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Mercedes denies 'protect our own' plans

By raccars Published

F015

Mercedes says cars will not protect their own occupants before pedestrians but will aim to keep everyone safe

A Mercedes safety executive sparked controversy when he was said to have confirmed that the company’s future autonomous cars would prioritise the safety of their occupants rather than pedestrians when collisions are unavoidable. However, a little backtracking has occurred since then.

The head of Driver Assistance Systems, Active Safety and Ratings at Mercedes, Christoph von Hugo, was widely reported to have said that if there is a chance to save one person this should be the person in the car. But the company has since released a statement saying that von Hugo’s quoted comments were not correct.

Highest levels of safety for Mercedes

Mercedes said it was not right, and potentially illegal, for an autonomous car to actively opt to cause harm to someone else with the aim of saving its own occupants. The company said its aim is to create vehicles which will strive to ensure the highest levels of safety for every road user.

For many, self-driving cars are seen as having the potential to improving safety for drivers, vehicle occupants, pedestrians and other road users as most accidents are known to result from human error. There remains, however, the question of what an autonomous car should do when a collision is unavoidable.

In its latest statement, Mercedes says that its vehicles will aim for the highest safety levels by employing self-driving technology which is being developed specifically in order to avoid potentially dangerous situations. This is achieved by ensuring that the vehicle acts in a manner deemed to be low-risk.

Of course, this does not completely solve the moral and ethical dilemma as to what should happen if an accident is not preventable and Mercedes claims that a broad and public discussion should take place in order to determine the outcome which would be most socially and ethically acceptable.

The future of transport

Such an outcome may well be influential in Mercedes’ vision for the future of personal transport. A glimpse has already been offered of the company’s current future vision on the form of the concept F015 Luxury in Motion car from 2015, which is a fully-connected, autonomous, plug-in, hydrogen-electric hybrid.

The F015 Luxury in Motion concept is based upon the Mercedes idea that autonomous vehicles will totally change the travelling experience. Mercedes Chairman Dr Dieter Zetsche said that the car will become more than just a means of transport, instead transforming to become what is in effect ‘a mobile living space’.

In the meantime, situations surrounding the engineering of Level 4 and 5 autonomous systems will continue to pose some tricky ethical questions but von Hugo has emphasised that Mercedes is focused on preventing the cars from finding themselves in danger in the first place.

Not such a relevant question

Von Hugo was reported to have said at the Paris Motor Show that the ethical question as to who to save in a collision, for example, is not likely to be as relevant in the future as some people believe it will be now. In reality, conflicts will occur far less frequently than concerned commentators believe.

He added that there are situations today which cannot be prevented and that there will be similar occurrences in the future. But autonomous vehicles are likely to be far more capable of avoiding such dangerous situations than the average car driver.

Von Hugo said that 99 per cent of Mercedes’ engineering work is focused on preventing dangerous situations from arising, adding that the idea is that the company’s vehicles will avoid danger, obviating the need to worry about the moral dilemma of who to save.

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