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(Self)driving towards tomorrow by Emilio Frazzoli

Self-driving cars, buses, and trucks are at the center of a flurry of activity, and rarely a week goes by without news articles covering this technology and its potential impact on transportation’s future.

Indeed, as the technology is maturing rapidly, the automotive industry is rethinking itself to face the potential impacts on its established business models, urban planners and transportation experts are working to assess the societal effects, and the authorities are developing new regulations and policies governing the operations of self-driving vehicles. However, as autonomously-driven miles accumulate, accidents and crashes in which the automation is at least partly to blame have started to be reported. The first reported fatal crash of a vehicle controlled by an automated system (not a fully autonomous vehicle) occurred on May 7, 2016: a Tesla model S, under the control of its Autopilot, collided with a tractor-trailer crossing its path. Sadly, the driver later succumbed to the injuries caused by the collision. Initial statements by Tesla attributed the incident to the missed visual detection of the white trailer against a brightly lit sky, combined with a radar signature that was consistent with overhead signage. An investigation by NHTSA and NTSB is under way, and we will learn more about the accident in the coming months. This tragic event naturally spurs a deeper reflection on the technology, its readiness, and its consequences on society. A thoughtful answer to the question of whether the technology for self-driving cars is ready for real-world deployment at scale requires a careful analysis of the use cases, the benefits, and the risks associated with it.

(Self)driving towards tomorrow

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MIT AeroAstro annual magazine 2015-2016Aeroastro 2015 16  

Annual magazine review of MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics Department research and educational initiatives.

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