What's your definition of 'autonomous' car?

October 12, 2015 // By Junko Yoshida
During one of the panels — entitled “Connected and Automated Driving” — at this week's Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) World Congress, Doug Patton, CTO of Denso International America, Inc., asked the audience: “What’s your definition of 'autonomous cars’?”

He said, "My idea of the autonomous car is sleeping in the backseat" while the car does the driving.

If that's what a truly autonomous car is, which by the way makes total sense to me, it will be a very long time before the automotive industry gets that far. After all, as Patton put it, "If that's the definition, the autonomous car has to work all the time, every time and 100 percent."

(Source: Daimler)

 

The crux of the issue seems to me in autonomous cars that are defined as Level 3. NHTHSA says that’s "when the driver can fully cede control of all safety-critical functions in certain conditions." But it also says, at Level 3, "The car senses when conditions require the driver to retake control and provides a 'sufficiently comfortable transition time' for the driver to do so."

Now, that’s worrying. How much time is enough to for a driver – who might not have been paying attention to driving for more than 30 minutes — to smoothly retake control?

Any span less than 10 seconds renders the autonomous a potential "death trap," as one of EE Times readers recently commented. Continental's senior vice president Ralf Lenninger believes the handover needs at least 18 seconds.

Lars Reger, Chief Technology Officer of NXP Automotive, in contrast, said, "No, that won't happen. When the car senses it can't handle the situation, it will drive itself to a curb – in a safe place."