Engineers Claim AV Collision Safety Mitigation

University engineers claim to have developed decision-making and motion-planning technology to mitigate injuries and damage when driverless vehicles crash.

While the first rule for the AV crash-mitigation technology is avoiding collisions with pedestrians, most experts accept that although overall safety should improve dramatically there remain too many uncertainties for the vehicles to handle to work faultlessly.

The new system, developed at the University of Waterloo in Canada, claims that it can it assess factors, such as relative speeds, angles of collision and differences in mass and vehicle type, to determine the best possible maneuver, such as braking or steering in one direction or another. After recognizing that a collision of some kind is inevitable, the system works by analyzing all available options and choosing the course of action with the least serious outcome.

Amir Khajepour, a professor of mechanical and mechatronics engineering at the University of Waterloo, said AVs are capable of limiting damage when a crash is unavoidable because they always know what is happening around them via sensors, cameras and other sources, and routinely make tens and even hundreds of decisions per second based on that information.

The new system claims to decide how an AV should respond in emergency situations based primarily on pre-defined mathematical calculations considering the severity of crash injuries and damage. Researchers did not attempt to factor in complex ethical questions, such as whether an AV should put the safety of its own occupants first, or weigh the well-being of all people in a crash equally.

Khajepour, director of the Mechatronic Vehicle Systems Lab, said the system is needed because the popular idea that AVs of the future will completely eliminate crashes is a myth. He added: “What can we do in order to minimize the consequences? That is our focus. There are hundreds, thousands, of variables we have no control over. We are driving and all of a sudden there is black ice, for instance, or a boulder rolls down a mountain onto the road.”

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_


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