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Latest Self-Driving Car Highlights 'Schism in Design Philosophy' of Autonomous Vehicles

Semi-autonomous vehicles are the newest "distracted driving" threat.

self driving car cockpit.jpeg

The new Audi A8, in a piece by the MIT Technology Review filed under the category of "intelligent machines," comes equipped with lasers. Apparently, Audi's lasers one-up Tesla, which at this time opts only for cameras and radar. (The new Audi uses cameras and radar as well as lasers.) Jamie Condliffe for the Review reports that cameras and radar are less accurate than lasers, which is another way of saying that Audi's new car is the King of Autonomous Vehicles, at least in terms of apparent safety.

Condliffe quotes the following statement from Audi as evidence of a "schism in design philosophy" of autonomous vehicles:

  • By pushing the "AI" button, drivers can "take their hands off the steering wheel permanently and, depending on the national laws, focus on a different activity that is supported by the car, such as watching the on-board TV."

Essentially, the schism rests on who is first to market with what.

First to market with semi-autonomous vehicles: Right now, the Audi and Tesla automakers are first to market with autonomous vehicles that can handle much thrown at them in terms of road conditions and traffic, but still require at least some amount of human oversight and traditional driver focus. But these autonomous vehicles still aren't 100 percent autonomous.

First to market (perhaps) with fully autonomous vehicles: On the other side of the schism are other automakers, like upstart Uber and been-around-the-block Ford, who are are "playing a longer game" by developing cars that require no human oversight whatsoever, but for obvious reasons cannot push them to market until they're ready.

At the moment, semi-autonomous cars are the primary focus, as these types of cars are now being marketed and sold to consumers, like this new Audi A8. But they're not 100 percent safe while in autopilot mode, taking the fatal Tesla crash in 2016 as an example.

"[R]esearch shows," writes Condliffe, "that drivers become dangerously complacent in semi-autonomous cars."

Read more: Audi's New A8 May Drive Itself, But Owners Should Proceed with Caution

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