Autonomous Cars Don’t Have a ‘Trolley Problem’ Problem

19 Oct

Trolley Problem

There is an old thought experiment called the Trolley Problem that’s become central to the development of autonomous cars. In the context of self-driving cars, it sets up a scenario where an autonomously-operated vehicle approaches, say, a nun herding a group of orphans from a burning hospital. There is no time to stop or room to maneuver around the group. The car must therefore choose whether to run over the nuns and orphans, likely killing them, or swerve into the burning building, likely killing the passengers.

What should the car do?

On October 7th, Christoph von Hugo, manager of driver assistance safety systems at Mercedes-Benz, inadvertently became the first significant player at a car manufacturer to take a position on the Trolley Problem. According to von Hugo, the Self-Driving Car should run over the nun and the children.

Here’s his statement from the Paris Auto Show, as quoted in Car and Driver:

“If you know you can save at least one person, at least save that one. Save the one in the car. If all you know for sure is that one death can be prevented, then that’s your first priority.”

To be clear, this is not Mercedes’s official position on the Trolley Problem.

Read the rest over at The Drive

What Automotive Must Learn From Aviation: What is an Autopilot?

7 Oct

Autopilot

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

Guess what? Words can hurt us, when life or death decisions are made on false assumptions. I’m talking, of course, about the language of Self-Driving Cars, that seemingly inevitable panacea into which Silicon Valley and the car industry are pouring billions to save us from ourselves. If technology is only as good as our understanding of it, then the automotive industry has a long way go.

The problem isn’t limited to Tesla’s branding of the word “autopilot”, but it certainly starts there, especially now that the California DMV has threatened to stop Tesla from using Autopilot as a brand name. Add the recurring debate over whether Tesla Autopilot was defective in the Joshua Brown crash, and obvious questions emerged:

What is an autopilot? Is Tesla Autopilot actually an autopilot? What does “autopilot” imply? Where does Tesla’s system fall short of real or perceived autopilots? Is the problem the “auto” prefix? The “pilot” suffix? For those who object to Tesla’s choice of branding, I bring you Audi’s Piloted Driving, the yin of implication to Autopilot’s yang. What does “Piloted Driving” imply? What about Volvo’s Pilot Assist?

In the spirit of unpacking this mess, I signed up for flying lessons and began a deep dive into the history of autopilots and automation. I also decided to reach out to a wide variety of pilots — from private owners of single-engined turboprops to professionals flying Boeing 757’s and Airbus A380’s — and take them out in a variety of cars, starting with Teslas.

This is Part 1 of what I learned. Read the rest over at The Drive…

The War For Autonomous Driving, Part Deux: The 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class

18 Aug

Mercedes Drivepilot

What follows is a full review, as promised, of the 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class’s Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), including the new Drive Pilot feature and what Mercedes calls “semi-automated” driving features. This is a follow-up to my original and disputed comparison of this technology suite to Tesla’s Autopilot semi-autonomous driving capabilities.

I note that this test included, over the course of one week, about 250 miles of real-world testing in a top-of-the-line E-Class with Premium 3 Package; 400 pages read (and re-read) of the E-Class owner’s manual; heavy perusal of the company’s website and public statements regarding Drive Pilot; and two undercover visits to dealerships to ask questions of the sales people.

Read the rest over at The Drive

Why I Plan to Reassess the Mercedes-Benz DrivePilot System

10 Aug

DrivePilot

I’ll give Mercedes-Benz credit: I didn’t expect to hear from them after my recent story comparing their DrivePilot to Tesla’s Autopilot. I took a flamethrower to Stuttgart’s latest semi-autonomous driving technology, calling it a disaster—and, worse, potentially unsafe. In a world where manufacturers regularly attempt to sidestep bad press, Mercedes could easily have stayed silent.

Then, six days after Musk gloatingly retweeted the story, my phone rang.

I should note that it’s rare for a blatantly negative review to appear in the mainstream media for any consumer product, let alone about a juggernaut brand whose tagline is “The Best or Nothing.” When one does show up, it’s generally centered around criteria with little real-world impact—things like design, or zero-to-sixty times. Criticizing a major manufacturer for a perceived issue at the heart of their latest safety technology is basically unheard of.

Read the rest over at The Drive

Why The FTC SHOULD Investigate Mercedes’ ‘Misleading’ Self-Driving Car Ads

28 Jul

Mercedes Self-Driving Car

The 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-class may be amazing, but it is not a self-driving car. Not even close. But their early ads say it is, in exactly that language. This is how people get killed, and now Consumer Reports is rightfully calling on the FTC to investigate what they call a “misleading” campaign.

Consumer Reports specifically called out a Mercedes TV ad called “The Future,” in which a narrator’s voice-over says, “Is the world truly ready for a vehicle that can drive itself? An autonomous-thinking automobile that protects those inside and outside. Ready or not, the future is here.”

Stuttgart, we have problem.

Read the rest of my article over @The/Drive

The War For Autonomous Driving: 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class VS. 2017 Tesla Model S

27 Jul

Drive Pilot

Looking for a comparison of the 2017 Mercedes-Benz E-Class and the 2016 Tesla Model S? This is not that. Both are brilliant, gorgeous cars—best-of-breed luxury sedans in the war between internal combustion and electricity—but who cares?

The future belongs to Autonomous Driving.

The 2017 E-Class is the first Mercedes-Benz available with Drive Pilot—the brand name for their latest semi-Autonomous Driving (AD) suite—and is the first direct assault on Tesla’s Autopilot, which has captured the public’s imagination, for better or worse, since its release in 2015.

What is AD? It’s what happens when you combine Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) with Automatic Steering, and then a car begins to drive itself. How long, how well and how safely it does this is the difference between today and tomorrow, between semi-Autonomous and truly Self-Driving Cars.

Does Mercedes’ Drive Pilot deliver what it calls The Best or Nothing? Or is Autopilot—despite recent controversy—still the state-of-the-semi-Autonomous-art?

That depends on your expectations.

Read the rest over at The/Drive

Uber Allegedly Ordered a Whole Bunch of Mercedes S-Classes. Here’s What’s Really Happening.

27 Mar

Uber Mercedes S-Class Order

“Uber Has Apparently Ordered $10 Billion Worth of Autonomous Mercedes S-Class Sedans”

Whoa, that’s a lot of clickbait. And it’s just one of the 118,000 results that pop up when you Google “Uber Mercedes S Class,” and every single one of them is based on a single uncorroborated report published last Friday in Manager Magazin, a German site I’ve never heard of.

The rumor seems crazy, of course, but its very specificity—not, “a whole bunch of luxury sedans,” but “100,000 Mercedes-Benz S-Class sedans”—demands we pay attention. The story wouldn’t have spread so far so quickly if there wasn’t something there, and the more one steps back, the more there there is.

Read the rest of my article over at The Drive

Alex Roy’s Cannonball Run Buyer’s Guide

20 Jan

Alex Roy’s Cannonball Run Buyer’s GuideWhat is the best car for a Cannonball Run? Ah, the eternal question of car-loving criminals and outlaws, and car lovers with no criminal intent whatsoever. The conventional wisdom is not wisdom, because it is almost all based on the Cannonball Run and Gumball Rally movies. Although inspired by real events, both were comedies that glossed over the hardcore strategizing required to get dozens of cars cross-country at 100-plus mph, and to do it safely. The movies have literally nothing to teach us about the “right” car for running a Cannonball today.

Read the rest of my latest article over at The Drive…

What Tesla’s Autopilot 7.1 REALLY Means…

11 Jan

Alex Roy What Autopilot 7.1 Really Means...

Weekends are terrible times for press releases. Everyone knows you want to roll out big news early in the week. Friday is bad. Saturday worse. Sunday is basically saying you don’t want anyone to see what you’ve got, but sometimes you just have to do it.

Which brings us to Tesla’s release of Autopilot 7.1—on a Saturday.

Read the rest over at The Drive…