Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The crash-proof car is coming

Article in The Times 11 May 2008 by Emma Smith

"Imagine a world in which parents could nonchalantly hand over their car keys to their teenage son, safe in the knowledge that the car would look after him. A future in which human error is eliminated by electronic systems capable of foreseeing smashes and taking preventative action; a world in which car crashes almost never happen."

I am always concerned when people say human error will be eliminated by some form of automation. Yes, the opportunity for some operator errors may be reduced, but what about maintenance errors and how does it affect operator behaviour?

In this case the proposal from Volvo is for a system that monitors what is going on around the car and applies the brakes to avoid collisions.

In fact the article goes on to quote Peter Rodger, chief examiner for the Institute of Advanced Motorists. "We have to be very careful not to ‘underload’ the driver. There is an issue in the airline industry that if the pilot is inadequately involved and something goes wrong, it takes them a long time to actively take over.

“There needs to be adequate involvement so the driver isn’t allowed to switch off in this way, so that they are ready to react if something goes wrong. We also need to be confident that these systems have the power to work in myriad real-life situations.”

Volvo refer to some interesting research they have made. They claim "about 50% of drivers don’t brake at all before a crash – perhaps because they are paralysed by fear or simply distracted. The other 50% may brake, but probably not as effectively as they could do."

Andy Brazier

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