This handover of total control, these questions of humans versus technology are complex and, in many cases, unanswered.
Brian leads a consortium of Monash academics and wider industry and government stakeholders digging into the potential realities of an autonomous fleet on Victorian roads. Monash has a PhD student using MUARC’s driving simulator to experiment with when humans feel a need to take back the controls, or are asked by the car to do so, versus when an autonomous car can handle tricky driving conditions. This handover of total control, these questions of humans versus technology are complex and, in many cases, unanswered.
“There is no question in my mind, the cars will come,” Brian says, “but are we prepared for it? I don’t think we are.
“Our (MUARC’s) focus is not so much on the technology – the industry is doing all that stuff – but there seems to me to be so many questions that are unanswered in terms of the benefits to society, what are the issues for humans, the potential users of these vehicles, and a number of other social issues,” he says.
‘The papers I’ve read go from autonomous cars are going to give you nothing to they’re going to be the be-all and best of everything.’
“In Victoria, we live in this Towards Zero environment, so if these things have a role and help achieve a zero outcome, that’s fantastic, that’s what we’re hoping for. But we don’t know. The papers I’ve read go from they (autonomous cars) are going to give you nothing to they’re going to be the be-all and best of everything. I suspect the answer is probably somewhere in the middle, like all of these things. I think there will be benefits - we just don’t know at this stage what they are, and are there issues that can improve these benefits?”
A recent international study asked people: ‘Would you ride in a driverless car? And would you let your kids ride in a driverless car?’ Brian says in many countries there was a huge readiness to go driverless, including 95 per cent of Brazilians. And sure, throw the kids in the back, no problem.
“The thing is that these people have never seen one of these cars, never ridden in one,” he says, “but they’re asked: would you be prepared to? All they know is what they read in the paper.”
What worries the professors is that we’re all in this boat, to an extent. We’ve read endlessly about how taking human error out of driving will dramatically reduce road deaths and injuries, and how computer-driven cars can already navigate existing road systems if they were only allowed to by regulators.