Posted by Doreen Higgins on Nov 20, 2018
We took a half hour’s journey into a new world on Wednesday morning. Steve Lowry told us the “where and when” we might expect to see and perhaps use these new devices.  Steve is a distinguished partner in Harris Lowry Manton, LLP, with an impressive record as a trial lawyer.  His practice areas are personal injury/trucking/defective-dangerous product situations, car accidents, catastrophic injury, and wrongful death.  He is a graduate of the J.D. Lewis & Clark Law School of the Northwestern School of Law and “a passionate advocate for individuals who have been harmed by the actions of others.”
Steve’s presentation opened with a picture of a little car by Google (it looked a bit like the “Smartcar” one sees in France) and its two passengers. They are seated in the two front seats, chatting and having breakfast while the car takes them somewhere, perhaps to work.  A subsequent picture shows huge trucks, driverless, traveling down the highway – scary!  WAYMO (GM) is testing these in Atlanta right now, Steve tells us. The major companies developing these cars at the present time are, in addition to Google, Tesla, Uber, BMW, Intel, and Fiat.  There are five levels of automation, Steve says: they are, driver assisted (one), partial automation (two), conditional automation (three), high automation (four), and full automation (five).   We are now at level four, high automation.  There has been a progression of technologies since the beginning, which was in 1990, and several public benefits are forecast.  These include a reduction of the total number of cars on the road which in turn means fewer accidents, fewer traffic jams, and less or no pollution from cars. In other words, self driving cars may turn out to be safer than the cars driven by humans, although the public is not yet convinced.
Steve turned to the issue of ethical decisions; how can an inanimate ‘thing’ make an ethical decision?  He showed dilemmas with diagrams.  For instance, what if a car has to decide between running over a child who has run into the road and crashing the vehicle?  Can cars be programmed to make ethical decisions in emergencies?  It is difficult enough for a human to make such a decision in the split second when a decision must be made, how can the car be prepared to do this?
A detailed description and picture/diagrams of a car programmed to be self driving shows devices all around the vehicle.  A camera on the roof gives a 360 degree view of its surroundings and recognizes lane markings, road signs, objects and pedestrians. The car has GPS, radar sensors on the front, wheel mounted sensors with feedback on velocity and proximity of nearby objects for navigation of traffic, all of which are worked and controlled from a central computer in the car.
Are we ready for this?  Answers to this question are varied, but, ready or not, these cars are coming.  A question was asked, Why? Why do we pursue this?  The answer is, “Because we can.”  We can imagine ourselves saying to our car in the garage, “Take me to the airport, then take yourself back home.”  Brave New World!
Below is a photo of Steve Lowry.