Autonomous Vehicles
October 8, 2019

Study Shows Semi Autonomous Vehicles Can’t See Pedestrians

Image: Carscoops.com

It was only a few years ago when semi autonomous vehicles were the shiny pennies pledging to undertake all the  pesky logistics of driving. But as reported in The Verge.com things are not quite as touted, even with the Automatic Emergency Braking Systems. These vehicles are testing out as unconscious killers of vulnerable road users, who are being slaughtered at an increasing rate on roads in North America.

The most important aspect for any vehicle on the road is the ability to recognize and avoid vulnerable road users, those pedestrians, cyclists and other wheelers that are using the street without the protection of a vehicular steel shell.

It appears that while car companies fill their vehicles with toys (I have already written about the huge dashboard reader screens) the technology is still not reliable to keep everyone safe on the road. That’s the nice way of saying that today’s semi autonomous vehicles are murderous for other road users despite the fact that they have been portrayed as being logically smarter and safer than human drivers.

This report by the American Automobile Association (AAA) looked at the automatic braking systems of semi autonomous vehicles from different makers when confronted with a pedestrian (thankfully they used mannequins).  Four different 2019 model vehicles were used~a Chevy Malibu, Honda Accord, Tesla Model 3, and Toyota Camry.

Unbelievably  the vehicles hit the dummy pedestrians a horrifying sixty percent of the time-“and this was in daylight hours at speeds of 20 mph/30 km/h”. When child sized dummy pedestrians were used on the roadway, they were hit eighty percent of the time, 89 percent  of the time if between cars.These findings also occurred at higher speeds and at night.

Pedestrian fatalities were even worse if the victim had their back towards vehicles. The Truth About Cars writes “The researchers tested several other scenarios, including encountering a pedestrian after a right-hand turn and two adults standing alongside the road with their backs to traffic. The latter scenario resulted in a collision 80 percent of the time, while the former yielded a 100 percent collision rate.”

Thankfully in their conclusions  of the study AAA states that the high-tech detection systems are inadequate, with none of the various vehicles tested being able to detect an adult walking on the roadway at night. Only one vehicle was able to detect that an object was even in front of the car, but it still did not brake.

As Allison Arieff writes in the New York Times –while over 80 billion dollars has been spent in the last five years on “smart” or connected cars and AVs supposedly to make them safer, “investing in the car of the future is investing in the wrong problem. We need to be thinking about how we can create a world with fewer cars.”

In 2018 6,227 pedestrians (that’s the population of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia)  were killed in the United States.That’ is an increase of 4 percent from 2017. Canada is also in the club, being one of only seven industrialized nations in the world where pedestrian deaths are increasing.

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Dean A recommended this piece in the New York Times:

Among the safety measures proposed by car companies are encouraging pedestrians and bicyclists to use R.F.I.D. tags, which emit signals that cars can detect. This means it’s becoming the pedestrian’s responsibility to avoid getting hit. But if keeping people safe means putting the responsibility on them (or worse, criminalizing walking and biking), we need to think twice about the technology we’re developing. …

 

Peter Ladner was motivated to write this response with respect to our bike routes:

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In an emergency I had the opportunity to drive  a new Tesla from Vancouver to the California border for a friend. It was a chance to understand a bit more about the Internet of Things (IOT) and also learn more about the private community club of Tesla. While you can read many articles about how the vehicles brake and about the internal features and innovations, there’s not that much written about the interconnected linkages Tesla has created at their “refuelling” stations, or the data they are collected from Tesla drivers.

First the stuff every Tesla driver will tell you~it cost $3.00 to drive from Vancouver to the California border return, and that is the cost of connecting at Tesla’s charging system. The Tesla Supercharger network cannot be used by other electric cars, although Tesla does provide an adapter so their vehicles can use other Level Two AC chargers.

The Tesla Supercharger installations look like an army of gas pumps  strategically located so you don’t feel silly or out of place charging a Tesla up at 4:00 a.m. in the morning. The network across North America of these charging stations is a key investment in selling the vehicles for long distance.

You can see a map of the 14,000 charging stations across North America here.Supposedly you can charge a car completely at a supercharger in 30 minutes. My experience was it normally took a bit longer than that.

The locations of the super chargers are near shopping malls and well-lit suburban hotels, with 24 hour operating restaurants close by.  People driving Teslas into the charging stations all seem to emerge with their own ipads in hand looking thoughtful. If you overstay at a charging station, you are curtly reminded of your transgression by notification from Tesla, and then fined. There’s also a culture in place to ensure you move your vehicle out of the charging station promptly, even if the entire place is vacant.

But back to the Internet of Things~during the recent hurricane in Florida, Tesla by software update allowed owners  in those areas impacted to drive longer distances for a certain period of time.

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We live in a time where simple solutions to problems are often overlooked for technological answers. It’s no surprise given that many people perceive technology as helpful, and in many instances it is. But it’s always important to figure out what the problem is that a technological answer seeks to solve.

Take a look at this installation at a traffic intersection in Singapore that allows a senior citizen (who has the requisite senior citizen’s card) to “swipe” the pedestrian crossing button to get up to thirteen seconds extra crossing time on a busy street. The “Green Man Plus” system was introduced in 2009 for seniors and “those with disabilities” to be allowed extra crossing time. As ABC reporter Stephen Dziedzic stated on Twitter

“At some Singapore intersections you can swipe your Senior Card and the crossing light will stay green for a little longer, giving you extra time to reach the other side of the road. I find this very touching.”

 

While the Twitterverse thought this was indeed a very good idea to enhance equity, the question really is who is equal here? And instead of installing hundreds of these pedestrian installations that require a card to activate them, why not increase the crossing time on the timing of the light cycle in favour of all pedestrians, no matter who they are or when they are crossing? If people using the sidewalks and crosswalks are truly the most valued and most vulnerable users, why not treat them that way, and allow everyone a longer crossing time without a card to ask permission?

Locally, another example of technological invention also focuses on the wrong end of the problem.

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One of the world’s most iconic vans is making a comeback…

But this time, it’s electric. Slated for production by 2022, the “electric microbus” is one of five new electric models in Volkswagen’s ID. series — a family of 100% electric vehicles, which includes a crossover, a compact, a sedan, and of course, the van.

Just like the classic VW van, there will be room for up to seven people with an adjustable interior that includes a table and movable seats. Volkswagen also intends on enabling all ID. series models with a fully autonomous feature option.

Distance, a major concern of many when it comes to purchasing an electric vehicle, is no longer an issue. The van will have an electric range of 400 to 600 km, comparable to pretty much any gas-powered vehicle. Further, Volkswagen has partnered with Electrify Canada (partnership formed by Electrify America in cooperation with Volkswagen Canada) to build ultra-fast electric vehicle charging infrastructure to give Canadians the reliability they need to confidently make the switch to electric. Planning and deployment are well underway, including network routes — you can check out the Vancouver to Calgary route here.

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It really is astounding at how we can so easily erase the need for basic pedestrian amenity when new technology rolls around. Even the people at Amazon did not see the obvious usurping of the sidewalk by their six wheeled  sidewalk delivery robot as being a problem. You can see in the video below as “Scout” (yes they named him) dutifully takes up most of the sidewalk as he rolls on his route. There is no space left over for a pedestrian, a baby buggy or a user of any mobility device.

But now Amazon as reported in the Business Insider wants pedestrians to know that not only do they need to give way for these robots on narrow sidewalks, but “that the public should treat these robots in the same way that they would pedestrians.”. 

Yes you heard that right. The sidewalk delivery robots want to have the same rights and the same rules of the road as do pedestrians, and also will use the road only if a pedestrian would do the same with a level of comfort.

Sean Scott of Amazon states “If you feel safe walking on that road, that’s where we want to be. We want to be viewed as a pedestrian and treated as a pedestrian.”

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From Bloomberg.com, Sweden is experimenting with a road surface that actually recharges electric cars as they drive the highway. A one mile section of road in Gotland will be rebuilt with charging panels at a cost of 12.5 million dollars. If the trial is successful, Sweden plans to build more than 1,200 miles of this recharging road in the near future. You can find out more information and view a video on this project here.

And here is a video that describes the technology and its potential application in France.

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Seattle’s Crosscut columnist Knute Berger thinks it might be – in this piece: Is Seattle freeing itself from the automobile age?

In South Lake Union, you see folks zipping along on monowheels, hoverboards and electric bikes and scooters. These electronic gadgets seem less intrusive and more versatile than, say, a Segway, and some can be carried by hand or in a backpack.

Other innovations are in the works. Boeing is testing a pilot-less “autonomous” air taxi — a kind of flying Uber. Is the era of the flying car, as envisioned on The Jetsons, finally at hand? In Snohomish County, Amazon is testing a small delivery bot, named Scout, that can bring Amazon Prime customers their order. It looks like a robotic cooler on six wheels. It could someday be more efficient than fleets of street-clogging delivery cars and trucks.

The quest for car-free city living is speeding up, not slowing down. Seattle was reshaped and improved by a technology that arrived as a circus toy. Don’t be too quick to dismiss the driverless novelties that might be flying overhead or rolling along the sidewalk to deliver goodies in your neighborhood.

Of course, ‘careful what you wish for.’

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It is the question to ask at the City Program’s Simon Fraser University seminar with Autonomous Vehicle expert Tim Papandreou and the question I did ask Ole Thorson of the International Federation of Pedestrians. 

When an autonomous vehicle is going to crash into a crowd of pedestrians, who does the car save? Does it save the vehicle occupants first? And who makes that decision?

Caroline Lester asks that question in The New Yorker. While a “level four” autonomous vehicle is independent on highways, it still needs a human to guide it. “Level five” vehicles will make their own judgements, including  the decision cited in what is called “The Trolley Problem”.

“If a car detects a sudden obstacle—say, a jackknifed truck—should it hit the truck and kill its own driver, or should it swerve onto a crowded sidewalk and kill pedestrians? A human driver might react randomly (if she has time to react at all), but the response of an autonomous vehicle would have to be programmed ahead of time. What should we tell the car to do?”

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The Future of Mobility Speaker Series: Tim Papandreou

The transportation sector is about to experience its biggest shake-up since the combustion engine replaced the horse and carriage. Electrification, automation and the sharing economy are converging to change the modes we use to move and the services we expect.

Explore this transformation with Tim Papandreou, the leading global expert in the future of mobility and automation who led strategic partnerships to commercialize Waymo and launch the world’s first fully self-driving ride-hailing service.

The City of Vancouver and City of Surrey will also take the stage to talk about their joint Smart Cities Challenge proposal.

Following his presentation, Tim will be joined on stage for a moderated Q&A with Andy Yan, director of Simon Fraser University’s City Program.

 

Thursday, Jan 24

6 pm

SFU Harbour Centre, 515 West Hastings, Room 1400

This event is free but registration is required due to limited seating available. Save your spot.

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