Which countries produce self-driving cars?

Self-driving cars could soon push cyclists off the road

Tech companies and the auto industry are churning billions into developing self-driving cars. In just a few years, robotic-controlled vehicles are set to dominate the streets. But what happens when the machines meet cyclists? Every day, drivers decide about human lives in traffic, mostly unconsciously and in a matter of seconds. Drivers weigh their own safety against that of other drivers and weaker road users such as cyclists or pedestrians. In the future, such decisions will be in the hands of the machine. However, what is right and what is wrong in road traffic is difficult to generalize, as a study published in the scientific journal Nature makes clear.

Death to those who walked by red?

The scientists described 13 scenarios in which the death of a person on the road is inevitable. More than 2.3 million people in countries around the world answered the questions. The respondents had to weigh up whether they should drive their car against an obstacle and thus endanger all occupants in order to protect a pedestrian crossing the street illegally. The conclusion of the scientists: Such decisions are made differently everywhere. In countries with a strong rule of law, such as Finland and Japan, respondents more often decided to put up with a pedestrian if they illegally crossed the street. This was not the case in countries with less legal protection such as Nigeria and Pakistan.

The example makes it clear: there is no uniform global road traffic ethic. It is therefore difficult to set the same rules worldwide for the machine logic of self-driving cars. There have already been attempts to standardize, for example by an ethics committee of the federal government. De facto, however, the ethical standards are set primarily by the top secret software from companies such as Tesla, Uber or the Google subsidiary Waymo. You and other large corporations want to put self-driving cars on the road regularly by 2021. Great Britain has already regulated this legally.

In case of doubt against cyclists

The triumph of autonomous vehicles could have a direct impact on bicycle traffic. Because self-driving cars and steering assistants will probably in some situations turn the risk in traffic from themselves to others. "Think of an autonomous car that decides how it steers itself through a street - closer to a truck on its right, or closer to a cycle lane on its left," said co-author Azim Shariff of the University of British Columbia Forbes magazine. “If cars are always programmed to drive closer to the cycle lane, they can significantly reduce the risk of colliding with other cars. At the same time, the likelihood of hitting a cyclist increases slightly. "

The software's decision is more likely to be in favor of its own vehicle occupants than strangers in traffic. Sure, human drivers also act in their own interest. But software specifications turn an individual decision made every day into series behavior - with fatal consequences.

Car companies have long identified cyclists as a hurdle for their technology. "One of the biggest problems are people with bicycles," said Renault boss Carlos Ghosn in 2016. "The car is confused by them, because sometimes they behave like pedestrians and sometimes like cars." The company boss criticized that cyclists mostly kept themselves not to traffic rules.

Unpredictable robot handlebars

Road tests of self-driving cars have been going on in the USA for some time. The accident reports show that the steering robots often behave erratically. A report by Wired magazine asked the crucial question: “What is the best way to deal with what could become a nationwide experiment in robotics and AI, but which public participants have not willingly consented to and whose worst-case scenario is death is? ”The report complains that companies do not publish enough data on accidents and near misses.

The accidents cast doubts about the technology. Are automated driving systems even suitable for a modern city? After the fatal collision of a test car with a passerby pushing her bicycle, Uber stopped its test drives (already accompanied by human drivers) in several US cities. Waymo tests its self-driving taxis in the clear streets of the US city of Chandler, Arizona. Even there it is not accident-free. What does it look like in the old town of Rome, or in the maze of alleys in Vienna?

Conversion at the request of the group

Our cities need to be rebuilt to meet the needs of vehicles, an article in the Wall Street Journal concluded. Then it will also work with the autonomous cars. What is needed are dead straight streets, a ban on mixed traffic and continuous floor markings. "You have to paint the damn streets here," said Volvo North America boss Lex Kerssemakers at a trade fair in Los Angeles. The ailing infrastructure of the USA first has to be made fit for the machines in many places. According to the corporations, the state takes over the investments.

The ideal state for self-driving cars is therefore probably a city based on the American model. But this does not correspond at all to European ideas of livable urban spaces that provide plenty of space for pedestrians and cyclists. According to the Wall Street Journal, it would also be helpful to network all road users and share their data in order to avoid collisions. Autonomous driving opens the door to complete mobile monitoring.

The struggle for urban space is already in full swing. Not only US corporations, but also European car giants have long been working on autonomous vehicle concepts. The strong lobby arm of the corporations will soon be pushing with might also in Europe to make our cities ready for self-driving cars. Bicycle associations have long warned against laws that favor self-driving cars over cyclists. And indeed, the EU Parliament is already discussing a draft report that would like to see Europe as a “global pioneer in the use of networked and automated mobility”. The fight between man and machine will probably soon be decided to some extent on our streets.

About the author

Alexander Fanta

As the Brussels correspondent of netzpolitik.org, Alexander reports on the digital policy of the European Union. He writes about new laws and does investigative research on large technology companies and their lobbying. He is co-author of the study "Medienmäzen Google" on the group's journalism funding. In 2017 Alexander was a fellow at the Reuters Institute for Journalism Research at Oxford University, where he researched automation in journalism. Before that he was a foreign policy journalist for the Austrian news agency APA. E-mail:[email protected] (PGP). Twitter:@FantaAlexx. WhatsApp / Threema: +32483248596.
Published 10/31/2018 at 11:40 am