Expert talks about developing automated vehicles

IOWA CITY — An expert at the University of Iowa’s Driving Safety Research Institute says automated driving will work the best when the strengths of humans and automation are used together.

Institute deputy director Omar Ahmad says tasks that are redundant are one example. “Humans are our not great at doing the same thing over and over, over a very long time period. Our minds wander, we tend to get distracted, we tend to get bored. We tend to want to do multiple things such as, for instance, use our phones to get something else done while we’re driving,” he says.

He says automation is best at these types of tasks. “Automation and sort of computers in general they are they don’t get tired, they can do the same thing over and over, and they’re not going to take a nap, and they’re not going to get bored,” Ahmad says.

Humans are better at making decisions about new things they encounter. “Taking a situation that is very unique. And even a situation that perhaps you barely encounter, or that they haven’t encountered, and more or less figuring out how to deal with it. Humans are really good at that,” he says. 

Automation has to rely on what has been programmed into it, so those unique situations cause problems. “Automation and computers and software is terrible at that, because it will only do what is programmed to do. And so anytime it sees a situation that has never seen before, it’s not going to know what to do,” Ahmad says.

He says  if you were to put the strengths of both the human and the automation together, then you have something that’s very compelling. “What we want to see is really a greater recognition of where things are working well, and where things are not working well. And then to remind everybody that look for a driverless type of  solution, we’re going to need to be able to do to really deal with these very unique scenarios,” Ahmad says.

He recently completed work on a study of how to make an automated vehicle safely navigate on Iowa’s rural roads. Ahmad says it will take some time to work out automated travel on the country’s roadways.