While autonomous vehicles begin to appear on roadways, gaps in knowledge are blocking the way to their full integration. Researchers at UNC are asking the tough questions to ensure that the driverless car picking you up will be safe for passengers, bicyclists, and pedestrians alike.
Just as no one could’ve predicted the rise of social media in the last decade, no one today can predict precisely how driverless cars will look, operate, or shape our lives. All we know is that autonomous vehicles are coming. But they’re coming slower than most people think. For every solution solved on the long road to ubiquitous self-driving cars, there are dozens of questions putting on the brakes. “It sounds like it’s going to be this fantastic new world, but then you start picking apart all the different subtle questions in between,” says Michael Clamann, senior human factors engineer and autonomous vehicle expert with the UNC Highway Safety Research Center (HSRC).
Those questions go beyond software and hardware. Making autonomous vehicles safe requires perfect alignment of computer science, engineering, psychology, sociology, and policy. The scope of societal impact goes further, reaching into a world that we can’t yet imagine. “We’re starting to recognize that technologies are complicated and thinking about the pluses and minuses is important,” says Noreen McDonald, chair of the Department of City and Regional Planning. “It’s going to be a long time before our cities are a bunch of people driving around in autonomous vehicles.”
At UNC, researchers from a variety of disciplines are thinking through challenges from pedestrian safety to city parking, bringing us closer to this “new world” one day at a time.
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