Self-driving cars are hitting public roads in greater numbers than ever. Meanwhile, some of the most barely autonomous vehicles are having trouble with the simple act of braking. U.S. safety investigators are starting to look into troubling complaints of cars with automated braking systems that are slamming on the brakes for no good reason.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is opening an investigation on 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokees after nine complaints about automated braking, two of which involved a sudden reduction in speed with “no objects on the road.” As the Wall Street Journal points out in its report, it’s not just the Cherokees; complaints like this cover a diverse collection of cars from Honda, Chrysler, and General Motors. Two Infiniti JX35s crossing the same New Jersey bridge at different times had their automated brake systems erronously trigged by the same (apparently weird-looking) grate, for instance.
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The number of reports suggests the glitch is mercifully uncommon, although the wide spectrum of cars it affects could prove troubling. The WSJ cites forecasts indicating that by 2020, some 10 million of cars sold every year could use the technology.
At first blush, stopping for no reason sounds less dangerous than not stopping when it is necessary, but both are dangerous. Moreover it’s just one symptom of a larger underlying problem: Cars aren’t quite sure what they’re looking at yet. Unnecessary braking is just one way that can manifest.
Of course humans aren’t infallible either, and reports still indicate that automatic braking systems are good on the whole. But the repeated failure of the most common and presumably reliable form of automation just goes to show how far we have to go before a company like Google can hope to actually remove controls from its self-driving carpods.
Source: WSJ via The Verge