Autonomous nonsense

I read that bean counters at KPMG have created the second edition of an Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index (AVRI), gauging 25 countries readiness for AV technology.

The automated safety systems which have arrived in the coach market already take vehicles just a leap of faith from being autonomous; it’s not hard to see that if lane departure systems steered the coach and adaptive cruise control and automatic braking kept it safely in the traffic, you need only add GPS-based navigation, speed control and waypoints for set-down and you’re most of the way there.

In the real world, there are several reasons, though, why autonomous cars are a nonsense. In the first place, the problem cities have is the opposite of finding enough people to drive cars; we have too many cars, making too many journeys, and the roadspace situation is not solved by robot drivers.

But what of autonomous buses and coaches? Well, in common with autonomous cars, they have one glaring, irreparable flaw; the lack of a human at the wheel. For a start, AVs absolutely MUST stop if a human walks or cycles in front of them. So, without fear of a human ear-bashing, people will simply abuse this default, and it will be hard for AVs to get anywhere.

But more than this, as human drivers we’re aware of the oncoming driver flashing headlamps to let us make a manoeuvre; we recognise hand gestures signalling to us to make that right turn. An AV cannot read any of these things, nor anticipate a cyclist facing driving rain making a mistake, or that moment when you know the person pulling on to a major road hasn’t seen you.

As humans, we make allowances for other humans. Robots can do none of this. They make binary decisions, and require binary roadspace such as dedicated busways or rail to work. It’s telling that the automaton accountants at KPMG have not realised this, and waste their time predicting a future which will never arrive.

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