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Wednesday, 25 April 2018 21:57

How Safety Shapes Driverless Car Technology

Written by TJ Martinell, Lens
As driverless technology develops, one company is focusing solely on near-fully autonomous vehicles (AV), a move they believe will address public safety concerns. As driverless technology develops, one company is focusing solely on near-fully autonomous vehicles (AV), a move they believe will address public safety concerns. National League of Cities

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A new state law that takes effect in June creates a state work group that assists the Washington State Transportation Commission on making annual recommendations to state lawmakers for public policy on the use of driverless or self-driving vehicles.

Meanwhile, self-driving tech companies such as Waymo intend to have driverless vehicles available for public rider service by the end of the year with level four technology, which means the car can operate without human control under certain conditions. The highest is level five, where the vehicle is fully autonomous under all conditions.


At an April 18 event in Seattle hosted by the Institute for Legal Reform (ILR) and the U.S. Chamber Technology Engagement Center (C_TEC), Waymo Senior Counsel David Tressier outlined how it created the technology to make the vehicles work and in what ways public concerns over safety have driven development.


“We are very excited at the prospect of bringing self-driving car technology to the public and improving road safety,” he said.


The way to do that is by “building the world’s most experienced driver” through a combination of public road testing and aerospace simulation. Formerly the Google self-driving car project, Waymo later split off to form its own separate company in 2016. Since 2009, its AV software has driven 5 million autonomous miles on public roads.


Unlike other autonomous vehicle (AV) companies, Waymo is only focused on level four technology, a decision made based on its experience with Google’s self-driving car tests that had employees operating them.


“You have someone texting, not paying attention to the road, fumbling around with cords,” he said. “It’s actually very easy for humans to start trusting the technology. I made a decision at that point that we would only pursue level four autonomy, because it’s the safest.”


He added that complications arise with creating level 2--3 self-driving cars where the driver frequently takes and yields control, which also compounds liability issues.


One barrier they hope to surmount is public anxiety. A 2017 Pew Research Center survey of 4,135 U.S. adults found that “although they expect certain positive outcomes from these developments, their attitudes more frequently reflect worry and concern over the implications of these technologies for society as a whole.”


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