UW researchers involved in developing driverless cars

Most experts agree, driverless car or autonomous vehicles are coming. Just when it will happen remains up for debate.

The University of Wisconsin is one of ten test sites in the United States chosen to develop and test driverless cars. Car maker Audi plans to test drive a largely autonomous car next year. Car makers are promising mass market, fully self-driving cars by 2021 and expects them to be common by 2030.

But all that depends on the progress of research.

Research is being done in part at UW Madison’s Traffic Operations and Safety Lab in the School of Engineering. Program manager Peter Rafferty said many new cars on the road right now offer some autonomous features. “There are vehicles running around already that have a certain amount of automation in them already, the driver assist features like adaptive cruise control, the lane assist, things that are commonly available, said Rafferty.

“There are vehicles running around already that have a certain amount of automation in them already, the driver assist features like adaptive cruise control, the lane assist, things that are commonly available,” he said.

UW’s research focuses on the interfaces between the human and the machine, and it’s those interactions and how the vehicles respond, that could keep driverless cars off the road, at least for now.

“It’s a very important challenge that we have is how do you program things like courtesy or assertiveness, nuance such has hand signals, eye contact, things that humans are very good at,” Rafferty said. “If a human is making that decision that’s one thing, if a machine has to make that decision, do you protect your occupant or whoever is in the vehicle or risk hurting this person over here or this person over here, we don’t have good answers to that right now.”

The ultimate goal is to reduce traffic accident deaths, which have been steadily increasing over the past several years. Self-driving cars could eliminate the biggest factor in more than 90 percent of those crashes: human error.

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