The Autonomous Driving Handoff
Autonomous driving is a truly exciting proposition that holds a lot of promise for us all. It may make the much beloved Fast and Furious cinematic saga into more of a period piece, but that is arguably a fine tradeoff.
The future is fun to dream about, but the world we’re actually entering into at this phase of the technology curve is one of semi-autonomous driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) describes this as “Level 3: Limited Self-Driving Automation”:
Vehicles at this level of automation enable the driver to cede full control of all safety-critical functions under certain traffic or environmental conditions and in those conditions to rely heavily on the vehicle to watch for changes in those conditions that would require transition back to driver control. The driver is expected to be available for occasional control, but with sufficiently comfortable transition time.
This is still a nice reality. It’s not the utopian scenario allowing me to enjoy a nap behind the wheel, but it’s likely good enough for me to take in the countryside views or tend to my screaming kids in the backseat more easily… that is until the car needs tending to.
As a result, what has emerged is a concept of the “Handoff.” This is the moment when the driver is expected to be present and able to take back control. As KPMG described it in a report entitled “Self-Driving Cars: Are We Ready?”
We believe the hand-off of control between self-driving vehicles and their human passengers may present the greatest challenge. If self-driving becomes a reality and those who are incapable of assuming control of the vehicle (whether because they are asleep, drunk, unlicensed or impaired in some way), what exactly will happen?
In-cabin vision analytics will play a pivotal role in the pursuit of autonomous driving. What happens inside a car can be just as important to monitor as what happens outside on the road. Monitoring for attentive or distracted behaviors and ensuring the driver is ready and able to operate the car will be essential to make this transition into the world of semi-autonomous driving. Without knowing who is in the car, why and what their purpose or interests are, a car will never be able to make intelligent decisions.
Don’t get me wrong, I do look forward to the day when my grandkids ask me what driving was like, and I’ll gladly point them to clips of Vin Diesel on YouTube, but until that day we still have a lot of work to do as an industry to make even semi-autonomous driving a viable possibility.