Concerns About Self-Driving Trucks Answered by Engineer

A tractor-trailer delivered Budweiser to Colorado Springs, and social media freaked out. Not because it was Budweiser, but because the truck drove the 120-mile trip mostly without a driver.

A tractor-trailer delivered Budweiser to Colorado Springs, and social media freaked out. Not because it was Budweiser, but because the truck drove the 120-mile trip mostly without a driver.

Self-driving start-up Otto teamed up with Anheuser-Busch to make the delivery.

The trip raised questions and concerns about unmanned trucks taking over our interstates. 11Alive's Joe Henke took your top concerns to a Georgia Tech expert.

Assistant Professor Evangelos Theodorou is a robotics specialist at the School of Aerospace Engineering. Part of the research he works on focuses on developing complex algorithms that prepare self-driving cars for thousands of possible scenarios as the car travels down the road. 

"It is an interesting question, because I would like to think that it is very difficult actually to get control of a vehicle," Theodorou said. "But of course the world is so much interconnected right now, so I think that is another aspect of safety that we have to in our academia and the private sector we have to start thinking about very seriously." 

Theodorou believes advancements and research in aerospace engineering can play an important role in the development of self-driving cars. He said part of that has to do with a strong culture of safety in aerospace engineering. 

"I see that now, more and  more people from aerospace engineering disciplines actually work on autonomous driving," he said. "Because there is a matter of culture, right. What does it mean that something works? Does it work 99 percent of the time, or does it work 99.999 percent of the time?"

That accident happened on May 7 in Florida. Theodorou said there are safety concerns that still need to be addressed before consumers can start buying self-driving cars, but he added work is being done in university labs and private companies to accomplish that. 

"There is the issue of safety and how we are able to guarantee and verify that this new technology will always behave in a way that we want it to behave. Now you see a new wave in funding agencies. They really try to put more resources, work on universities in terms of not only bringing new algorithms to the table to make our vehicles smarter, but also how we can make our vehicles to be safer too. There is work to be done when it comes down to safety, because the technology we see in these cars right now is at the forefront." 

The conditions and factors a self-driving car will encounter on the road comes down to perception, according to Theodorou. He stated that computers already exist which can handle the complex scenarios drivers currently deal with and have to spot. 

"The vehicle I have has software that it can actually identify if there is a flat tire or if there is something wrong with the engine. I don't think this is a limitation. The community has done a lot of work and I don't think we are constrained from the technology we have right now. The computers we have right now are capable of dealing with the amount of information a vehicle has to deal with in order to make a decision."

Future advancements in computers, including their memory and speed, Theodorou said will only expand on the decisions a self-driving car would be able  to make.

Photos: Self-driving semi-truck delivers 2,000 cases of Budweiser


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