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Challenges In The Age Of Automated Driving

Nov 2020

The Human Factor

The forms automated driving might take and the contexts it might be used in are currently taking up a lot of space in debates in society and among experts. However, there is still little consensus among experts with regard to the time frames in which the various stages of automation – up to and including full automation of private cars – might be completed. While progressive forecasts suggest that more than 40 percent of all motor vehicles will be highly automated – and some even fully automated – by 2050, conservative predictions estimate the figure to 30 percent at most. According to a study by Prognos AG, only an infinitesimal fraction of this num-ber would be made up of true “door-to-door” traffic that requires no contribution from a human driver. At some point in the future, we should expect our roads to be made up of a mixture of vehicles with different levels of technological advancement, plus different levels of infrastructural development. Within this structure, users of two-wheeled vehicles will have the same rights as other road users, just as they do today.

In their recent publication, Zwicker, L. et al. (2019) tackle the issue of communication between automated motor vehicles and other road users. The article looks into a number of forms of communication in the context of increasing automation. One of the most important questions here is whether automated vehicles should be designed based on currently established means of communication, or whether there might be clearer ways of communicating with them. For example, would an automated car be able to recognize informal means of communication that are not technologically assisted, such as hand signals or eye contact, or do we need to ensure that cyclists are also able to signal their intentions using technological aids, such as turn signal lights and brake lights, in order to guarantee that they are recognized clearly?

Generally speaking, it is evident that communication on the road is most successful when it conveys not just a status (e.g. when a pedestrian or cyclist is seen by a motorist or an automated vehicle), but also the intention of the road user in question (e.g. to cross the road), as status-only messages are easier to misinterpret. Whether or not a message is interpreted correctly depends on a number of factors, including the flow of traffic, the atmosphere in the traffic, the visibility of the road users to each other, and the clarity and comprehensibility of their signals. In light of this, more research is still required in order to ensure that communication patterns between vehicles and users of two-wheeled vehicles remain safe in the age of automated driving.

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