Autonomous Cars Keep Crashing into Fire Trucks as Mercedes Claims to Achieve Level 3 Automation

Automologist MAC thinks anything that encourages you to take your eyes off the road is bad news.

Two cases of autonomous cars smashing into fire trucks are being reported in California. The first involved a GM Cruise in full driverless mode failing to ‘see’ a fire truck attending to an incident. The vehicle failed to stop even after the accident and firemen had to smash the window of the car to get it to stop. Following this and a little ironically, a Tesla on Autopilot mode smashed into another fire truck that was attending a car on fire. In this case, tragically, the driver of the Tesla was killed and the passenger sustained major injuries.

The unfortunate Tesla Model S.

In the US of A, there has been a slew of such incidents which really highlights the perils of allowing live testing of unproven software in a real-world setting. But wait, it is going to get worse, or at least that is the warning from Los Angeles City officials if Cruise and Waymo are allowed to expand their services in the city. Reports suggest that so far, there were 92 incidents involving GM Cruise Autonomous vehicles between May and December of last year.

Apart from Cruise, Waymo has received permission to commence testing their driverless taxis in the Bay Area of San Francisco next year. In their defence and despite a multitude of incidents, Cruise claims that they have chalked up “millions of miles in an extremely complex urban environment with zero life-threatening injuries or fatalities”. California is trying very hard to be one of the first places in the world to offer fully autonomous taxis, but are they risking too much in the process?

It is not just on the West coast of Americaland where companies are trying to create a world of electric-powered cars that magically whisk you to your destination as you catch up on the film you have been wanting to watch. Mercedes claims to have achieved Level 3 autonomy, which is defined as vehicles that can monitor the driving environment and make informed decisions on behalf of the driver, although still needing the driver to take over on the odd occasion. This can also be described as one step away from the removal of pedals and steering wheels.

This is an important step for Mercedes which would like to be known as the pioneer of autonomous driving, and not those American upstarts, ie. Tesla, GM and Ford. For those of you keeping count, the three American giants have as of yet only achieved Level 2 autonomy and not that convincingly either. But even Level 3 is a long way from full self-driving and would require a driver in the seat ready to take over. Mercedes, though, has said that you would not have to have 100% concentration on the road.

At the risk of sounding like a Luddite, any system that almost encourages a driver to take their attention from the road and onto, say, a video game playing in the infotainment system has danger written all over it and we may well be better jumping straight to Level 4 completely autonomous vehicles to avoid so much bent metal and heartache in the future.

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