Asked who pays the summons when an autonomous vehicle (AV) goes through a red light, Google (Alphabet) co-founder Sergey Brin said, “Self-driving cars do not run red lights.”
It sounds simple. But it is’t.
Different from GPS, the mapping that an AV needs combines software and people to achieve much more precision.
As you can see below, GPS does not exactly know the car’s location:
Like GPS, Google’s maps for its self-driving vehicles do have to consider addresses, street layouts and highway entrances and exits. But also the minutiae are a part of driving. Behind the wheel, we notice a disappearing lane, a fire hydrant, a bush, a mailbox, a speed bump. In addition, an AV needs to know the width of an intersection and the height of a curb. It has to recognize the part of the street that is unchanging, other characteristics that are temporary like construction zones and some that are momentary like a child running to get a ball in the road.
To map all of this, Google first drives through an area, street by street, with lasers that send data to their cars’ sensors. The result is a detailed three-dimensional picture that people and software update. On the road, cars match those updates with their own real-time driving data.
What is an Autonomous Vehicle?
The Google self-driving car would be called a Level 4 vehicle by the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration).
In the AV community, we have two groups:
One perpetuates human involvement. Yes, a car can be automated but always a human can intervene. Perhaps ultimately only for emergencies and then not at all, the AV will reach the point of less and less human involvement but the transition will be gradual.
The second group envisions total autonomy from the start. The car is the driver. That’s it.
Over at NHTSA, these are the four levels of autonomous vehicles:
NHTSA’s self-driving/AV vehicle scale:
Our Bottom Line: Creative Destruction
First described by economist Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950), creative destruction details the painful process through which innovation structurally transforms an economy with new technologies and jobs. Whoever wins the AV debate, still we will have a long list of changes that influence the path of creative destruction.
On the government level, regulatory policy will have to change because the separation between car (overseen by federal agencies) and driver (a state responsibility) will no longer be clearly defined. Then, in addition to mapping, there will be new requisites for vehicle design (that might be daunting for GM and Ford), upkeep and ownership and also for commuting, for parking…the list is endless.
But its one common thread is creative destruction.