Forum: Questions aplenty before autonomous vehicles ready for widespread use

A self-driving electric vehicle being tested on the road in University Town at the National University of Singapore.
A self-driving electric vehicle being tested on the road in University Town at the National University of Singapore.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

It is critical to ensure that the in-built safeguards of autonomous vehicles (AVs) can handle unpredictable challenges on the road (Autonomous vehicles put to the test, Oct 29).

In theory, AVs can react to most situations - a sudden obstacle on the road, abrupt stopping of a vehicle ahead, or unsignalled junctions - significantly faster and with greater composure than any human operator ever could.

These are all important advantages.

I am concerned, however, that AVs may not be adequately equipped to handle the kinds of unpredictable challenges otherwise addressed by human intuition.

For instance, will an AV be able to make the largely subjective judgment that a set of traffic lights is providing inaccurate signals? How will they react to erratic driving and irrational rage from other road users?

There is also the question of how manual overrides will work. If an AV's control software were to apply inaccurate inputs for whatever reason, to what extent will a driver be able to re-assert control?

Let us also not understate the social impact of AVs, particularly as the automation revolution is expected to subtract more jobs than it creates.

What will happen to our thousands of bus captains?

These are all important questions that researchers, manufacturers, regulators and state planners will have to answer before AVs are ready for widespread use.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 14, 2019, with the headline 'Questions aplenty before autonomous vehicles ready for widespread use'. Print Edition | Subscribe