February 15, 2017, 9:30 PM
One of the main talking points against autonomous vehicles is the role of human intervention and another recent incident involving a Tesla has again highlighted its importance.
Tesla is one of the most advanced marques on the road today in the area of autonomous driving and by far makes the most advanced mass production models. And its models, in particular the Model S sedan, have come under fire for that level of full autonomy in several crashes (one of them fatal) where it was felt that human intervention would have prevented the crash.
Just about anybody involved in the autonomous driving debate will acknowledge that the high majority of road crashes involve driver error, either directly causing the crash or the ability to not prevent it because of the human reaction to the cause of the crash.
Many will also acknowledge that computers do not yet have the ability to make humane decisions. In other words, presented with a small object in the road and large objects in its escape lanes, the computer will choose the path of less harm and attempt to brake completely to avoid the smaller object or at least mitigate the level of destruction to the car. The problem arises when that small object is a child, for example, and the large objects on the side of the road are parked cars. The human driver would likely sacrifice the car or others’ cars to save the human life, rightfully believing that it’s a lot easier to pay for property than for a lost life.
The recent incident on a German Autobahn involved a Tesla Model S and a Volkswagen Passat wagon. Tesla driver Manfred Kick reported observing the Passat driving erratically in the left lane of the multi-lane highway. Pulling alongside, Kick noted the Passat driver doubled over the steering wheel, so he alerted emergency services, executed the pass and manoeuvred the Tesla in front of the Passat, allowing it to ram into the rear of the Model S and then he applied the brakes continuously to eventually stop both vehicles, but not without substantial damage.
Kick also reportedly administered first aid to the Passat driver before medical arrived to stabilize the Passat driver (presumed to have suffered a stroke) and transport him to hospital. Because of this incident, lives were saved as the result of having an alert and capable human at the wheel of an autonomous vehicle.
Several European publications are reporting that insurance will not cover the estimated €10,000 (roughly $14,000) damage to the Tesla, which due to the intentional actions of its driver is theoretically at fault for the crash. However, Elon Musk has tweeted out that Tesla will pay for and expedite the repairs.
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