The statement could be seen as contradictory to the company’s efforts and controversial given the push for fully autonomous vehicles from all sides in the industry, but it’s grounded in reality. At the end of the day, you can’t hand over the right of life and death to a machine, Dr. Robertson says.
That means that, unless the state intervenes and creates a “perfect” system that would allow a driverless car with minimum risk to pedestrian, you won’t see them on the roads. For the time being, the system is far from perfect, the BMW chief stresses.
“It won’t be too long before Government says, or regulators say, that in all circumstances [fully autonomous cars] will not be allowed,” he explains.
“Imagine a scenario where the car has to decide between hitting one person or the other to choose whether to cause this death or that death. What is it going to do? Access the diary of one and ascertain they are terminally ill and so should be hit? I don’t think that situation will ever be allowed,” Dr. Robertson adds.
The way he sees it, fully autonomous cars could be allowed in specially designed zones, like “roped-off” areas of cities or motorways, or other areas where you could have complete control over pedestrian traffic. This would remove decision-making from the machine, and it could function safely.
The statement goes against what Mercedes’ Christoph von Hugo said in 2016, when he suggested it would be ok for the car to decide to kill a pedestrian, if it meant saving the passengers inside. Wrecking the vehicle to save the pedestrian was not an option, since that would put passengers at risk, he added.
At the same summit, Dr. Robertson added that BMW cars will never come without a steering wheel, as occupants will always want to have the possibility of control, regardless of whether they use it or not.