It might sound a bit counterintuitive, but just about every driverless vehicle deployment has at least one operator in the vehicle. This article points out that all Uber test vehicles will have “two employees in each self-driving vehicle.” Lyft and Aptiv launched a self-driving program in Las Vegas and, as reported in This article, “a trained operator will be in each car.” Ford is testing vehicles in Miami and has “human backup drivers (see link here). Even Waymo, which removed safety drivers from their driverless vehicles, decided to “put safety drivers back behind the wheels” and add “co-drivers” in an “effort to keep its safety drivers alert” ( see link here). This is the case for just about every deployment of driverless vehicles around the world. But why?
Clearly the number one reason for safety drivers is safety. These safety drivers are trained to regain control of the vehicle, if necessary, at any time (see information on GM’s one-month “driver” training program here). Interestingly, AV manufacturers that require two security drivers cite the primary reason for the second driver being to monitor the first driver or capture and record data. Other reasons for a safety driver include passenger comfort, so passengers trying out this new form of mobility can ask questions and feel safer. The final reason relates to regulatory requirements. Some states require human safety drivers – primarily due to outdated regulations (e.g. New York), while others require a permit for driver removal (e.g. California).
Ironically, Waymo said that one of their vehicles would have avoided an accident if the safety driver had left the vehicle in autonomous mode (see link here). This article combined an apology and a commitment to safety with a strong endorsement of their autonomous technology…. Bright!
As developers of driverless technologies move from SAE Levels 2/3 to 4, with the ultimate goal of being fully driverless, it seems that removing the human operator is one of the biggest challenges. This, along with many other factors, suggests that we are a few years away from fully autonomous vehicles being able to operate anywhere (Level 5), but please let me know if you are not. OK !
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