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German Authorities Propose a Black Box Recorder for Semi-Autonomous Cars

With more and more manufacturers selling cars that are capable of managing highway cruising pretty much on their own, Germany is considering the introduction of a data recorder to help investigators in case of an accident.
Mercedes-Benz Vision Tokyo Concept 1 photo
Needless to say, it all comes following the recent incidents involving Tesla's Autopilot where the logs kept by the vehicles proved to be extremely valuable. For instance, Tesla was able to prove that, despite the driver's statements saying the opposite, the Autopilot feature was not operating at the moment the Model X hit the concrete median and flipped over. Had the company not have access to this information, it would have been nearly impossible to say for sure whether that was the case or not.

The German Federal Ministry of Transport is now preparing a draft that would make the inclusion of a black box-style data recorder mandatory in all new vehicles offering semi-autonomous capabilities. According to the BBC, the device would be responsible with recording the decisions made by the car's AI, as well as logging whether the driver or the autonomous systems were in control at a certain time and highlighting the instances when the driver was required to intervene.

The law proposal also touches on the regimentation regarding the driver's legal obligations while using a semi-autonomous vehicle. According to the current draft, they would be absolved from actively steering or monitoring traffic, but their presence behind the wheel would still be required, as they might have to take charge under certain circumstances. This part is weird, to say the least since the driver would be asked to take a decision based on very little information, considering he was allowed to forget about the signs and the steering over a long period.

However, some companies have complained about similar proposals in the US claiming they were hindering the advancement of autonomous cars by forcing the presence of a steering wheel. Google, for instance, plans to release its vehicle only when it reaches the level where it can safely operate in fully-autonomous mode, at which point the steering wheel - or a forward-facing seat, for that matter - would become redundant.

But the German proposal is yet to be voted, so it can still suffer some changes. Besides, it is more suited for the level of technology available today, so there's no reason why it couldn't be modified once self-driving cars become more advanced.

Whatever its final form, the law is supposed to be voted this summer, so we'll know soon enough how the German authorities see fit to tackle this problem. What's clear is that Tesla's Autopilot has opened a box that should have had its lid lifted earlier.


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