In an excellent article in Wired the author points out the mistakes being made in the design and execution of testing programs for self-driving vehicles. He quotes Martyn Thomas CBE, professor of information technology at Gresham College and fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering, who states that, “In a scientific experiment you have a hypothesis, and you try to prove it. At the moment, all they are doing is conducting a set of random experiments with no structure around what exactly they need to achieve and why these experiments would deliver on those goals.”
“If your system is leaning all the time, then it’s changing all the time, and any change could make things worse as well as better. So you could completely undermine the work you are doing,” Thomas explains. All these factors leave the testers with too many variables to effectively work through any problems buried deep in a car’s systems.
This is the problem with the regulators’ activities, who Thomas says are unwilling to devise the necessary criteria for testing and licensing for fear of putting off innovative companies from setting up in their jurisdictions.
In response to this accident, Thomas says that the public should put pressure on regulators to set manufacturers appropriate standards for autonomous cars, so the manufacturers can then shape their tests around them and provide the necessary evidence that their technology is safe enough for use on public roads. “If we don’t have a debate about what level of evidence is going to be needed and make the regulations fit for purpose, then I think we’re heading off down the wrong path.”
Furthermore, he wants to see autonomous cars be made very easy to spot out on the roads, “if these cars are going to be moving around on streets where there are pedestrians, then the pedestrians need to have a decent chance of realising they are coming and take extra care around them.”