Developing Systems to Safely Unlock Automation

In an article for Smart Cities Dive, Navigant Research looks at the challenges in ensuring safety with self-driving cars

Automated driving technology has been slowly evolving for decades, but in the past five years the necessary pieces to really make it work have finally started to come together. As self-driving cars inch closer to reality, though, the challenge for engineers to ensure safety is just beginning.

In an article for Smart Cities Dive, Sam Abuelsamid, senior research analyst at Navigant Research, looks back at his days as an engineer and the challenges that come with building a vehicle that’s truly smart enough to safely outmaneuver everyday obstacles.

“I sat through many technical presentations at conferences where researchers showed off simulations of amazing new anti-lock braking systems or traction control algorithms operating on a homogeneous surface. By that time, I had already been through more than one reboot of my own systems, and knew that those simplistic algorithms would never function in the real world of potholes, rumble strips, black ice patches, and surface transitions,” Abuelsamid wrote. “I learned early how much more there is to making a system safe enough for non-engineers to use — and that was with systems that humans could still take control of when the inevitable failure occurred.”

Abuelsamid said the automated driving systems that will hit the road in the next few years must have much more sophisticated diagnostic systems, and a level of redundancy that has never before been implemented in mass-production vehicles. This means more lidar sensors, more cameras, and more radar sensors, plus at least two independent computer platforms running in parallel at all times.

“Technology startups like the idea of deploying a minimum viable product in order to get user adoption and feedback, which drives rapid iteration and improvement. The threshold of minimum viability for a photo-sharing app or a mobile game is low, since the consequences of failure are annoyance,” Abuelsamid added. “With automated vehicles that are expected to transport us and our families safely to work, school, and leisure activities, minimum viability will require a great deal more effort to achieve.”

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