Of course this story is compelling and appears to make a lot of sense. It tells about what we all can experience in everyday traffic situations on a regular basis. Indeed, people steering vehicles need to react to people or also animals suddenly crossing the street – even if most of the times probably not having to choose between hitting either kids or seniors. Or it could be about avoiding being hit by objects falling from trucks driving ahead. Our human senses limit our ability to really think through whom or what to hit or not under such circumstances, though. But today’s technology would be fast enough and able to take over, wouldn’t it?
And yet, would this really be the right story to tell and the right or at least most pressing question to ask? Why is it that Autonomous Driving is so often described as vehicles stuffed with sensors, fully independently observing the traffic situation surrounding them and finding proper measures of response single-handedly?
No Need for Vehicles to Decide or to Harm at All
Fact is that other technologies and approaches do exist and are improved constantly which makes a scenario as described above rather unlikely. With sensors of all kinds becoming cheaper by the day and even reasonably priced, utilising them on a very large scale would not only be economically feasible but also advantageous next to other solutions.
However, with sensors being ubiquitous, vehicles deciding autonomously on life and death might become obsolete before they even really conquered the market. Additionally, situations of people being hit by vehicles would most probably also become ones of the past.
An Alternative and Preferable Traffic Scenario
Beginning in the urban centres of today and increasingly so in those of tomorrow, urban infrastructure will make cities, towns, down to villages, and everything between and connecting them a lot smarter and also highly responsive. Streets will probably increasingly measure pressure and weight of vessels on them, they might sense temperature, humidity and motion, generate energy for and act as information displays. Cameras, radar and lidar systems and advanced traffic lights at crossings or other critical spots could help predicting vehicles’ and other traffic participants’ behaviours and cover blind spots.
There are growing satellite constellations of various sizes in Earth’s orbits which track the weather, establish communication streams, provide navigation data and via remote sensing guarantee an extensive while impressively detailed overview, with improving resolutions and even in real-time. Last but not least, vehicles themselves add their own sensory data, they communicate with each other (“V2V”) and with the infrastructure around (“V2X”).
Everything being continuously interconnected would assure that each and every road user could be seen and taken into account at any given time, as well as in every light and weather situation, without the necessity of touching any privacy issues, when done right. A system like this would have learned about the possibility of people or animals crossing the street long before any vehicle even got close. Every single vessel would be informed way ahead of actual decisions having to be made and about different response options that helped avoid accidents, harm, and damages of any kind.