Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Car Drivers Do More than Drive

How will self-driving cars handle all the non-driving tasks that drivers also perform?  How will they make unaccompanied kids stop sticking their head out the window?

https://pixabay.com/photos/stuffed-animals-classic-car-driving-2798333/
Hey Kids -- Don't stick your heads out the window!

The conversation about self-driving cars is almost all about whether a computer can safely perform the "dynamic driving task." As well it should be -- at first.  If that part isn't safe, then there isn't much to talk about.

But, looking forward, human drivers do more than drive. They also provide adult supervision (and, on a good day, mature judgement) about the operation of the vehicle in other respects. If you've never heard the phrase "stop doing that right now or I swear I'm going to stop the car!" then probably you've never ridden in a car with multiple children.  And yet, we're already talking about sending kids to school in an automated school bus. Presumably the point is to avoid the cost of the human supervision.

But is putting a bunch of kids in a school bus without an adult a good idea?  Will the red-faced person on the TV monitor yelling at the kids really be effective?  Or just provide entertainment for already screaming kids?

But there's more than that to consider. Here's my start at a list of things human drivers (including vehicle owners, taxi drivers, and so on) do that isn't really driving.

Some tasks will arguably be done by a fleet maintenance function:
  • Preflight inspection of vehicle. (Flat tires, structural damage.)
  • Preflight correction of issues. (Cleaning off snow and ice. Cleaning windshield.)
  • Ensure routine maintenance has been performed. (Vehicle inspections, good tires, fueling/charging, fluid top-off if needed.)
  • Maintain vehicle interior cleanliness.  And we're not just talking about empty water bottles here. (Might require taking vehicle out of service for cleaning up motion sickness results. But somehow the maintenance crew needs to know there has been a problem.)
But some things have to happen on the road when no human driver is present. Examples include:
  • Ensure vehicle occupants stay properly seated and secured.
  • Keep vehicle occupants from doing unsafe things. (Hand out window, head out sunroof, fighting, who knows what. Generally providing adult supervision. Especially if strangers or kids are sharing a vehicle.)
  • Responding to cargo that comes loose.
  • Emergency egress coordination (e.g., getting sleeping children, injured, and mobility impaired passengers out of vehicle when a dangerous situation occurs such as a vehicle fire)
Anyone who seriously wants to build vehicles that don't have a designated "person in charge" (which is the driver in conventional vehicles) will need to think through all these issues. And likely more. Any argument that a self driving vehicle is safe for unattended service will need to deal with all these issues, and more. (UL 4600 is intended to cover all this ground.)

Can you think of any other non-driving tasks that need to be handled?

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