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Self-Driving Cars? Probably Not In Your Lifetime


General Motors, Google, Tesla and others are all in the race to produce self-driving cars. And just last month, Nissan announced its driverless car will roll out in 2020. Today on "Think," guest host Lauren Silverman talked with U.C. Berkley research engineer Steven Shladover about how these cars will function, how engineers are making them safe and when we will see them on the road.

The KERA Interview

Steven Shladover on...

… why we shouldn’t call the cars driverless:

“I call them automated because automation is the process of substantiating machine activity or human activity and that’s what we’re doing here, we’re taking some of that human activity of driving and transferring it to the machine that’s built into the vehicle.”

… how safe driving is today:

“Everybody agrees that if we’re going to put a new automated system into operation it can’t be less safe than what we’re doing today. People don’t really understand just how safe driving is today. When we take the traffic safety statistics and put them into engineering terms describe how long does a vehicle drive between getting into serious crashes, which is an important measure when you’re designing something like this … on average we have one fatal crash in over 3 million hours of driving.”

… the software being an obstacle:

“If you think about the driving environment and the types of situations that you have to deal with there are static objects around the roadway, just the roadway infrastructure itself, the curbs, the markings, the signs. But then there are all the dynamic things, the things that are moving in that environment. All the other vehicles, the pedestrians, the bicycles, the animals. And those other objects move in unpredictable ways. And now your driving software system has to be able to keep track of those things and continuously decided to what to do to respond to those things. All of us who’ve worked on development of vehicle that do automation have an encountered oddball situations along the way where the system failed.”

… when we’ll see fully driverless cars:

“The notion of the car that’s going to be able to do all of the driving that people do today under the full range of conditions in which people drive today is many, many decades in the future. This is where we have to try to focus on what are the things that are realistically achievable in the next five years, 10 years, 15 years. I think we are likely to see some level four highway automation, that is systems that can operate just on the freeways and can take over the driving for the freeway portion of the trip, probably within the next 10 years.”