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Dead Basic Car Intelligence
  (+14, -7)
(+14, -7)
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Cars are very powerful devices that can kill or injure - so why don't they (and any other potentially dangerous devices) have very, very basic "intelligence"?

A recent thing happened to me, where I unfortunately didn't show too much intelligence:

"At my local airport, I found a car parking space but it had a luggage trolley in it, so I parked up and got out to move the trolley. After I moved the trolley and got back in to the car, I saw in my rear view mirror someone driving in to the space that I had just cleared, and so I opened my car door, and got out to tell them that I was trying to park there.

I had not noticed that I had put the car in to reverse, and as I was getting the attention of the driver I realised that my car was moving backwards, with the car door open and no one driving.

I tried to jump into the car so that I could press the brake and stop the car, but as it was moving backwards, I lost my balance and began to fall out of the car which was now picking up speed.

I had one leg in the car and half of my body was hanging out, as I clung on to the steering wheel to prevent myself from falling totally out, but I was not in control of the car and I could not reach the brake to stop it. The car door hit the rear of the car that had just driven in to my space and bent the whole door round so that it was flush with the side of the car. The car continued to reverse with me clinging on to the bottom of the steering wheel, while my upper body hung dangerously out of the door.

My car very narrowly missed hitting any other cars and crashed in to a fence, as I hit the underside of a parked car and fell out and on to the floor. Luckily, the car had come to a halt and did not run over me."

Now, aside from me being nominated for a potential Darwin Award, why did the car not cope with my mistake? There is a sensor that knows the door is open, one to know the car is in reverse, one to know if someone is sat in the car, one to know the current speed. I could write a simple program myself that could have detected that to go in reverse, with the door open and no one driving is VERY STUPID and so the car would need human confirmation to continue.

I'm sure with all the sensors on cars these days, and with the number of computers on board, there will be many combinations of sensor readings that are unlikely or where someone has done something completely stupid and human confirmation would be required to continue. It is a little like a word processor NOT asking if you want to save when you try and close it down - stupid.

It would be the cheapest addition for a new major selling point.

noblea, Dec 28 2007


       The program you could "easily" write would prevent your unfortunate ordeal, but when I get in the car and do a different idiotic thing, such as leave it in neutral on a hill (not leaving a door open, I am in the passenger seat, in the rain, etc.), it will be useless.   

       You see, the program that will intelligently request human confirmation in less specific unusual circumstances is extremely complex and would probably be a huge pain, requesting confirmation under a large number of very benign circumstances.   

       Besides that, cars are slowly gaining in this area of collision prevention technology, so this is very close to a "let's all", or at least a "let's make it happen faster".
globaltourniquet, Dec 28 2007

       I noticed that my 2000 Nissan Sentra won't let me open the trunk from inside the car unless the vehicle is in park.   

       Glad you are OK, in/out of car accidents are frightening.
normzone, Dec 28 2007

       // aside from me being nominated for a potential Darwin Award, why did the car not cope with my mistake? //   

       Exactly. Cars are just another selection pressure in the environment. If you make more things idiot-proof, more idiots will survive and breed.   

       This is a Bad Thing. [-]
8th of 7, Dec 28 2007

       Thanks normzone.   

       //requesting confirmation under a large number of very benign circumstances.//   

       Exactly. Only when one of those benign circumstances was actually required to be in effect, you would confirm it - otherwise you'd ignore it. I agree it's not earth shatteringly original but like many ideas, it's an extension of what currently exists, but given that my car is a 2002 Merc and current models don't have these features I'd say why isn't it the next step and why hasn't it already been done.   

       //Cars are just another selection pressure in the environment. //   

       Funny, but a tad idiotic. On that basis the seat belts, air bags etc. should only work if it's someone else's fault and not your own - maybe a bomb under the seat could ensure you die if you ever have an accident that is your fault.   

       Most "safety" features of anything are compensating for people's mistakes. The reason people make these silly mistakes is because the circumstances are highly unusual and there is no personal experience on which to base decisions.
noblea, Dec 28 2007

       Too often, increases in safety (braking, traction control, 4wd etc.) are perceived as increases in performance, i.e. "I brake later because I can".   

       True improvements in "safety" arise from improving driver behaviour. Airbags etc. change driver behaviour in the wrong way.   

       Example: Aviation. It is the pilot's responsibility to make the decision as to the suitability of weather for flying. If the pilot gets it wrong, the consequences are often fatal. Even experinced pilots sometimes get it wrong and guess what, their blood turns out to be the same colour as everyone else's.   

       Things that makes drivers more aware and less complacent are good.
8th of 7, Dec 28 2007

       I'm going to have to disagree with 8.   

       One hundred years from now - probably less - we will sleep, read the paper, or play video games in our cars as they drive us to our destinations. This will be so safe, we will shake our heads in wonder and amazement that we used to actually convey these machines ourselves. What did we think we were, professional race car drivers? That will be the prevailing sentiment about us and our self-driven death machines. 8's luddite sentiment will be long a thing of the past.
globaltourniquet, Dec 28 2007

       / we will sleep, read the paper, or play video games in our cars as they drive us to our destinations //   

       Yes. It's called a "train". You may have seen them here and there.   

       Cars provide independant mobility at the price of personal responsibility.
8th of 7, Dec 28 2007

       Reducing the number of things that people NEED to be aware of also improves safety.   

       //Cars provide independant mobility at the price of personal responsibility.// In 2007, yes (agreeing with globaltourniquet) But isn't that the whole point of coming up with new ideas? How wonderful! The benefits of a train and a car together. So, in 2107, no.   

       The first steps in introducing AI to cars is in safety features - it's just that these type I suggest haven't been done yet.   

       //Cars provide independant mobility at the price of personal responsibility// People make mistakes. How we deal with them is part of the job of technology. It's a good job that spelling mistakes don't result in being shot in the face.
noblea, Dec 28 2007

       // highly unusual circumstances //   

       By definition, such circumstances are highly unusual.   

       The programming approach would therefore have to be the "Handle by Exception" method, where anything not found with in the "normal" model is an exception, raising an alert. That's going to make the "normal" model pretty big and need a fairly powerful system to support it. OK, computing power is getting cheaper, but to get this into a mass market product is still a little bit WIBNI .....
8th of 7, Dec 28 2007

       Quite the contrary. Handle By Exception requires that you identify each exception, where if you haven't identified it, then it is taken as being the norm. So you start off with a small number of known exceptions and handle them. Then, as more are discovered, the program grows and more circumstances are handled. Initially, there wouldn't be a program for the "norm", as this in effect is normal driving and is handled by the human. Eventually there would be, but this would be a fully automated transport system.
noblea, Dec 28 2007

       Not sure it's the car that's needing the intelligence here. :)
Noexit, Dec 28 2007

       //anything not found with in the "normal" model is an exception//   

       that's how big freakin' airliners hit the ground because they've over-ridden their pilots.   

       I'd settle for an "oh crap" mode; a way of telling the car that yes, "smart" braking, steering, etc is called for. That way you don't raise your "idiot" quotient to compensate for a smarter car. Right off the top of my head I can think of a circumstance where you'd be outside the car while the car is in reverse... and *want* it to be that way... trying to get unstuck from mud or snow and manually pushing the vehicle. Glad you're alright, though.
FlyingToaster, Dec 28 2007

       [noblea] that sounds pretty terrifying! Sorry to hear about that; the fact that it's such a nice car must make it all the worse.   

       [+] You could probably rig something up that's pretty simple, like weight sensors in the driver's seat that detect when no one is in it and apply the brakes. But as with anything, there would probably need to be an over-ride for those bizzare circumstances.   

       Even if cars will some day drive themselves, there will still be those willing to risk their lives simply for the fun of driving.
acurafan07, Dec 28 2007

       Firstly, I'm glad you're okay. Having said that, I have been known to open my door while backing up - aiming for some landmark I can't see in my mirror(s). If I'm leaning out, your pressure sensor may not realize I'm in the seat. Then what? That is, what do I use to confirm I want to back up? And what happens if I fall out of the car after giving confirmation?   

       Now you've added the cost of the seat sensor, the cost of the door sensor, the cost of the programming (specifically, the liability thereof), the cost of the device used to confirm the intent, a device to record your confirmation (liability again) and the cost of installing it all. All that, and you've only mitigated the problem, not eliminated it.
phoenix, Dec 28 2007

       //Now you've added the cost of.....// No, you haven't. The point of the idea was that the necessary sensors exist already, and it's largely a matter of software that puts two and two together. At most, all that's needed is a single additional "override" button.   

       I don't know a huge amount about car electrics, but I get the impression that they have evolved without ever having been designed. Every little gadget appears to be an independent organ, drawing its lifeblood from the same battery but otherwise blissfully unaware of where it is or what else it's working with. Many modern cars have dozens of computers, all doing one tiny job in isolation. I know that various "car data- bus" systems have been proposed by several manufacturers, but they're not generally implemented, and they don't usually aim to provide a single central "brain".   

       I think, therefore, that the problems in implementing this boil down to the lack of integration in current car electronics. Please be aware that I tend to talk bollocks at this time of night.
MaxwellBuchanan, Dec 28 2007

       Did you guys realise hat many americans didn't want the safety belt to be mandatory? It was against the idea of freedom. The government passed a law anyway and many lives were saved. But come on, the individual driver should take some responsability at least.-
zeno, Dec 29 2007

       I think you could set this up as a kit and sell it to car owners. They have speed kits and style kits...why not an idiot proofing kit? Parents of teenagers would love them
hooande, Dec 29 2007

       Bun(+) I agree, most of the basic sensors are already on most vehicles. Seat sensors are already in many passenger seats to trigger passenger side airbags. And there are also airbag overrides in many vehicles to protect children. A similar system could be for a parking brake interlock connected to a seat sensor. Probably need a buzzer that goes off for 5 seconds before parking brake application to allow for override.   

       As for [8th] objections, I heard the same when anti-lock brakes came out and they are still wrong. Cars are the most dangerous items in our lives and everyone can have a bad day, so cars should be designed to allow us to survive them.
MisterQED, Dec 29 2007

       "The point of the idea was that the necessary sensors exist already, and it's largely a matter of software that puts two and two together."
Your car already has a sensor that tells it when someone is in the driver seat?
Your car has "Yes" and "No" buttons on the dash somewhere? Or would you flash the brights once for "yes" and twice for "no"? Do you believe someone who almost runs over themselves with their own car would get that right?
And would you honestly trust that cheap plastic "your door's open so I'll turn on the dome light" switch as part of something that could enable/disable your vehicle? I wouldn't.

       Lastly, the costs aren't restricted to the hardware or programming. The first time someone figures how to hurt themselves despite "the software that puts two and two together" they'll file a very expensive lawsuit. Search for "airbag lawsuit" on Google to see what I mean.   

       It's not that it's a bad idea, but in my experience when you try to make things foolproof you just end up breeding better fools.
phoenix, Dec 29 2007

       I did anno this earlier, but it seems to have disappeared into the ethernet.   

       Seems that whenever there is a discussion on safety features here, there is always an element of braces-hitching and "Weell, the idiot gets what he deserves." Now that may be true, but away from Thoughtexperimentsville, ConjectureLand there are often completely innocent bystanders who also get what they definitely don't deserve. Example: seatbelts and airbags are not only useful when you collide with another car, they can also protect the occupants of the other car from the worst consequences of your inattention.   

       I'm glad no-one was seriously hurt in this incident, but this is not the first time that I've heard of cars running off to play on their own.*   

       I think there's a cultural divide here. There is a quick and simple method of making sure a car doesn't run off - it's called the parking brake. In the UK, most cars are manual transmission, and new drivers are taught to put the car in neutral and apply the parking brake when at rest as a matter of course. This is a habit I've brought over to the States with me, and I'm often ridiculed for it, because here cars are mostly automatic transmission and drivers use the Park setting to lock the drivetrain. No need for a parking brake - usually. Thus what may seem like a totally idiotic thing to do to a British driver, i.e. get out of the car without applying the brake, is actually common practice in other countries.   

       I'm guessing this was an automatic, as a manual would probably have just stalled. I'm guessing it also had sensors in the driver seat so the airbag knows whether to deploy, and the seat heaters know whether to switch on.   

       So yes, this would be relatively easy to bake. Notwithstanding the poster's feelings, I agree that it's idiot-proofing of the highest degree - however, given that it is possible for the vehicle to be put into uncontrolled low-speed projectile mode, and the potential for damage to life, limb, and property, I don't think it's unreasonable to expect manufacturers to include this failure mode in their FEMA and do something about it.   

       *Slightly off topic - the funniest was when a colleague of mine went to fetch his girlfriend's car from the repairshop. It was a manual, and had been left in gear. As he pocketed the keys, he accidentally hit the remote start buttons (both together - highly unlikely!) and watched in horror as the starter motor pitched the car across the lot , down the side of an old Ford, and into a fencepost.   

       I was in the room when she took the call.
egbert, Dec 29 2007

       Every car has some intelligence, in the form of intelligently designed features. Some of those are security-enhancing (for instance, the radio controls are where you can reach them easily, instead of being in the trunk, where you would have to leave the seat to get at them). Or, for a more information-processing based example, ESP is very good at keeping you on the road, even when your steering is not adapted to the conditions.   

       So you essentially wish for more of the same, a trend that is occuring anyways. [-]   

       As to human confirmation on suspect decisions: I like my tools to do what i tell them, without asking for confirmation - there are other people who like more secure ways of doing things (Delete? Really? It's a systems file, you know? Not just into the Bin? Really?).
loonquawl, Apr 03 2009

       As somebody already pointed out, safety features don't just protect idiots, they protect innocent bystanders.

       [8th] you would have a different opinion if your child got run over by a driver-less car in an incident similar to this one.

       The arguments against safety features are the same ones that GM used in the 1950's when they didn't want the government to force them to install seat belts and collapsible steering columns. The world just doesn't work that way. We need safety features for other reasons than just to protect idiots.

       Incidentally, even smart people make mistakes sometimes. Haven't all of you? Do you think you should die for a relatively minor mistake?

       I like this idea...there are some situations where the car should obviously "know" that there is a problem.

       But I think it will take more than a software change. There is a occupant sensor in the passenger seat but is there one in the driver's seat? Maybe not. The car might assume that there is always a person in the driver's seat. Also, does the car already have some kind of mechanical actuator that is capable of applying brakes? Possibly on cars with ABS but I'm not sure.
Sweaty_Elvis, Apr 26 2009

       [noblea] - it's been something like 16 months since this happened. I hope you can see the funny side by now, 'cause I nearly fell out of my chair reading your post.   

       I'm happy to have as many automatic safety features as you like, so long as I can override or disable them at will. For instance, being able to disable ABS braking on dirt or corrugated roads because it's bloody unnerving, having your brake foot all the way down and still not slowing down... Used to be you could pull the fuse, some models now seem to be ABS dependent, or so I've heard. Ditto dinky computer controlled traction control systems in similar circumstances.
Custardguts, Apr 27 2009

       [Custardguts] yeah, I saw the funny side moments after it happened - part funny because it was SO stupid and part deliriously giddy for being SO lucky.
noblea, Apr 30 2010


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