BMW’s Ian Robertson questions the viability of ‘brain-off’ self-driving car technology
Jim Holder
8 August 2018

Fully autonomous cars may never be allowed on many public roads, according to BMW’s special representative to the UK, Ian Robertson.

Speaking at the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) Summit, Robertson highlighted BMW’s leading role in developing self-driving systems, but conceded that it may never be morally acceptable to leave the decision for unavoidable accidents to a machine. “Imagine a scenario where the car has to decide between hitting one person or the other — to choose whether to cause this death or that death,” he said. “What’s it going to do? Access the diary of one and ascertain they are terminally ill and so should be hit? I don’t think that situation will ever be allowed.”

BMW already has more than 40 vehicles testing on public roads running 660-mile (1000km) journeys routinely. However, Robertson revealed that, while the majority of the trips are completed without problems, the engineer on board has to intervene on average three times.

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“That’s good, but we are working in a scenario where it has to be perfect,” he said. “If we are working towards a ‘brain off’ scenario, where perhaps we expect travellers to even sit in the back of the car and relax, then that clearly isn’t possible today, despite what some might tell you.

“Then there is the overarching consideration of the regulators that we need to consider. In the UK, the government is encouraging autonomous testing — even if some of its fundamentals go against the Highway Code, the fabric of our laws. They know we are in a race to take leadership and that opening up to testing could have significant benefits.

“But I believe that in the long term, the regulators will step in and set boundaries about how far we can go. It might be to allow it only on motorways, as they are the most controlled environments.

Or perhaps they’d essentially ‘rope off’ parts of cities to allow autonomous cars into controlled areas, where the consequences for pedestrians are controlled.”

While still BMW’s sales and marketing chief last year, Robertson stated that he could never see a scenario where the firm made cars without steering wheels.

He instead suggested that the occupants would always want the option of choosing to drive themselves.

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Comments
19

8 August 2018

Woww that car is amazing. I really wanna to own one.

Life is too short to live in regret gmail sign up We only live once torrents

8 August 2018

 Turning over the Driving to a Computer?, I don’t think so, the human element is essential, the empathy, Computers don’t do empathy they only do what the program says to do, I wouldn’t want to be in a Vehicle which is about to have an accident and the choice is take out the Adult or the Children!. The idea of areas within Factories for instance and similar might work, low speeds, workforce aware of said Vehicles, no full autonomy should never happen.

Peter Cavellini.

289

8 August 2018

I agree Peter.

Besides, whats relaxing about sitting on a knife edge ready to wrest back control in the event of a computer glitch or dodgy decision?.....it is far more relaxing to actually drive rather than sit there for hundreds of miles in a 'ready state'.

8 August 2018

Someone from a car company speaks some sense about this Autonomous crap.  No more articles on what level we can expect by 2019 please Autocar

typos1 - Just can’t respect opinion

8 August 2018

It's always easy to come up with edge cases where there aren't any simple answers - jut sit with some drunk 1st year philosophy students.

The question that follows all this is "how did the car get into a position where its only options are who to kill?". How often does a human driver find themselves in that position?

8 August 2018
Sporky McGuffin wrote:

The question that follows all this is "how did the car get into a position where its only options are who to kill?". How often does a human driver find themselves in that position?

Almost never. Humans react by braking or swerving and usually do the wrong thing. Accident and damage mitigation is probably more important than trying to decide who to kill. Mainly it's aapplying the brakes hard. Volvo has already said they don't think this is an issue.

9 August 2018
androo wrote:

Sporky McGuffin wrote:

The question that follows all this is "how did the car get into a position where its only options are who to kill?". How often does a human driver find themselves in that position?

.... Volvo has already said they don't think this is an issue.

Was that before or after it's XC90 took the cyclist out?

 

typos1 - Just can’t respect opinion

8 August 2018

No more needs to be said

8 August 2018

I totally agree that fully autonomous cars are a sci-fi fantasy! Even if they were introduced tomorrow, I suspect they would only be accepted by 'kids' learning to drive now. No-one else would happily sit back and check their phone in the fast lane of the M1. The transition to these vehicles would be a very uneasy period. And - not that one can put a price tag on a human life - the benefits of these 'safer' cars are vastly outweighed by the eye-watering cost of the technology involved. Surely more driver awareness (refresher courses or part of learning to drive) is the answer?  

8 August 2018

I can envisage a time when manually-driven cars are not allowed on public roads, or when the insurance cost to drive your own car becomes prohibitive. Of course there are challenges to overcome and there will always be a small number of accidents caused by unforseen events - but the prospect of much safer travel will ultimately mean autonomous vehicles. 

Of course regular cars will remain for sporting and entertainment purposes. I think BMW is just being realistic about the time scales involved...

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The BMW 3 Series' outstanding performance and handling makes it a complete and consummate all-rounder - but then the Jaguar XE and Alfa Romeo Guilia arrived

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