The harsh reality of driving is you could be doing the right thing on the road, only to possibly be affected by someone who's not doing the right thing.
Through time and experience, drivers hope to have learned ways to try to anticipate and expect the unexpected. However, teaching autonomous vehicles to do the same adds an entirely different layer of complexity and challenges.
While self-driving technology continues to advance, Heiko Kraft, director of Mercedes-Benz Research & Development in North America and head of the automaker's autonomous driving, tells Tech Times that it's crucial for automakers to get together and create some ground rules for the technology as soon as possible. That way, they'll have a better shot at getting auto regulators in different countries to possibly certify autonomous cars across the board.
"I think that's not only true for the manufacturers. It's also for the true for the states that come up with the regulations," Kraft told Tech Times this week at the Mercedes-Benz booth at the Las Vegas Convention Center, as part of the Consumer Electronics Show 2016. "If you have different regulations in every country, it's just ... if you think about the sheer amount of testing that you have to do to prove that your system is working safely. We're not talking about the phone that you could re-boot if it doesn't work anymore. You could kill somebody if your [autonomous] car doesn't work perfectly.
"The sooner it happens the better for us," he continued, "because then we have more time to take this into our development."
As mentioned by Toyota Research Institute CEO Dr. Gill Pratt earlier this week at CES 2016, Kraft echoed skepticism of fully autonomous cars hitting the road in 2020, saying: "I expect this to take a bit longer [than 2020]. That's my expectation, but we will see what the future brings."
In the meantime, Kraft and other auto officials in the developing autonomous space expect an uptick of driver-assist technologies. But he's weary of automakers trying to pass those off as fully autonomous features just to hit that targeted date of 2020.
"I assume there will be more driver-assist functions. The question is can you just use some of the driver-assist functions together and end up with something that you could call autonomous driving? I'm not sure that this will work," he said, chucklng. "But with all the knowledge that we gain, we try to improve our autonomous vehicle system in order to provide a good product for the customer. "
As Mercedes continues to work on its own autonomous technology, Kraft says the company has been really zeroing in on sensors and mapping, as well as how the self-driving cars deal with challenging inner-city traffic, dealing with everything from more pedestrians to cyclists.
Then there's another area that's concerning to Kraft as well, one that he thinks not enough companies developing autonomous driving technologies are considering right now.
"The next step that we have to think about — even Google and all the others — is how do we handle bad weather conditions, because this increases the challenges for the sensors," he said. "It's always easy to drive in sunshine [laughing]."
As Kraft said, the sooner automakers would be willing to converge and agree on some blanket rules for autonomous driving, the sooner we could see the technology hitting the road.
But that's after automakers leave no questions unanswered.