Chris Gerdes, a respected Stanford engineering professor, who sits at the forefront of driverless research, has set a quest to fix one of the major flaws that might become a make it or break it case for autonomous vehicles in the near future.
Gerdes, alongside its students, is most famous for being responsible for the programming of their Audi race car, Shelly, to handle flawlessly the treacherous 153 turns on the 12.4 miles of the Pikes Peak trail in Colorado – with no person inside. He has also been an enthusiastic supporter of the driverless car movement, even taking the brainwaves of top racecar drivers and programming cars to mimic them. But he is also now the voice of conscience – asking uncomfortable questions about the ethical choices that inevitably need to be introduced into the robotic minds if they are expected to once rule the world’s highways. “Within the autonomous driving industry, Chris is regarded as Switzerland, he’s neutral,” comments Patrick Lin, a philosophy professor. “He’s asking the hard questions about ethics and how it’s going to work. He’s pointing out that we have to do more than just obey the law.”
Recently, he had meetings separately in his 7-bay garage filled with robot cars with the chief executive officers of General Motors and Ford and that was on top of hosting workshops on self-driving ethics for engineers and researchers, including from electric automaker Tesla and tech monster Google. Automakers and technology companies now need to handle issues like the question – safe or legal – for example, when an accident is unavoidable, an autonomous car should be programmed to hit the smallest object in order to protect those inside – and what if that smaller object is a baby stroller?