Driverless Car Arthur Radebaurgh

Can Self-Driving Cars Make Ethical Decisions?

By | Automotive, Telematics | 2 Comments

Picture this. You are in your brand new 2022 self-driving automobile when a large piece of cargo falls off the truck in front of you. The car is not going to be able to stop in time to avoid colliding with the heavy object and hurting you. But the car can swerve to the right, crashing into an open-air sidewalk café and injuring some patrons, including a family with young children, enjoying the afternoon sun. Or, the car can decide to turn the other way, switching lanes quickly, and hitting a motorcyclist.

What should the car do?

Self-Driving Cars Are Here

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Crystal Ball Predictions

Three Connected Car Questions

By | Automotive, Electric Vehicles, Telematics | No Comments

Three Connected Car Questions for 2016

Q: Will autonomous cars be available in 2016?

No, they won’t. Automakers are making steady progress in autonomous navigation and driving technologies, and some of the building blocks are being gradually introduced in new cars. We will see advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) technologies offered in a growing number of cars in the form of automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistance and self-parking.

But it’s unlikely that self-driving cars will be roaming our streets for at least another 5 years. By 2020 we might see low speed self-driving cars or people-moving pods in limited-use applications such as company campuses, airport transfer services and retirement communities. Establishing dedicated paths or highway lanes for autonomous vehicles will accelerate the adoption and utilization of driverless cars.

Q: Will Google build an autonomous car?

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Managing Car Software Lifecycle

By | Automotive, Telematics | No Comments

Software is Carmakers’ Next Battleground

Arguably, all innovation in modern cars is software driven.

The use of software controllers in motor vehicles goes as far back as the late 60s with the introduction of a computer controlled fuel injection module in Volkswagen cars. The use of software based electronic control units (ECUs) accelerated and became common in the late 90s, after OBD-II specification was made mandatory when for all cars manufactured in the United States to be sold in the United States.

But since then, the pace of adding software-driven system and driver features has been accelerating rapidly. OEMs are using software controlled engine management software to improve gas mileage and reduce emissions, replace bulky mechanical systems by “x by wire” software, and introduce an array of active safety functionality enabled by highly sophisticated software. Read More

Jeep Uconnect

Connected Car Security: Real Threat or Media Hysteria?

By | Automotive, Telematics | 5 Comments

With the growing popularity of Internet-connected features in cars, they become attractive targets for remote hacking. While as far as I know no malicious hacking has been reported, there have been multiple demonstrations of serious software vulnerabilities and breaches of vehicles software. A recent Wired magazine article was particularly damming. With Wired support, experienced “white hat” car hackers Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek managed to gain access to a brand new Jeep Cherokee and control several functions, including dashboard display, steering and braking.

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Autonomous Cars: From Driver Errors to Software Errors

By | Automotive, Telematics | No Comments

To Crash is Human

It has been established that humans, not cars, nor the environment are responsible for auto accidents. The data from the National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey (NMVCCS) conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration makes this abundantly clear.

National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey (NMVCCS)

National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Survey (NMVCCS)






Automakers and their suppliers invest heavily in improving crash survivability and in active safety features such as lane departure warning, blind-spot alerts and adaptive cruise control. As the industry inches towards semi- and fully-autonomous vehicles, we expect the number of crashes and fatalities to lessen significantly. Even before we reach a critical mass of crash-avoiding cars, we should see a gradual reduction in the number and severity of car crashes.

But the ability of automakers to mature active safety technologies and get them to market is frequently challenged by quality issues and security breaches that plague the industry at an alarming rate. The prime culprit is the sophisticated software driving active safety features.

Some like to boast about the number of lines of software code in modern cars and wittily imply that because fighter jet software has fewer lines of code, car software is more advanced and sophisticated.  In reality, the problem facing automakers is not driven simply by the volume of software in these cars. The challenge in developing the software is managing the complex functionality of many product configurations and variants.

In-vehicle software for active safety and autonomous operation will continue to push boundaries and will not only increase the burden of assuring its robust quality, but will also bring to the forefront some uncharted challenges in defining and validating the correct and safe operation of these advanced features.

Whose Fault is it?

As more driving tasks traditionally entrusted to human drivers, such as navigation, steering and avoiding crashes, are delegated to software, new concerns about safe operation and questions about liability will arise.

If the car’s software performs worse than a human driver under similar circumstances, we naturally blame the automaker. We might even hold the OEM liable if its vehicle failed to prevent an accident in circumstances that other cars would.

But what if, on average, the accident prevention capabilities of the autonomous car of the future is superior to human drivers, yet such a car caused damage?

And some of the most interesting questions involve the type of dynamic judgment and decision-making informed by legal and ethical considerations. Speeding or swerving into incoming traffic lanes in order to avoid hitting a pedestrian is probably justifiable. But is breaking the law and risking hitting another car justified if the obstacle is a small animal? This type of moral and ethical decision dilemma is often deliberated using the now classic Trolley Problem.

Blame the Software, Not the Driver

As software’s functionality becomes more interactive and “behavioral”, incorporating predictive models of human behavior–both drivers and pedestrians, the definition and validation of correct—even ethical—functionality is going to be extremely complex.

Human drivers may be forgiven for making bad split-second decision; but automakers will not be given that luxury. We are already witnessing an increasing number of quality, safety and cyber security problems in vehicle software, and with those, a growing sentiment of blaming software for driver mistakes and car crashes, some, perhaps, unjustifiably.

As drivers rely more on in-vehicle software, automakers will have to improve both the quality and the functional fidelity of the software. OEMs are not oblivious to the heft of this challenge. As GM’s Mary Bara said: “[it’s a] huge responsibility whether you are steering or not.”

(Photo: Continental Connected Car. Source: Times of India)