Ford engineers are falling asleep at the wheel of self-driving cars

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Ford Falling asleep at the wheel in autonomous cars

Ford have been developing and testing their own autonomous vehicles and they have discovered during research that their engineers have been falling asleep at the wheel in Level 3 automated cars.

There are five different categories or level of automation in vehicles and the Level 3 cars require both human and automated control.

The cars in question can be taken over by the human driver when required in a little as ten seconds but it would seem that drivers of automated vehicles can lose concentration and nod off easily.

This has flagged up a dangerous aspect to the specific Level 3 cars, as they are in between fully human controlled and fully automated which could lead to disaster if the human does lose concentration as the driver should always be in full control even in the automated state.

At the moment, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi are releasing their own versions of Level 3 vehicles which will be launched as early as 2018 but it looks like Ford are having second thoughts and plan to dispense with Level 3 and go for a fully automated car roll out by 2021.

Testers who have been assessing Level 3, or 'conditional' autonomy cars, are prone to falling asleep even if another person is in the car or stimuli such as buzzers and vibrating seats are used.

Raj Nair, who is the Product development chief said: “These are trained engineers who are there to observe what's happening. But it's human nature that you start trusting the vehicle more and more and that you don't need to be paying attention.”

Ford research has found that the engineers are prone to falling asleep even if another person is in the car with them or another alert mechanism for sleepy drivers, such as buzzers and vibrating seats.

Ford has therefore decided not to introduce Level 3 cars and will only produce level 5, or 'full autonomy' cars, expected to debut in 2021.

Ford is not alone in their concerns about the risks of Level 3 automation as the Waymo car project which is being spearheaded by Google's parent company Alphabet has also reached a similar conclusion and will not be releasing their own version of Level 3 hybrid human/self-driving cars.

Waymo's CEO John Krafcik even suggested that 'Level 3 may turn out to be a myth' where the car monitors the driving environment but the human acts as the fallback.

Ford's Level 3 models has raised the question of whether a hybrid human/self-driving car, in actuality, is worth it?

Ford CEO Mark Fields summed it up when he asked the hypothetical question: 'Why did I spend that extra premium for this if I have to be alert and pay attention?'



Justin Kavanagh
Justin Kavanagh is a recognised leader in automotive intelligence and vehicle data supply to the entire motor industry. He has almost 20 years experience in building systems from the ground up. As the Managing Director of Vehicle Management System, he understands the need and importance of trustworthy and reliable vehicle history and advice to both the trade and the public.
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