Expert body urges governments to consider whether drunk or fatigued people should use driverless cars

Australia’s National Transport Commission (NTC) has suggested governments will soon need to make a judgement call on whether fatigued people or people under the influence of drink or drugs can use driverless cars.

In its ‘Changing driving laws to support automated vehicles’ discussion paper, the NTC said a conversation is needed to make sure the road safety benefits of automated vehicles were being fully exploited.

On drink driving the NTC said: “The NTC believes that the introduction of automated vehicles will have overall safety benefits for the road network by reducing the risk of human error. Barriers to use will reduce the uptake of automated vehicles and, therefore, the associated road safety benefits.

“One potential barrier to receiving the full benefits of automated vehicles would be to require occupants of automated vehicles, who are not driving, to comply with drink-driving laws,” reads the NTC’s report.

“Enabling people to use an automated vehicle to drive them home despite having consumed alcohol has the potential to improve road safety outcomes by reducing the incidence of drink-driving.”

Despite acknowledging that to take advantage of the benefits associated with driverless cars people under the influence of drink or drugs should be allowed to use the tech, the NTC did also admit that this decision would come with its own problems.

The major risk the NTC highlighted was that a person under the influence of drink or drugs could begin a journey in driverless mode but then take over control of the car and put other drivers at risk.

“A risk of providing exemptions is that an occupant may subsequently choose to take over driving the vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. If this occurred, they would become the driver of the vehicle and drink and drug driving offences would apply,” said the NTC’s paper.

“However, the road safety risks of exempting someone who may take over the driving task from the offences that prohibit driving or attempting to put a vehicle in motion while affected by alcohol or drugs, and waiting to see if they do in fact take over the driving task, may be too great. Governments will need to make a policy decision on where the overall safety benefit lies.”

On fatigue, the NTC said that while fatigue doesn’t impact driverless tech, it still needs to be considered if passengers are to become a “fallback” driver.

“Fatigue is not a relevant concept for an ADS so these provisions would not be relevant to the ADS. However, fatigue provisions should apply to a fallback-ready user for a fatigue regulated heavy vehicle,” reads the NTC statement.

“There will also be a need to consider how fatigue requirements should apply in situations where a human driver is not the fallback-ready user but will take over driving at some stage in the journey—for example, when the vehicle is leaving its operational design domain.

Renault unveils unorthodox ‘car of the future’: a dockable, peanut-shaped driverless pod

Renault has unveiled its take on the car of the future: a peanut-shaped, mulit-directional driverless vehicle that is capable of docking into a train of vehicles.

Designed by Yuchen Cai, a student of Central St Martins’ MA in Industrial Design, the vehicle is the winning design in competition run between Renault and the prestigious design school, and was honed during a two-week stay at Renault’s Paris studio by Cai this summer.

Dubbed The Float, the vehicle was unveiled today at DesignJunction, a four-day design event that kicked off today in London.

“Everyone has accepted that cars will be part of the sharing economy in the future – that’s what’s going to happen,” said Will Sorrel, event director of DesignJunction, this morning.

“This takes it one step further and these pods are this peanut shape so they can join together, so the autonomous vehicles can link up and join together if they’re going in the same direction, conserving energy.”

The Float by Yuchen Cai, winner of the Renault and Central Saint Martins, UAL competition

The Float is rather unusually designed to run using magnetic levitation – known more commonly as maglev – and would be capable of moving in any direction, eliminating the need for tedious three-point turns.

Made entirely of glass, the vehicle is designed to have sliding doors. Two bucket-style seats enable up to two passengers to travel per pod, and swivel mechanism ensures easy departure from the pods.

When the vehicle is docked to another, however, the passengers aren’t just stuck grimacing at each other through glass. Instead passengers can rotate their seats using built-in controls and power up a sound system that allows them to talk to the pod next door.

Those who are feeling less sociable can change the opacity of the glass, ensuring privacy when their neighbours are not so appealing to communicate with.

The Float is also designed to be paired with a smartphone app, through which would-be passengers could hail a vehicle as required.

“Central Saint Martins’ Industrial Design students really took this on board when creating their vision of the future,” said Anthony Lo, Renault’s  vice-president of exterior design and one of the competition judges. “Yuchen’s winning design was particularly interesting thanks to its use of Maglev technology and its tessellated design. It was a pleasure to have her at the Renault design studios and see her vision come to life.”

“From a technological viewpoint, the prospect of vehicle autonomy is fascinating, but it’s also critical to hold in mind that such opportunities also present significant challenges to how people interact and their experience of future cities,” added Nick Rhodes, Central Saint Martins programme director of product ceramic & industrial design.

“Recognition of the success of the projects here lies in their ability to describe broader conceptions of what driverless vehicles might become and how we may come to live with them.”