The California Department of Motor Vehicles just released a series of reports from the eight companies currently testing autonomous cars in the state. The documents reveal several shortcomings in the technology, which may prevent self-driving cars from being safely operated anytime soon, unless there is a human safety driver present.
It is a legal requirement in California for companies with autonomous car testing permits to provide annual reports about events where the backup human driver had to take control of the car. These occurrences are known as “disengagements.”
The data included in the reports revealed there were 63 disengagements over 352,545 miles driven by autonomous cars in the Golden State in 2017. While over 50 companies have obtained permits to test autonomous cars with human safety drivers, only eight among them are actually testing the vehicles on the state’s public roads.
According to the disengagement reports, autonomous vehicles are still a work in progress, and the problems they experience show many similarities across different companies and models.
The problems observed include:
- Failure to sense the environment around the vehicles
- Limited ability to maneuver on the road
- Hardware failure
- Software failure
External factors affecting performance include:
- Heavy pedestrian traffic
- Inappropriately marked lanes
Information about incidents involving human drivers taking control is an essential tool for understanding autonomous vehicles’ flaws and problem areas.
Overview of incident types by company
- Inability to identify traffic lights. Delphi, Baidu, Waymo
- GPS failure, vehicle unable to establish its own location. Delphi, Startup Drive, Nissan
- Inability to react to other drivers failing to adhere to traffic regulations. Delphi, GM Cruise
- Delayed or “jerky” braking. Baidu, Startup Drive, GM Cruise
- Steering maneuver failures. Baidu, GM Cruise, Telenav
- Difficulty staying in the same lane or maintaining distance between vehicles.Baidu, GM Cruise, Telenav
- Sensor failures and discrepancies among sensors. Startup Drive, GM Cruise, Telenav, Baidu
- Hardware problems and software crashes.Nissan, Waymo
According to Telenav, their “autonomous system is still being developed,” and they are “working on improvement cycles.” Telenav also explained that they “expect that (the) driver will be taking over the car control from time to time due to the fact that it is new technology.”
In light of the reports, companies may have to readjust their ambitious timelines for deploying autonomous cars across the U.S. Waymo plans to start offering a ride-hailing service in Arizona before the end of the year and GM plans to do the same across different markets by 2019. These plans may have to be postponed until self-driving cars become safer. As long as human backup drivers continue to be an absolute necessity, our streets are unlikely to be flooded by driverless vehicles.
John Uustal is a Florida-based product defect and injury attorney known for exposing massive dangerous flaws in automobiles and other vehicles. His new book Corporate Serial Killers is set for 2018 launch at Sutton Hart Press. Connect with John