Just How Safe Is Driverless Car Technology, Really?
Self-driving cars are supposed to be our salvation, drastically reducing the 1.3 million road fatalities worldwide each year by replacing humans with robots who can do precision piloting and never get distracted, drowsy or drunk. So why did a self-driving Uber SUV being tested in Tempe, Arizona, strike and kill a woman March 18 without so much as hitting the brakes? The accident will only drive more anxiety about autonomy given that 63 percent of Americans already say they’d be afraid to ride in a fully self-driving car, according to a AAA survey. As experts and investigators pore over the Arizona fatality to determine the cause, here’s a look at some factors that may determine how safe robot rides may, or may not, be.
1. How do self-driving cars work?
Driverless cars “see” the world around them by using data from cameras as well as radar and lidar -- sensors that bounce laser light off objects to determine their shape and location. High-speed processors crunch the data to create a 360-degree picture of lanes, traffic, pedestrians, signs, stoplights and anything else in the vehicle’s path. That’s supposed to enable the vehicle to know, in real time, where to go and when to stop.