A few days ago, I received this feed from TU Automotive, an automotive technology publication. I found it very interesting because there has been so much diatribe, of late, that fully autonomous vehicles (without pedals or steering wheels) are soon to be a common sight. The missive opened with: “There’s a potentially heavy ethical price to pay towards a safer future.” It was voiced by Elmar Degenhart at the 2018 North American International Auto Show. Degenhart is the CEO and executive board member of Continental, a German automobile manufacturer.
He was talking about the fallibility of robotics.
One thing, conspicuously, missing in the discussions around driverless vehicles is the fact that machines make mistakes. Of course, humans do as well, but we attribute that to being “human.” I do not believe that will fly in a world of autonomous vehicles. After all, most mistakes made by robots are due to faulty input.
Degenhart makes another statement that seems to go, totally, against the winds of the autonomous vehicle ecosystem. He states, “…we will bring automated driving functions into the field Level 2 today, going out Level 3 at about 2020, plus or minus a little, then Level 4 about 2025 and full autonomous probably between 2025 to 2030.”
I like this kind of pragmatic realism injected into a, mostly, hyperbolic bubble that surrounds much of today’s emerging technology. This is an interesting missive, considering some car companies are suggesting they already have level 4, with level 5 coming in a year or two. I think he is spot-on and those that are claiming level 4 and 5 sophistication are being very myopic in scope. We may be able to accomplish level 4/5 results in a controlled environment but we are, at a minimum, years, if not decades, away from having a reliable and ubiquitous level 4/5 transportation infrastructure.
However, along the way we will see various iteration of these level 4/5 implementations. Degenhart sees some interesting vectors develop along the way. One, for example, is called the “bee” concept. He sees this as the use of a group of vehicles being used in a swarm concept where a number of vehicles run very close and in parallel. Much like a train but the vehicles would be linked together wirelessly for public transportation.
Awesome concept; however, it would require that the infrastructure of cities to be fully capable of communicating with these, and other, types of autonomous vehicles – i.e., full level 5. I just do not see that happening in the next few years.
Why? Because it is not as simple as that. As was alluded to earlier in this missive, there is little discussion around the safety issue of robotic cars once they get unleashed into the transportation infrastructure. There have been issues, and some deaths in this segment.
Degenhart saw that as well. He brought up the point about technology validation, and very aptly. He noted that, “it will be impossible to take care of each and every situation you can think about outside of the vehicle driving around in, say, Level 4 automatically or even fully autonomously.” That is all well and good, but even with AI and machine learning/intelligence (ML/MI), I do not think encountering situations and having accidents are going to be well received as a learning platform for autonomous vehicles.
In that vein, Degenhart brings up the question of how to validate self-learning algorithms so they do not have to “learn by accident.” He states, “…we have no answer for this today. Therefore, we say if you believe you can implement Level 4 driving in the 2020 timeframe, this is completely unrealistic.”
This is a bit off the normal conversations about autonomous vehicles, but certainly one that needs to be part of the discussion. And, since it seems we do not have many of the required elements in place for a fully level 4/5 autonomous vehicle ecosystem, I will go on record, once again, and say it will be years or decades before this is in place.
Executive Editor/Applied Wireless Technology
His 20-plus years of editorial experience includes being the Editorial Director of Wireless Design and Development and Fiber Optic Technology, the Editor of RF Design, the Technical Editor of Communications Magazine, Cellular Business, Global Communications and a Contributing Technical Editor to Mobile Radio Technology, Satellite Communications, as well as computer-related periodicals such as Windows NT. His technical writing practice client list includes RF Industries, GLOBALFOUNDRIES, Agilent Technologies, Advanced Linear Devices, Ceitec, SA, and others. Before becoming exclusive to publishing, he was a computer consultant and regularly taught courses and seminars in applications software, hardware technology, operating systems, and electronics. Ernest’s client list has included Lucent Technologies, Jones Intercable, Qwest, City and County of Denver, TCI, Sandia National Labs, Goldman Sachs, and other businesses. His credentials include a BS, Electronic Engineering Technology; A.A.S, Electronic Digital Technology. He has held a Colorado Post-Secondary/Adult teaching credential, member of IBM’s Software Developers Assistance Program and Independent Vendor League, a Microsoft Solutions Provider Partner, and a life member of the IEEE. He has been certified as an IBM Certified OS2 consultant and trainer; WordPerfect Corporation Developer/Consultant and Lotus Development Corporation Developer/Consultant. He was also a first-class FCC technician in the early days of radio. Ernest Worthman may be contacted at: [email protected]