the World

Experiments on driverless cars began as early as 1920s and promising trials were seen in the 1950s. It is now expected that tangible results will be witnessed by 2020, when there’ll be have an array of driverless vehicles on the roads. Case in point- through a press release, Carlos Ghosn, chief executive of Nissan, announced that by 2020, Nissan will market autonomous-drive vehicles. Another manufacturer, Audi, announced that its next generation of Audi A8 limousines will be fully autonomous by 2020.

Evidently, by 2020, road traffic will be characterized by driverless cars. Subsequent effects include changes in infrastructural planning; extinction and creation of new jobs, and more as explained:

Cheaper Infrastructural Investment

A report by an Australian telecommunications company, Telstra, showed that autonomous vehicles could potentially save the Australian government billions of dollars in infrastructure development. According to the report, conventional vehicles would require the capacity of the road network increased by approximately 250%, while driverless vehicles- which utilize space more efficiently- would require way less road capacity.

Driverless or not, as long as you own a car, you can still get a loan from a car title loan lender.

Significant Reduction In Road Accidents

90% of automobile accidents in the United States happen due to human error– leading to loss of $300 billion in damages and 30,000 deaths per year. To improve this situation, driverless cars will reduce accidents by 90% and save the 30,000 lives which would otherwise have been lost in car accidents.

Driverless vehicles are also said to have the potential to reduce vehicle crashes in the U.S. from second to ninth place in lethality ranking.

An End To Millions Of Middle Class Jobs

Employment data analyzed from 20 different countries found out that millions of mid-skill and mid-pay jobs disappeared in just five years after a new technological invention. Going by this trend, technologists and economists have predicted that many jobs will likely be lost due to driverless vehicles.

Currently in Nevada, a self-driving truck is threatening the future of truck drivers. For now, the truck operates under the supervision of a human, but as the future of driverless cars seems bright, the need for a human supervisor will be unnecessary. To put it in perspective,  180,000 taxi drivers, 160,000 Uber drivers, 500,000 school bus drivers, and 160,000 transit bus drivers, leading to a total of one million workers are set to lose their jobs.

Luckily, these cars are set to actually lead to reemployment rather than unemployment, creating a different set of jobs. This means that people should train in new fields that will emerge by 2020.

Emergence of New Jobs

A new research carried out by KPMG surprisingly forecasts that driverless cars will create 320,000 jobs in the United Kingdom. In a 2014 poll carried out by Open Roboethics Initiative (ORI), three key areas were identified as sources of jobs in the driverless car era. Jobs in businesses involving autonomous cars, new infrastructure for autonomous cars, and autonomous car design and development were seen as fruitful by over 50% of the recipients.

Autonomous cars are therefore considered to have both good and bad effects. Just like previous technologies, they are facing some resistance- but it’s expected that humans will find a way of adjusting.


45 Autonomous Trucks to Run at Solomon Mine

cat_793-150x150Fortescue Metals Group, which owns the Solomon Ore Mines in Pilbara region of Western Australia, will put into production 12 autonomous Caterpillar 793F hauling trucks at the mines by the end of 2012. Full-scale rollout of 45 driverless vehicles is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2015. (Caterpillar Press Release – 7/5/2011).

The trucks are manufactured by Caterpillar Inc. and the fleet will be managed by WesTrac.

This news comes on the heels of the reported expansion Rio Tinto’s driverless fleet from 5 to 10 trucks.


Google Driverless Cars are Better Than You While Drunk

eric-schmidt-zeitgeist-2011During a question and answer session at Google’s Zeitgeist 2011, Google’s Eric Schmidt made the comment: “Our computers drive our cars better than you do when you’re drunk. That’s our starting point.”

Meant to be somewhat humorous, but Mr. Schmidt is serious. Driverless cars are already better than an impaired driver. Soon they will be better than the average driver. And eventually they will be better than all human drivers.

You can watch the Q & A below:

If you don’t see the video above, you can find it here.