Business Management

Driverless cars: Is semi-autonomous the future?

The future for driving in a completely autonomous car seems exciting but is not necessarily the safest way. We speak with Keith Moore, CEO of insurance site CoverHound about where the responsibility lies in a driverless car accident, whether autonomous vehicles can be more human-like, and why he sees semi-autonomous vehicles as the future.

Can human drivers and autonomous vehicles mix?

I think they can absolutely mix. There is going to be a lot of semi-autonomous advancements happening in between now and whenever we have do have autonomous vehicles on the road. Google is not the only one doing this and is definitely not the first. John Deere, a company in the US has had autonomous vehicles for over a decade. [It also mandates a driver behind the wheel or at the controls at all times]. Its vehicles have been used not necessarily on public roads but on farms so there is a lot of pre-existing data and technology that's showing that autonomous vehicles can be very productive when used correctly.

In a driverless car accident who is ultimately responsible?

The good thing from the insurance perspective and a fault perspective is that with this type of technology evolving, who’s at fault will become much clearer than it ever has been in the past. That is a benefit. But there are not going to be situations where you can always say it’s the faulty software or it’s always the driver’s fault. There’s going to be a blend of situations like it is today with traffic accidents of who’s at fault.

What about the legal issues as different countries have different laws? Do you see that taking a long time?

The politicians tend to focus on the things that have the most money behind them so I would imagine that this will be an issue that will be addressed fairly quickly once the technology is available and the data shows it’s safe enough to go on public roads.

What will the impact be on the insurance industry?

Well, in the insurance industry the risk is still there regardless of who is liable for it. The big debate will be whether it’s the software in the vehicle or the vehicle itself. But more than likely it will be a shared risk initially between the OEMs and the software. So they will have to work out some form of deal with having coverage when it’s their fault but the drivers will always have to have some form of coverage as well. There’s always going to be situations where there is choice and action taken by the driver and then there is going to be choices made by the car itself.

Should the automotive industry be worried about Google and Apple moving into this space?

It should definitely get their attention. Both companies have proven to put great products in the market so if they are successful in building a better car it will have to make the rest of the industry improve their product and their cars. Competition is always good for innovation.

Do you think driverless cars will have a big impact on society in general?

I think so. I think people that are not within the vehicle itself will become more cautious. I think the transition is going to be more important than the destination. How people engage with semi-autonomous vehicles and how that transition goes will lead to how fast the autonomous vehicle is going to be available.

Google recently said it is trying to make autonomous cars more human-like. Will this be possible?

If that’s the goal I think ultimately, it will be able to achieve it but I think there is going to be still a lot of work to be done. I think the natural evolution is going to be through the semi-autonomous [path]. The combination of the two yield safer highways in the US and the UK. There is already data around that semi-autonomous vehicles have far less accidents because of the warning systems that are available in some of the higher-end models. You will see that start to populate through lower-end models in the US and the UK over the next few years.

This is why I say John Deere has a great data-set and head-start because they’ve had autonomous vehicles for over a decade now. They are one of the largest farm vehicle manufacturers in the US and their vehicles have had autonomous capabilities for over a decade now.

Should John Deere be getting more press coverage?

I think so. It was a true pioneer. Everyone wants to talk about Google and Apple so anything they do is going to get front page headlines. [John Deere] doesn’t get a lot of press because it doesn’t advertise itself as the largest manufacturer of autonomous vehicles. It is a perfect example of what I was talking about earlier. It always requires a driver behind the wheel or at the controls so even though the vehicle can drive itself, it’s not necessarily unmanned. That’s why I think semi-autonomous is the way to go for the very foreseeable future. The Jetson era of having people just driving around by themselves is pretty far-off.


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Ayesha Salim

Ayesha Salim is Staff Writer at IDG Connect

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