Trying to Bypass Anxiety on the Road to Driverless Cars

Trying to Bypass Anxiety on the Road to Driverless Cars

Ford Motor has set a goal of producing a self-driving car with no steering wheel and no pedals by 2021, allowing time to make sure such technology can be managed safely.

General Motors may have taken a significant step forward with its Super Cruise system, available in the 2018 Cadillac CT6 sedan, which can pilot a car on divided, limited-access highways. It does not require drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel — instead employing a camera to make sure the driver’s eyes are on the road.

The importance of understanding how drivers interact with autonomous or semiautonomous vehicles was underscored year ago when a Tesla owner was killed while driving his 2015 Model S in Florida with the car’s Autopilot system engaged.

Federal investigators have determined the man failed to keep his hands on the steering wheel despite repeated warnings by the car. The cars’ radar and cameras failed to see a tractor-trailer crossing the road in front of him, and neither the driver nor the car activated the brakes.

Understanding the variations in human behavior is essential for Volvo, said Trent Victor, senior technical leader in crash avoidance and an adjunct professor of driving behavior at Chalmers University in Goteborg.

5 Things That Give Self-Driving Cars Headaches

Despite their multitude of sensors and processors, autonomous cars have a lot of trouble with some everyday aspects of driving.


“There are people who immediately jump in and trust the system,” he said. “There are people that are very reluctant. A system that is designed for a person that is hesitant has to be designed in a different way.”

Until now, much of the discussion has centered on technology, the sensor and algorithms that control the vehicle. “We are taking the development of autonomous driving to another level, where we are studying the drivers’ experiences,” Mr. Victor said.

Two families have already received the specially equipped cars, including Sasko and Anna Simonovski, who will use theirs for the commute to Goteborg from suburban Langedrag, a distance of six to eight miles, and to drive their two children to their activities.

Mr. Simonovski, a manager in research and development at the software company Ericsson, applied online to take part in the project in September. “Being a bit nerdy on technology, I thought it would be interesting,” he said.

Since picking up the car on Wednesday, Mr. Simonovski said, he could already feel a subtle difference in his well-being during the commute.

“Even though I am responsible, I still find it less stressful in the rush-hour traffic,” he said. “That’s another benefit that I think could improve even more with autonomy. I can’t say I have done very much more with that time, other than it has made me feel more calm.”

He has found one other change. “I can browse through Spotify more,” he said.

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