We are doing a research design project on autonomous vehicles and have some questions on AV Levels 4/5; specifically on the roles, impacts and consequences of AV on society, government, users and other stakeholders.

We're currently stuck on this main question:

Q: What functionally, does control look like in AV levels 4 and 5?

For example, is the whole purpose of a level 4/5 that a user has no input into the control?

Could a driver in AV (level 5) stop in an emergency, or say they want to "take corners harder, speed up, slow down"?

Could I choose to change the equi-distance between my AV and the others around me because I like space?

We're wondering about what functionally, does AV level 4/5 offer a user; and what it looks like?


Our remit is within the world of design (design thinking), not specifically technology, or expert system functionality. We're looking at the issue from a design perspective; who does it impact, who are the stakeholders, what are the consequences and impacts. What role does a driver have an in level 5? Could an auto-manufacturer want to give drivers control in level 5? How do emergency services act in these situations? What are the touchpoints to society and whom does it impact and what does it say about the design of AV for the future of society.


2 Answers 2


Automation Levels

Most cars have some Level 1 automation, such as cruise control and various skid/flip probability reduction systems. Most high volume passenger vehicles have higher levels. Some military and private air, land, and sea equipment are already at Level 5.

Level 4 requires that driving be automated during normal driving conditions, with manual override. However, to my knowledge, no one has published a mathematically terse and comprehensive distinction between normal and abnormal to aid in testing Levels 4 vehicles, so testing to a standard is probably not yet possible.

For legal and political reasons, Level 5 is essentially a statistical criteria. For fully automatic to be viable as a market product for general public use, the safety data for passengers and pedestrians must indicate at least the level of safety for manually driven vehicles. Although this will likely suffice from a law and public relations purpose, it is inadequate as a quality standard for automation engineering and testing. The ambiguities are numerous.

  • Statistical criteria required to pass the test (i.e. sample size, duration, randomization, and double or single blindness)
  • Mathematically terse and comprehensive scenarios for the test
  • Allowable proportion of level 2, 3, or 4 vehicles in the control group.
  • Probably others

There will be no vehicle driver in what they are calling Level 5 — only passengers. The idea is to give no power to the occupants of the AV other than destination or change in destination.

This has been the safety norm in other sub-sectors of transportation for a century. Passengers cannot talk to the pilot of a jet or the engineer of a train. In the majority of cases, safety is compromised whenever a person that has not undergone the discipline of intense safety training has control over any aspect of the vehicle's operation.

That is the primary impetus behind AV from the forward thinkers in government and academia.

Specificity and Insight

It is of paramount importance that researchers define system criteria more specifically and scientifically. Systems architecture, software engineering, safety evaluation, and quality control policies and procedures of the automated system driving the AV requires such.

With a billion plus lives at stake, the design should progress with the diligence and care as if designing a human-occupied drone aircraft or a civilian Mars lander from the ground up, even if your first phase is to only achieve what is being called Level 4 for basic passenger cars.

Target Reliability and Safety

Humans eat food, have emotional conversations, text each other, ingest mind altering substances, and fall asleep while driving. Judging the safety statistics of an AV by comparing with those of humans driving may sound practical, but it is absurd. It will become clear just how absurd the popularized Level 5 criteria is as the parameters of design are enumerated.

Design should instead minimize the possibility of any accident ever. The goal should be zero mistakes, both at point of sale (the dealership) and at later points in the product life-cycle as the AV learns.

Defining a Mistake

A mistake should be defined as follows:

Any less than optimal state indicated by the correction signal used to direct reinforced learning in any of the system's re-entrant or coincident training mechanisms

The adaptive (i.e. machine learning) portion of the system must permit re-entrant or coincident training (reinforced learning) because there is no possible way to predict the common routes of the buyer at the vehicle's point of sale.

To comprehend the complexity of the problem space for AVs and begin to simplify it, consider the dimension of conditions, controls, and priorities (embodied in feedback signals) related to driving on roads for any vehicles that use roads.

Control Channels

  • Starters (there are two in the case of most hybrids)
  • Engine stop
  • Breaking controls (there are two in the case of regenerative breaking)
  • Steering shaft or hydraulic control position
  • Break control position (three or four depending on emergency/parking break design)
  • Transmission planetary gear clutch state, traditional automatic transmission control state, or clutch and traditional manual transmission control state
  • External lighting switch positions (Widely variable, but at least six for headlight, high beam, break light, left signal, right signal, and tail light)
  • The content of any messages broadcasted, multicasted, or sent specifically to any other vehicles with compatible reception (if birds do it, so can electronic systems) either via light, sound, or RF (this will require the development of layers of inter-vehicle communications protocols)
  • Horn
  • Probably others

Data Acquisition Channels

  • Wheel positions (there may be 2 or 4 positions to read with an encoder since one cannot assume perfect alignment)
  • Break torques (4 of them, which can be read by 16 redundant strain gauges)
  • Break metal temperatures (4)
  • Torques and temperatures for any independent emergency breaks
  • Accelerometers (two devices x three dimensions per device to detect acceleration/deceleration, centripetal force, and, with some math, tire skid velocity for all four tires in two dimensions)
  • Tachometers (one before the transmission and one on each wheel)
  • Engine and coolant temperature detectors
  • Cameras (must be high resolution to recognize animals, humans, shopping carts, curbs, road signs, train signals, speed bumps/humps, and hazards, which can be IR or visible and the more angles covered the better)
  • Wind turbulence resistant external microphones to detect horns and sirens (at least four to detect likely orientation of audio source)
  • Suspension strain gauges (to detect vertical road force on each tire)
  • The content of any incoming messages from compatible systems
  • Battery voltages and currents (two batteries for regenerative breaking or hybrid startup and motive assist, and possibly several currents)
  • Fluid levels, pressures, viscosity, and transparency (fuel, oil, steering, transmission, break hydraulic, and possibly others)
  • Probably others

A system can be operational and possibly reach what most would consider Level 5 with fewer channels of acquisition and control than above, but it would be poor technology planning to start designing systems with unnecessary limitations. Such limitations will also very likely increase the cost of engineering and the effectiveness of training while saving nothing.

Why Vehicles Have Very Little Instrumentation Today

A human cannot make use of all of all the information above. Nor could a human control all the channels listed above without a high frequency of mistakes. A properly designed electromechanical learning system can.

It would be lazy systems architecture not to capitalize on the positive impact the additional instrumentation would have on safety, total cost of ownership, and other quality criteria for the AV buyer who can afford the extra sensors and computing power. Furthermore, after a few years of manufacturing for a mass market, the cost of the additional components will become small in comparison with the cost of metal and plastic.

Operational Criteria and the Formalization of a Mistake

The problem space contains at least nineteen dependent variables (output channels) and forty-six independent variables (input channels). Some are binary, some are floating point, some are streamed data, some are streamed audio, and some are streamed video.

Together they form a space in sixty-five dimensions. That is what must be optimized according to some predetermined and possibly re-programmable formalization of what is optimal.

Let's consider this idea of optimum safety, thrift, and comfort as quality control criteria. Real time quality control should follow TQM ideals, continuously ensuring quality in multiple dimensions and at multiple points in the total system.

  • Maximal distance from other vehicles
  • Maximal distance from stationary objects (bridge abutments, buildings)
  • Maximal distance from pedestrians on foot, bike, wheelchair, ...
  • Maximal distance from edges of pavement
  • Minimal lane switching
  • Minimal loads and torques on wheels
  • Minimal fuel consumption
  • Within operation parameters for tires, breaks, engine RPM, and dozens of other parts and subsystems
  • Shortest distance for route to destination
  • Shortest time distribution mean for route to destination
  • Safest route to destination
  • Least stops on route to destination
  • Probably others

Most of this must be balanced, so optimization criteria must be aggregated. Such aggregation must go beyond the simplicity of a loss function. Summing squares will not work at all, so give up aggregating in such a simplistic way. A multivariate extension of the Pythagorean Theorem is find for calculating distance in linear space, but driving cars is very non-linear. This kind of robotics system will require more thought in the formulation of balances, priorities, and the concept of emergency.

Further expanding on the above definition of a mistake, any real time control that does not optimize the sixty-five-plus dimensional surface is faulty. Now what is optimal must be defined. Consider the following quality control criteria, roughly in correct order.

  • Pedestrian safety
  • Passenger safety
  • Mechanical system integrity
  • Fuel conservation
  • Vehicle external coating integrity
  • Mechanical system wear
  • Passenger comfort
  • Time conservation in reaching destinations
  • Probably others

Applying Optimization in This Context

Aggregation of the incoming signals acquired are not only based on multiple criteria but the prioritization is not always constant, implying the need for a vector of correction signals rather than a single floating point number.

A single dimension of signaling to feed the disparity between ideal operation and the current system behavior (called a loss function in gradient descent) will not suffice. There will, out of necessity, be a need for training and reinforcement with a complexity that involves the idea of preemption. Evolution has declared preemption the design of choice for nervous systems with brains.

For instance, the pedestrian safety feedback signaling must always preempt the fuel conservation feedback no matter how much fuel would be consumed in staying clear from pedestrians, in planning a route where pedestrian density is lower, steering the vehicle clear of people, choosing speed, and applying breaking.

All biological systems have these preemption mechanisms — even bacteria. A turtle doesn't balance the transportation aspect with safety when it retracts under its shell. The behavioral interest in the turtle's destination is shelved (stored and temporarily forgotten) until the preemptive system that detected danger indicates the danger has passed.

Humans Should be Passengers on the Streets of the Future

The reason humans are generally driving in a continuous state of mistaken control is because the priorities that maximize the parameters of transportation for society (above) are inconsistently followed by humans. Birds fly smarter than humans drive. The priorities of an emotional being that wants to get somewhere fast and while talking, texting, eating, and possibly getting high will often be mistaken.

Future people may look back at the period between the advent of Model-T market penetration and the complete transition to AV as a period of strange inequality. Stepping back, the worldwide interest in domestic security, airline safety, train and subway safety, and building code contrasts strongly against the cultural insistence of every household have instant access to drive anywhere, any time, and in any mental condition.

  • $\begingroup$ this question is a softie, but could probably benefit from your rigorous approach and highly organized thinking: ai.stackexchange.com/q/6643/1671 :) $\endgroup$
    – DukeZhou
    Jun 4, 2018 at 21:27
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The idea of what role of design thinking plays in AI is an interesting concept we should certainly consider $\endgroup$
    – zardon
    Jun 5, 2018 at 17:22
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ +1. I would include stochastic control theory and cybernetics topics, fuzzy versions of OODA loops, the use of mathematical theories of evidence/beliefs due to epistemic uncertainties (Dempster-Shafer theory is already being used in AV research), and the like. $\endgroup$ Jun 5, 2018 at 20:24
  • $\begingroup$ I like the sentence, "Birds fly smarter than humans drive," best. $\endgroup$ Jun 13, 2018 at 8:11

Control should look like low numbers in highway and city accident report statistics.

There will be no drivers in Level 5 AV. In fact, there may be no driver's position in the vehicle as with train passenger cars and dining cars. This is quite different than Level 4. In fact, more levels will probably emerge because of the huge jump from 4 to 5 in the current understanding.

The AV will stop in an emergency because the AV technology to do so will have proven its ability to determine and react to an emergency condition more quickly and reliably than a human driver. The passengers will still be under control, just not THEIR control, except for their determining the destination address. Control should be a communal function, since the danger when control fails is communal.

This is the benefit of Level 5 over Level 4. Highway pileups and many other accident scenarios are caused by human inability to react to risks. Pileups are usually caused by human perception of a normal driving condition as an emergency and jamming on the breaks unnecessarily. Most drivers will not steer into a skid even though they've heard to do so. Rather than controlling the risk with skill, most people react in a way that reduces their tentative control of the vehicle when a skid begins.

Regarding the passengers liking space between cars, the AV will prefer space too because proximity creates risk, so that question is moot.

The primary impact of AV on society will be the gradual demolition of cultural values about engine power, which is reaching its time anyway because of the reduction of the burden of transportation on energy consumption that removing adrenaline and testosterone from the roads and highways will bring forth.

Government is pro AV simply because many humans like to "drive through" when traveling far, drive when on prescription medications that warn against operating heavy machinery (which cars are), and text in heavy traffic and in school zones.

The automotive, aeronautical, and transportation industry is not a primary driver of the AV technology. Their profit is maximized by occasional (but not frequent) accidents, stress on engine and body components, sales pitches about safety and power unsubstantiated with actual data, and marketing that equates freedom with control. With rare accidents, minimized wear, and accountability created by deeper scrutiny there may be significant profit lost.

Insurers will gain. Ticket and accident attorneys will lose. Parents of children in school will win. Body shops will lose. The electronics industry will win. Tire sales will drop. Government will be able to pocket more tax revenue. Gear heads may eventually be thought of like KKK members are in today's postmodernism. Custom wheel manufacturers will win. Towing services will lose. Bicyclers will win. Petroleum extractors will lose.

Just as the personal automobile changed the horse industry and the Internet changed publishing, AVs will lead to adjustments throughout government and the economy.

  • $\begingroup$ @zardon, what was most assistive in my answer? Knowing is helpful for future answers of questions like yours. $\endgroup$ Jul 5, 2018 at 18:43
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I found it very useful in helping to frame further research as part of my design-led innovation project on autonomous vehicles. Some of the insights have been useful in guiding our small team in understanding the interplay between users and autonomy, and how future journey experiences might be framed. $\endgroup$
    – zardon
    Aug 10, 2018 at 16:24

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