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Why I don't trust cars that think for themselves

Thu, 11/01/2012 - 10:32am
Kasey Panetta, Associate Editor

Most drivers wouldn't feel comfortable just handing over control of their vehicle to, well, their vehicle, but a new system from Nissan may do just that. 

The Autonomous Emergency Steering System, as the name suggests, will take over steering in emergency situations in which a crash could be avoided when you remove human error from the equation. According to Nissan, the primary objective is to use the system when braking alone isn't a sufficient means of avoiding a car crash including, “sudden intrusions onto the road in low speed zones or when a collision at high speed is imminent due to the driver's delayed recognition of the tail end of a traffic jam.”

The system consists of front-mounted radar and camera, the two left and right rear radars, and the five laser scanners attached around the vehicle. Should there be a risk of an accident, the car will first assess the surrounding area, checking for an open space to steer into. Once a space has been found, it will alert the driver via beeps that there is a problem and that he or she should move immediately into the identified free space. Should the drive fail to act in a timely manner, the system will take over and steer the vehicle into the safe zone.

I have mixed feeling about this. On the one hand, human error is a huge part of traffic accidents and there are more distractions on the road than ever. Plus, if you could find a way, any way, to prevent a fatal accident--or even one that just leaves a bruise--it seems like a no-brainer. However, as with most autonomous car decision systems, it all comes down to what happens when the system fails. As with the automatic brakes, it could spell big trouble if this system was a tad too sensitive and went off when there was no danger or if it missed a car to the side and moved the vehicle into a space already occupied by another vehicle. I'm okay with the system alerting me of an imminent crash and suggesting a place to move the car, but if it's okay, I'll do the driving myself.

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