CEO affirms that cars “will just keep on braking.”
With the advent of autonomous driving, many have speculated as to how software would react to a very human problem: What do you choose to hit, when an accident is unavoidable?
There have been numerous theories on how autonomous vehicles would react, how they’re programmed to react, and how they ought to react. Everyone has an opinion on the subject, and rightfully so: You wouldn’t be too pleased if an autonomous car chose to plough into your parents in their old Holden rather than hit a school-bus full of children now, would you. But when situations like these are presented to a human being, we balance various considerations before making that decision; considerations that would be alien to a computer.
If there had to be one carmaker to have authority on these matters, it’d be safety-benchmark Volvo. Its CEO, Hakan Samuelsson, spoke at the Geneva motor show to the media about how the company would never permit their vehicles to make the choice between saving its occupants or others in the event of an unavoidable collision. “The car will always do everything to brake, when something is in its way. If there is an empty space to the right, it will steer to the right. But it will never steer to the right if there is something there also; Then, it will just keep on braking.”
“It will never make any moral decisions,” he affirmed. “It will just, in any case, stop the vehicle.”
“The decision-making software is our core competency. How you should react - should you brake, or steer. I think being first out on he market is a differentiator; And then, really, safety credibility. People will think twice before they sit back, relax, and watch a movie,” said Samuelsson. “You can just imagine, if you’re being driven by someone you don’t know very well, you tend to brake when you’re on the other side [of the car]. So such a system has to be very reliable and credible. That’s probably one of the best assets we have as a company.”
Samuelsson said that Volvo must first be confident in the technology, as only then will consumers follow suit. “If you’re not ready to really take responsibility for the technology, I think you should not be in this game. If you have an autonomous driven car, you’re trying to sell that. But then there is a disclaimer that says if something happens, it’s always you as driver [taking responsibility for the car’s blunder]. That wouldn’t be a very attractive system.”
Samuelsson’s last comment seemed almost like a sideways jab at Tesla, who wowed the world by bringing its autonomous-driving system ‘Autopilot’ to market in 2014. Not long after that, the company clarified that its Autopilot system was merely in “beta testing” stage, gathering data from users in real-time to refine the system. While some companies hailed it as forward-thinking, more established automobile players thought it bordered on reckless, putting lives at risk on unproven and imperfect software.
“It has to be credible. Especially for Volvo; We sell just on safety [to some].” The CEO then continued to say how its autonomous driving technology was crucial to the company’s pledge to see zero deaths in Volvo cars by 2020. “It [autonomous driving technology] should be more reliable than a human. As we see today, it’s coming one step further in safety. You have 90% of accidents that are human-error related today. You have to address that, to bring it down.”
It’s an interesting conversation topic this, one that’s likely not going to rest anytime soon. Legislation will likely be the ultimate decide in the issue, but with fully-autonomous vehicles still some time away, we’re probably not going to settle on an answer soon.