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Confusion between automated driving and self-driving is dangerous.

06.18.2019 - 9:20 PM Comments: 0

The term “self-driving” has been tossed around and attributed to some of the new automobiles being manufactured much more than it ought to be. The fact that social media adds to the hype doesn’t help to correct the misconception that some cars are truly self-driving. SAE International categorizes six levels of autonomous driving, each distinctive from one another. Starting with 0 and going to 5, the higher the number, the less a human needs to do. Therefore, level 5 is what we would consider true self-driving as it requires that the system can drive in any weather or traffic condition without human interaction.

However, the fact of the matter is that the techiest cars yet are only at a level 2. Companies are selling these new, recently deployed cars by labeling them “self-driving” even though they are far from it, as of yet. As a result, users are ignorant about the car’s capabilities and are more reliant than they ought to be on its technology.  

Level 5 cars – or even 4 or 3, for that matter – just don’t exist yet, so attributing the qualities of a level 5 performance to a level 2 is irresponsible and dangerous. The computers in these most recent cars still hugely rely on human support. This was evident in the tragic crash in Florida in 2016 where the driver was focused on a Harry Potter movie instead of operating his vehicle.

“From a self-driving perception standpoint, you naturally assume you don’t have to interact with the system, that the system is going to do everything that it needs to do regardless of what’s going on around the surrounding environment,” says Freightliner’s On-Highway Marketing Manager Clint LaPreze. “Whereas with automated driving, we’re automating certain features of that operation.”

The most popular and technologically advanced platform available yet is Tesla’s AutoPilot system, yet it doesn’t actually do much more than the Detroit Assurance enabled, Level 2 capable 2020 Freightliner Cascadia.

“The danger of calling it ‘self-driving’ is that it nullifies the training and what the drivers are doing,” says Collin Shaw, Wabco’s director of marketing & business development.

Many have related automated driving in the trucking industry to the auto-pilot system in the airline industry, but Bendix Director of Customer Solutions & Marketing-Controls Group T. J. Thomas brings to our attention that there are still two people on the flight deck at all times doing a lot to keep the flight safe even with auto-pilot fully engaged.

“When you refer to it as automated there are still things, maybe they’re different than what a typical driver is used to doing, but somebody who is working with a more highly automated system still has a number of roles to fill,” Shaw adds. “And maybe when it comes to a more highly automated vehicle it’s not so much on the driving, but monitoring and understanding what’s happening in the environment and understanding what’s happening with your cargo.”

After using both of these systems behind the wheel, I’ve observed their similarities which included warnings that the driver placed his hands on the wheel if they’ve been off for a good while. A truly self-driving system would require no such thing!

“The driver is still active in the seat. The driver is still the number one safety feature in the vehicle and they’re going to have control of it,” LaPreze adds of current commercially available autonomous technology. “The difference between automated systems or automated tasks versus self-driving is the perception of how somebody’s going to assume a certain technology works or does not work.”

What both the Tesla and Freightliner systems can do is monitor traffic and lane markings as well as some steering input, throttle, and brake application. However, these technologies were only meant to assist the driver, not to replace him.

Unfortunately, many individuals are irresponsibly uploading YouTube videos of themselves reading books or sleeping while behind the wheel of a Tesla vehicle. If they’ve survived thus far, it’s only luck, not the car’s “self-driving” capabilities.

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