Despite the glut of headlines about the coming arrival of self-driving cars over the next decade, experts say it could take much longer. That’s due to the faulty assumption that humans are prepared to take the wheel if the vehicle’s autonomous driving systems fail. That is illustrated by the recent death of a Tesla driver, who was reportedly watching Harry Potter while a truck swerved into the path of his Model S, says Missy Cummings, the director of Duke University’s Humans and Autonomy Lab.
“Drivers in these quasi- and partial modes of automation are a disaster in the making,” Cummings tells the AP. “If you have to rely on the human to see something and take action in anything less than several seconds, you are going to have an accident like we saw.” Similar scenarios involving airline pilots have led to tragic accidents, noted Rob Molloy, the National Transportation Safety Board’s chief highway crash investigator. In 2007, Air France Flight 447 crashed into the Atlantic Ocean when an air speed equipment malfunction disconnected the plane’s autopilot and confused pilots, who were unable to correct the plane’s descent.