Autonomous technology will soon mean your car can drive for you, but probably not as naturally as you
Matt Prior
22 February 2019

My dishwasher is not brilliant at washing dishes. Stack the plates in the bottom, bowls (top), masher (anywhere, it’ll come out much the same as it went in), cutlery (pointy end up) and wait an hour. 

And then? It’s fine and everything, quite passable really, and no better or worse than most other dishwashers as far as I can tell. But, still, not quite as effective as doing it yourself. 

You’d think that this was a major failing but it’s not, because I don’t care enough. Good enough is, in this case, good enough, because I’ve saved valuable time. Labour-saving device saves labour: hooray. But as we ask machines to do more and more for us, who will define what’s ‘good enough’? 

I know the dishwasher is not a complex machine: opposable thumbs, vision, intuition – it lacks them all. But cleaning dishes is not exactly the most complex task we’ll ever want automated. 

Even so, like most chores, with cleaning there is no substitute for of going Edwardian motoring.” practice and skill. Cooking, ironing, mowing, driving… you can automate some elements somewhere along the process, and increasingly will do in future. But with craft and practice and care, I’ll wager you’ll still easily be able to outdo them yourself. 

Writer and ex-Olympic ping-ponger Matthew Syed defines sport as requiring “skill in movement”, where machine thinking lags way behind human thinking, even though – or perhaps because – such thinking is often subconscious or intuitive. So a super-computer will beat you at chess, but probably not darts. (Yes, it’s a sport, get over it.) 

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

Which brings me to driving. Quite a complex business, but there’s a logical process to it; there are road laws to be obeyed, mostly predictable physics, and with the right cameras and lidar and processors, eventually automation will get there. 

Maybe not all the way to driving for you at all times, but that’ll be down to risk assessment as much as anything. As one engineer told me, imagine driving in a Swedish winter, where you might be doing 40mph on a snowy road, aware that if a moose sprinted out of the trees, you might not be able to stop in time. No machine would allow itself to drive that quickly in those conditions, because no company could accept the liability of that kind of collision. By the same rationale, I break more crockery than my dishwasher. 

But there will be times when we’ll all cede some kind of control to the car. And that’s where the ‘good enough’ question will become relevant again, because cars require skill in movement to do it well. All the time, in fact: initiating a turn, smoothing gearchanges, slowing to a halt, stepping off from stationary, easing around a pothole, backing off when we see gravel or puddles; there are myriad things we do intuitively every time we drive a car. 

The more hardware a car is equipped with, I suppose, the better it’ll be able to employ its own skill in motion. But given all of that kit is expensive, cars will likely only get what’s deemed ‘good enough’ to be effective and safe. There are times – Friday-night M25 sort of times – when I’m quite looking forward to taking that back seat. But I’m not convinced the ride will ever be as smooth as doing it yourself.

Read more

Opinion: Why autonomy won't kill off driving as we know it​

BMW lifts lid on its self-driving vehicle tech​

Is the public ready to share the roads with self-driving cars?​

Join the debate

Comments
12

22 February 2019

 Over active imagination, that’s what it stands for, supposition, assuming Car go fully autonomous their abilities will be programmed by a Human, so it’s reaction will be a best guess, the Car should be able to react quicker than a Human also, there will never be the extreme where you’d be banned from driving because a Car is way safer, only if AI autonomous happens, then I think we’d have a problem.

22 February 2019

We had a room thermostat controlling our underfloor heating a couple of years ago that used something like 'fuzzy logic'.  It would learn your room heating and also learn what your preferences were.  So then it started to switch on...but immediately switch off.  Sometimes it would switch the heating off because it thought it had been on too long, even though the room wasn't up to temperature, and it wanted to 'protect' the floor covering (even though that had its own overheat thermostat).  So, of course, we had to get rid of it and replace it with a simple dial thermostat from the 1970s...which works a treat.  The moral: almost all technology is crap and doesn't work properly.  And that's a fact.

Oh, and our printer switches itself on at random (often in the middle of the night) and cleans its jets...even though the printer isn't being used.  And our electric oven (which also 'learns') has suddenly decided that the warm up temperature is no longer 275 C (as standard) but 160 C (because we asked it to do it just once).  We've even tried turning it off at the point to try and reset it, but it doesn't want to know.  As I said, it's all crap.  Thing is though is that none of these appliances can kill us.  The car, suddenly deciding to emergency brake, or worse, could easily kill.  'Technology' simply doesn't work properly.

22 February 2019
Bazzer wrote:

We had a room thermostat controlling our underfloor heating a couple of years ago that used something like 'fuzzy logic'.  It would learn your room heating and also learn what your preferences were.  So then it started to switch on...but immediately switch off.  Sometimes it would switch the heating off because it thought it had been on too long, even though the room wasn't up to temperature, and it wanted to 'protect' the floor covering (even though that had its own overheat thermostat).  So, of course, we had to get rid of it and replace it with a simple dial thermostat from the 1970s...which works a treat.  The moral: almost all technology is crap and doesn't work properly.  And that's a fact.

Oh, and our printer switches itself on at random (often in the middle of the night) and cleans its jets...even though the printer isn't being used.  And our electric oven (which also 'learns') has suddenly decided that the warm up temperature is no longer 275 C (as standard) but 160 C (because we asked it to do it just once).  We've even tried turning it off at the point to try and reset it, but it doesn't want to know.  As I said, it's all crap.  Thing is though is that none of these appliances can kill us.  The car, suddenly deciding to emergency brake, or worse, could easily kill.  'Technology' simply doesn't work properly.

The idea is that all these controlled devices do their thing at convenient times, your printer does it’s maintenance when your not using it, your Sky box updates in the small hours so it doesn’t interrupt your viewing, your heating goes off and on allegedly to save you money, that’s how it works.

22 February 2019

Not the first time you've missed the point, is it Pete?  My printer maintains itself whenever it's used, whereas this is the jet-cleaning that it does on start-up.  It starts up as though it's going to print off, then clicks off - very eerie.  So no, it's not normal...and it only stated doing it a while ago having had it for five years now.  The heating isn't 'coming on and going off'!!!  It had a 'fuzzy logic' system inside (I did say this, but it seems to have passed you) where it learns your use pattern.  Except it started doing what it thought was right, but it was wrong.  It was switching OFF when it should be on.  So no, this is not "how it works".  It doesn't, that was my point.

22 February 2019

We had 3 stories a day from Autocar about a year ago regarding this Autonomous crap, they were towing the SMMT and manufacturers line with statements 'like this time next year' etc. Well it's no further on and won't be for another 20 years+, not just because it's expensive and doesn't work well it also not wanted.  

22 February 2019

Matt - I expected better.  A dishwasher is a completely dumb machine with no AI or feedback systems (like many drivers on the roads!)

A modern autonomous driving system makes thousands of decisions a second based on inputs.  You do the engineers who develop these a big disservice.  I'd much rather drive past an autonomous car doing 60mph on a B road than some ill/drunk/distracted/useless human drivers who cause 1,700 deaths a year in this country!

Don't forget only a tiny % of people actually like driving or get satisfaction from it - and we read Autocar.

22 February 2019

I've figured out the problem with Matt's dishwasher - like his argument, it doesn't hold water.

So, autonomous cars won't be able to do these things apparently:  "initiating a turn, smoothing gearchanges, slowing to a halt, stepping off from stationary, easing around a pothole, backing off when we see gravel or puddles".

If only there was an automatic gearbox that could execute smooth gearchanges all the time...oh, wait a minute, I've got one in my car already.  As for the other things, most human drivers do a pretty hit-and-miss job, and an autonomous car could probably do a more consistent job since it wouldn't get distracted by the test match on the radio or the kids in the back...and it wouldn't think you need to swing right just before making a left turn (why do people do that?).

There are definitely things that are beyond autonomous vehicles' abilities right now, but again many people struggle (although often for different reasons that the AI would).  For example, narrow country lanes with passing places and urban streets with rows of parked cars are tough to handle.  At least an autonomous vehicle would likely apply the highway code rather than decide they're so important they can ignore the rules, push through, and cause gridlock instead...

Unless Matt lives in an area where everyone's a good, considerate driver then he's being a tad too economical with the truth.

Myk

22 February 2019

I'm with Matt on this; full autonomy is miles off yet, if it ever actually arrives.  I can easily see a time when motorway driving is completely autonomous.  The variables are far less and it'd probably be a lot safer (and quicker/more efficiant) to let all motorway traffic drive itself.  But how often do you drive through a busy town or city and consider that an AI could manage it with the same skill?  In all weathers, with all of the random things that can and do happen.  I would suggest that to allow full autonomy they'll need to look to altering the road network to reduce the variables.  Effectively make roads usable by autonomous vehicles that are completely separate from pedestrian areas etc, so full autonomy can only happen within certain road networks.  And this is all before you consider insurance.  Who's liable if the car decides it can't stop it time and has to make a decision to run over a woman rather than a child?  Or who's liable if there's a sensor fault which causes an accident?  Your insurance won't pay out if it's a fault with the programming, which means that manufacturers are going to be held liable.  And that means they'll need to carry their own insurance, which will make them risk averse and less likely to offer full autonomy.

22 February 2019

This is what I said on the other thread.  A faulty sensor WILL fail on one car at one point and slam the brakes on.  So you get rear-ended (let's hope you survive it).  Will the black box know that you didn't press the pedal - that the car did it itself?  How will your insurer react to your claim?

How will an autonomous car react to a squirrel running out in front of you?  In a split second you MAY not hit the brakes because that car transporter is behind you.  Will an autonomous car brake?

TS7

22 February 2019

...but I still wouldn't trust it to drive a car.

Pages

Add your comment

Log in or register to post comments

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week