The real problem with driverless cars: human drivers

23 Dec 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Don’t Hold Your Breath Waiting for a Wave of Defaults by American Commodity Companies.

The fresh stretch of softness in commodity prices since early December has been at the epicenter of exploding junk bond spreads, causing many investors to doubt the ability of companies to service their debt.California: Home state of Google, the pioneering company in driverless cars, has just taken steps to make life more difficult — not just for Google, but for all of us who would like to see driverless cars hit the road as soon as possible.

It’s not just whiz-bang technology companies like Google that are experimenting with driverless vehicles – traditional car companies are also jumping on the bandwagon.Southfield, Michigan: The self-driving car, that cutting-edge creation that’s supposed to lead to a world without accidents, is achieving the exact opposite right now: The vehicles have racked up a crash rate double that of those with human drivers.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles has proposed new rules for driverless cars that would prohibit cars without a steering wheel or a brake pedal — or a human driver ready to take the wheel. The company’s Fusion Hybrid sedans have sensors that can detect and track objects in the vehicle’s view to provide a 360-degree view of the car’s surroundings – including street signs and other vehicles. Obviously, this would be an enormous setback for Google’s programme, which is evolving toward smaller, lower-speed vehicles with none of these things. Ford now has one of the largest automotive research centres in Silicon Valley, with more than 100 researchers, engineers and scientists on staff at its research and innovation centre in Palo Alto.

This may sound like the right way to program a robot to drive a car, but good luck trying to merge onto a chaotic, jam-packed highway with traffic flying along well above the speed limit. Next year also won’t be a time in which the vast majority of these companies will be forced to tap capital markets for funding while they’re in a disadvantaged state, the strategists assert. Quick or current ratios—a measure of companies’ current assets relative to their liabilities—have improved dramatically across the energy and mining industries, in part because the low interest rate environment has enabled companies to refinance their obligations and push maturities further into the future. “Before oil prices started falling, when liquidity conditions were easy, only one-quarter of the companies in the universe had enough cash on the balance sheet to finance next year’s debt,” the strategists wrote. “Now that number has risen to around 50 percent.” Energy companies have proved incredibly adept at finding ways to slash costs—often by cutting payrolls—as the selling price of their products came under pressure, the bank asserts. Earlier this week, the DMV published draft regulations stating that truly driverless cars will be “initially excluded” from operation until their safety can be assessed.

The first is the way that most automakers have chosen: You innovate system by system, starting with a car that can handle some tasks on its own (like cruise control), and eventually arriving at a car that can handle all of them. And I would be one of those people.” Last year, Rajkumar offered test drives to members of Congress in his lab’s self-driving Cadillac SRX sport utility vehicle.

Conversely, operational stress rather than financial stress might be the dynamic that brings oversupplied commodity markets closer to a balance state, as analysts at Goldman Sachs posited. There’s a big problem with this approach, however: the lag between when the car realises it can’t handle a problem, and when the human can grab the wheel.

The US internet giant has held five face-to-face meetings with the Department for Transport (DfT) in the past two years, according to documents obtained by the Telegraph under the Freedom of Information Act. The market certainly isn’t sanguine about the financial condition of companies that have issued junk debt, with the strategists observing that 7 percent of the U.S. high-yield market has bonds trading at less than 50 percent of par value, but some of the worst-case scenarios getting priced in might be blown out of proportion. “It may be, then, that investors are more concerned than they should be with the immediate threat of defaults in the U.S. energy sector,” SocGen’s strategists concluded. They suggest that Google sees the UK as a key market for its driverless cars, due to the country’s forward-thinking approach to regulation, and its interest in how the vehicles should be insured. Other traditional car manufacturers are also developing their own autonomous vehicles, including Mercedes , Audi , BMW and Volvo, and other big tech giants like Apple are also reportedly hoping to get it on the action. People expect more of autonomous cars.” Turns out, though, their accident rates are twice as high as for regular cars, according to a study by the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Driverless vehicles have never been at fault, the study found: They’re usually hit from behind in slow-speed crashes by inattentive or aggressive humans unaccustomed to machine motorists that always follow the rules and proceed with caution. It’s similar to the thorny ethical issues driverless car creators are wrestling with over how to program them to make life-and-death decisions in an accident. If you’re not used to making driving decisions, you’re going to be slower to make them in an emergency, which is when you most need to think quickly.

Google cars have been in 17 minor crashes in 2 million miles (3.2 million kilometres) of testing and account for most of the reported accidents, according to the Michigan study. The most recent reported incident was Nov. 2 in Mountain View, California, Google’s headquarters, when a self-driving Google Lexus SUV attempted to turn right on a red light. He didn’t issue a ticket — who would he give it to? — but he warned the two engineers on board about creating a hazard. “The right thing would have been for this car to pull over, let the traffic go and then pull back on the roadway,” said Sergeant Saul Jaeger, head of the police department’s traffic- enforcement unit. “I like it when people err on the side of caution.

At the very least, we should want both of these kinds of systems running in parallel, to see which one pays off (and of course, there’s no reason that both approaches can’t deliver insights and techniques that help developers on the other track). Forcing Google to put wheels and brakes back into its cars means reintroducing the very problems of human error and folly that we’re trying to engineer away.

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