US: engineering experts believe autonomous cars to be safe, but surprises will remain unavoidable image

A panel of engineering experts speaking during a major conference in Detroit this week said driverless vehicles have the potential to make roads across the planet safer, but unforeseen consequences will be unavoidable.

The unintended issues will require a consistent US legal and regulatory framework, according to the panel headed by Richard Wallace, a member of the Center for Automotive Research, as the discussions opened the SAE World Congress with the subject of current status and possible future of self-driving transportation. Steffen Linkenbach, Continental’s North American director of systems and technology pointed out that across the planet the annual fatality rates stemming from traffic accidents sits at 1.2 million persons – with at least 90 percent having to do at least in some degree with driver error. He added that already the software and algorithms used to command early driverless prototypes have the potential to massively lower the mistake count.

Some of the experts did caution that implementation of the driverless technology is not entirely dependent on the suppliers, automakers and technology firms, as unforeseen problems as well as regulations and laws might impact it. “Things will go wrong. So manufacturers should have a break-the-glass plan ready when their first automated vehicle is in an accident,” commented Bryant Walker Smith, professor of law and engineering at the University of South Carolina. Pat Bassett, Denso’s vice president for North American research and engineering said automated driving could be broken down in five layers, with the first to already achieved by a portion of auto parts makers and carmakers.