Automakers and their technology suppliers may be jostling for pole position in the race to bring self-driving cars to market, but their customers are wary. That is the conclusion of a major study by the premier arbiter of customer satisfaction and product quality. “In most cases, as technology concepts get closer to becoming reality, consumer curiosity and acceptance increase,” said Kristin Kolodge, executive director of driver interaction and HMI research at J.D. Power. “With autonomous vehicles, we see a pattern where trust drives interest in the technology and right now, the level of trust is declining.” (It’s actually a generational issue: The study found that Gen Y – born between 1977 and 1994 — was the least concerned about the safety issue; not surprising, given its well documented affinity for technology.)
That’s where IBM sees an opening for itself.
Recently, the company was granted patents focused on improving autonomous vehicle safety through a machine learning system that can dynamically shift control of an autonomous vehicle between a human driver and a vehicle control processor as it senses a potential emergency.
U.S. Patent #9,566,986: “Controlling driving modes of self-driving vehicles,” is based on IBM’s research into biological cognition and behavior generation in the brain. IBM inventors have devised a cognitive model and technique that uses sensors and artificial intelligence “to dynamically determine potential safety concerns and control whether self-driving vehicles are operated autonomously or by relinquishing control to a human driver.”
IBM claims that in case of an “operational anomaly” such as dangerous road conditions, or even brake failure, the system determines whether the human driver or vehicle processor is better equipped to handle the situation and acts accordingly. If the system determines that the vehicle control processor is better able to handle the anomaly, the vehicle switches to autonomous mode, overriding any actions by the driver.
“IBM has been inventing, patenting and innovating new technologies for the automotive industry for decades,” says James Kozloski, Manager, Computational Neuroscience and Multiscale Brain Modeling, at IBM Research.
The question, of course, remains: Does a technology, so advanced that it seems “indistinguishable from magic,” (to paraphrase the science fiction author, Arthur C. Clarke) help engender greater consumer trust?