Autonomous Driving? Really? What about Cruise Control to start with?
The big trend is for autonomous vehicles of course, and I admit I have been a skeptic of this and expressed my opinions to that extend. Recently though I was not even in Autonomous driving mode, but merely had the car on cruise control and I ended up scared and scarred for life.
The car was a very new one, clearly equipped to make autonomous driving possible within the limitations set. The country I was driving was the Netherlands. That also is of importance in this case.
Countries, states, counties and municipalities do what the deem right for each stretch of road they are responsible for and of course it isn’t easy to get that all dialed in for each area any car might be driving at. Also, rules change and so do road signs.
A little over 12 months ago, just before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the Netherlands decided to reduce the CO2 production from freeway traffic. They entered a speed limit ruling which reduces the speed limit to 100 km/h during the time slot of 6 am and 7 pm. After that, depending on the stretch of freeway you’re driving on, the speed limit is either 100, 120 or even 130 km/h.
Aside from that the Netherlands also has stretches where either the type of tarmac or the road condition warrants an advisory sign recommending to reduce your speed to 90 km/h in case of wet road conditions. It is a recommendation only. I am a human with eyes and ears and a brain, so I know all of this and depending on what I decide to do I either adhere to it or decide to ignore this.
Well now… In comes the modern car on cruise control. It is equipped with Lidar and several several camera’s throughout the car, so the car is intelligent and knows where I am traveling and can read the signs. Or can it? Or if it can, which it clearly does, how does it decide? Why does it make those decisions?
It is daytime, and I am comfortably cruising on the freeway from Steenwijk to Zwolle and then to Arnhem. Irrelevant information, but just in case anyone wants to replicate the effects, there it is. Since it is daytime, I have set my cruise control to 105 km/h, a bit over the speed limit, but I hope well within any tolerance of the vast amount of speed cameras throughout the country, to warrant sending me a speeding ticket. 110 km/h is too fast, I’ve found and paid for.
So I am cruising at 105 km/h when the car “sees” a sign stating the 120/100 from 6-7 signs. I have added a picture of that sign, so it is clear why there is confusion in the car’s “mind”. It decided to pick up on the 120 speed limit and started flooring it! I had totally not expected this and thought the car was out of control. It was, clearly, out of MY control! I tapped the brake of course and got the speed down to what I chose to have and set the cruise control again.
Dutch drivers are very judgemental people with a short fuse, so for my car to suddenly accelerate and then abruptly brake for no reason causes irritation with other drivers. They were certainly even less impressed with this idiot in front of them when my car passed a sign suggesting a speed of 90 in case of a wet road. Of course the car “sees” the 90 but doesn’t read the text below it, and it slams on the brakes. My second heart attack within 5 minutes. I have no clue why the car is acting up since I it wasn’t a sign I picked up on as it was dry with no clouds in sight, so my brain is working overtime to figure this out.
In the end I see the “end of 90” sign and it clicks! Duh… The car “sees” and is overthinking. It has clearly limited brain capacity despite the sticker price, and has not been updated with the Dutch traffic signs for at least 1 year.
Can I overcome this? Well, since it is a new car very recently introduced onto the market, it is rather complicated to find out what to do. In the end I had to park the car, search the manual and found that I cannot use the cruise control without the car’s “seeing and thinking” functions. My only option was to not use the cruise control at all. So not only could I not use the autonomous features if I had wanted to, the car was so modern and advanced that I couldn’t even use something simple as cruise control!
Welcome to the new age!