Mark Moran’s Musings


Mark Moran’s Musings

Drivers will remain important in motoring until cars are completely “connected.”

The full benefits of autonomous vehicles (AVs) will not be felt until every car on the road is connected to one another, a report by a U.S. academic suggests. This is because the human eye is, in many ways, still superior to sensor systems currently being used on road vehicles.

Brandon Schoettle, Project Manager in the Human Factors group at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, has produced a report called “Sensor Fusion: A Comparison of Sensing Capabilities of Human Drivers and Highly Automated Vehicles.”

Schoettle suggests that human drivers still generally maintain an advantage in terms of reasoning, perception and sensing when driving. He points out a number of circumstances in which both human capability and a connected vehicle’s perception can be compromised — thus increasing the need for each party to work together — such as extreme weather, excessive dirt or physical obstructions, darkness or low illumination, large physical obstructions and dense traffic.

His report explains that where the human brain wins out over a vehicle’s systems in the areas of memory, reasoning, sensing and perception, making human involvement both desirable and advantageous.

However, while no single sensor completely equals human sensing capabilities, Schoettle states that some offer capabilities that are not possible for a human driver. He argues that machines and computers are generally well-suited to perform tasks like driving, especially in regard to reaction time when vehicles are travelling at speed; power output and control; consistency; and multi-channel information processing.

Schoettle writes that it is necessary to look beyond the sensor capabilities of individual cars and consider the wider highway infrastructure, street-scene and urban realm.

“Matching, or exceeding, human sensing capabilities requires AVs to employ a variety of sensors which, in turn, requires complete sensor fusion across the system, combining all sensor inputs to form a unified view of the surrounding roadway and environment,” he writes.

“Integration of connected-vehicle technology extends the effective range and coverage area of both human-driven vehicles and AVs, with a longer operating range and omnidirectional communication that does not require unobstructed line of sight the way human drivers and AVs generally do.

“Combining human-driven vehicles or AVs that can ‘see’ traffic and their environment with connected vehicles (CVs) that can ‘talk’ to other traffic and their environment maximizes potential awareness of other roadway users and roadway conditions. AV sensing will still be critical for detection of any road user or roadway obstacle that is not part of the interconnected dedicated short-range communications (DSRC) system used by CVs.”

Schoettle suggests that connected autonomous vehicles could effectively and safely replace the human driver when they reach National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) autonomy levels 4 and 5 (go to

The UK road safety charity IAM RoadSmart welcomed Schoettle’s report as endorsing its position that the human mind holds the edge until such point that connected cars actually “talk” to one another and can predict what is happening over the horizon.

Neil Greig, its Director of Policy and Research, said, “The ultimate win-win situation is a place where information from each vehicle is shared with the vehicles around it. Add that to human experience born from a lifetime of ‘trial and error’ and you have the ideal double-act to spot crashes before they happen.”

Early last year, lAM RoadSmart warned that cars with growing levels of autonomy could make motorists lazy and over-reliant on gadgets, with far-reaching implications for the potential reduction of people killed and seriously injured on the roads.

Greig said, “When it comes to driverless cars, [our] members are not keen to give up full control. The implications for future driver competence and training as we become more reliant on technology are still far from clear.”

The UK House of Lords Science and Technology Committee report “Connected and Autonomous Vehicles: The future?” echoed this view, stating: “Autonomous cars could have negative implications for drivers’ competence, making drivers complacent and overly reliant on technology. This is of particular concern in emergency situations, where a driver may react slowly to taking back control of a vehicle.”


Drivers fear loss of control

Drivers are concerned that driverless cars will make people too dependent on technology, a survey has found. In identifying their feelings about automotive technology, the top six issues raised by motorists were negative ones such as being worried about conceding control.

Motorists are three times likelier (44%) to be scared of autonomous vehicles due to the loss of personal control than likely to see the positive opportunities.

Respondents said driverless cars would lead to people becoming too lazy and reliant on technology (37%). There were also worries about the risks associated with technology, such as automated vehicle systems being hacked {36%}.

When asked about what benefits will be delivered, the second most popular response was “none,” as more than 33% of respondents could not identify any advantage that would follow future advances. Researchers spoke with 2,000 motorists for Continental Tyres, a UK tire and technology manufacturer.

Mark Moran is Editor of the UK magazine Parking Review. Contact him at

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