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A Tale of Autonomous Vehicles and a Deer

Robert Regis Hyle | July 19, 2016

Autonomous vehicles had a temporary setback when a Tesla Model S crashed and killed the lone passenger in the car. The news reports on this indicate it may have been an error on the part of the passenger/driver who believed this model was designed to be fully autonomous. It wasn’t.

Still, many rushed to attack the technology even if it was not the fault of the technology. Others with more wary eyes on how far and how fast self-driving vehicles have progressed in the last year were skeptical to begin with and are no less so today.

The Washington Post reported that the Model S is not designed to be fully autonomous and if that is the case it appears to be a fatal mistake on the part of the driver/passenger. I suppose one day, when our streets and highways are crowded with driverless vehicles, we will have much less to worry about when we get inside a car, but we have a few years ahead of us before such vehicles dominate the boulevards of our fair cities.

There remains much work ahead to make cars safer and when you consider the preponderance of accidents are caused by driver error you have to believe any technology that can eliminate mistakes—or warn drivers they are making mistakes—is something we should all strive to support.

A few weeks ago, I was driving home on a dark country road when a deer jumped in front of my non-autonomous Honda Pilot. I had no time to brake and ran into the deer. In a discussion of the accident for another story I am writing, Celent’s Donald Light pointed out one of the problems that still needs to be solved in such situations.

What if the deer was actually a child? We are taught it is safer to go ahead and hit a deer rather than to try and avoid the collision. Avoiding a deer usually means striking something else, whether it be another vehicle, a guard rail or a parked car.

If we were able to discern that what jumped in front of our vehicle was a child, not a deer, our minds tell us to do whatever we can to not hit the child, which, unfortunately, often puts passengers in the vehicle in danger.

Driving cars can be complicated, so producing technology that effectively removes some of those complications won’t come quickly or easily. That means keep your eyes on the road, even if the technology tells you it’s not necessary. After all, when has technology ever failed us?

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