Autonomous Cars Advanced by Chrysler & Alphabet
First leg in the race to build autonomous car?
Google-parent Alphabet, raised eyebrows after announcing a partnership with Fiat Chrysler, to create a fleet of state of the art autonomous mini-vans. This has struck many as odd, as most consider these cars as amongst the most boring of vehicles. So why does a minivan, make a good autonomous car?
Daniel Rosenband, hardware engineer at Alphabet, explains that this may not be such an odd choice of vehicle. The Pacifica Minivans, are fit for purpose in this project due to features such as electronically closing doors. As these vehicles need to match peoples expectations of an autonomous vehicle, in the user experience they provide.
“We realised if you drop people off in a self-driving car they expect the car to do what it’s going to do—and that includes closing its door,” said Rosenband. Autonomous cars lacking these features have the potential to become stranded. Consider a situation where passengers exiting the vehicle in a hurry leave the doors open. The car would have to call for human assistance, before returning to use. The autonomous car ‘door’ problem, is illustrative of how companies, (Alphabet included) who hope to build autonomous taxi fleets have a necessity to consider user experience in their design process. Presently, cars are designed and built on the assumption of full human control. Though moving into the future, its not unreasonable to believe that people would expect an autonomous taxi, to be fully automated.
Alphabet and Fiat Chrysler are not alone in tackling the challenges of user experience when it comes to autonomous vehicles. Uber have announced that in Pittsburgh, a portion of ride requests will be answered by self driving car prototypes, (safety drivers behind the wheel). Uber hope that the experiment will yield valuable data revealing how people feel about taking a journey in a semi-automated vehicle.
“The goal is to wean us off of having drivers in the car,” Uber’s engineering director told Bloomberg. This, and developments made in collaboration by companies such as Fiat Chrysler and Alphabet, are ones to watch out for in the race to develop the first autonomous vehicles over the mid term, moving into the future.