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Driverless cars may not be ready for California's roads

Autonomous vehicles may have seemed like something Californians would only expect to see in science fiction shows, but in fact they are being produced and tested on roads across the country. However, two recent car accidents involving autonomous vehicles -- one of which was fatal -- lead to questions as to how safe these vehicles are.

According to one researcher from Duke University, the technology for autonomous vehicles simply isn't ready yet. According to him, for fully autonomous vehicles, we need effective sensors and algorithms that are prepared to work in any condition and respond appropriately to any contingency. For semi-autonomous vehicles, the systems need to be reliable in a way that the driver remains aware of his or her surroundings and can quickly regain control of the vehicle in emergency situations. Moreover, according to him, there needs to be regulations that set safety standards for drivers of all types of vehicles.

For example, according to one expert, autonomous vehicles need a variety of sensors, such as a laser sensor that is still effective in the sunshine and a GPS that has lane-level localization. With regards to the fatal autonomous vehicle accident, the vehicle misread the side of a white truck, falsely recognizing it instead as a street sign. A laser sensor might have prevented such an accident by giving the vehicle information about the shape and outline of other vehicles on the road. However, such GPS and laser technology is very expensive, and at least right now is unaffordable for the average consumer vehicle.

These recent accidents also bring up interesting questions regarding liability. Could the owner of the semi-autonomous vehicle be held liable for other people's injuries if his or her vehicle caused an accident? Would the designers of the vehicles be liable? These are questions that may be answered someday, after technology has advanced enough to make semi-autonomous or fully autonomous vehicles available to consumers.

Source: Fast Company, "What The Tesla Crashes Can Teach Us About The Future Of Self-Driving Cars," Emily Price, July 15, 2016

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