This is something that has been suspected for a long time. Now, we have evidence from a new study — after Autopilot self-driving technology was enabled on Tesla cars, human drivers pay less attention to what’s happening on the road.
The study highlights the peculiar phase we’re in now: Self-driving technology has grown enough to handle many aspects of being on the road, but it can’t be relied on to handle everything, all the time. could.
This is potentially more dangerous than both fully human driving and fully automated driving, because when people get behind the wheel they believe they do not have to pay their full attention to every part of the driving experience. As shown by this study.
“Visual behavior patterns change before and after autopilot disengagement,” the researchers write in their published paper. “Prior to the discontinuation, drivers looked less on the road and focused more on non-driving related areas than after the transition to manual driving.”
“The high proportion of off-road glimpses were not compensated by forward sightings before manual driving was discontinued.”
As capable as it is, at the moment Autopilot is unable to steer the car on its own in every scenario. Tesla itself says that Autopilot is “designed to assist you with the most cumbersome parts of driving” and that its features still “require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous”.
As part of an ongoing study on driving and advanced technology, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) analyzed drivers’ posture and facial position to determine where their eyes were focused. Using data collected from 2016, the team compared 290 incidents of drivers turning off the Autopilot feature, comparing their behavior to their actions with their actions.
Data from about 500,000 miles (over 800,000 kilometres) of travel was used for the study.
Most of the off-road glimpses seen while Autopilot was enabled were focused on the large screen in the center of the dashboard in Tesla automobiles. The researchers found that 22 percent of glimpses lasted more than two seconds with the autopilot off, compared to only 4 percent with the autopilot turned off.
The off-road glimpse was on average longer when the autopilot was engaged. During manual driving, side windows, side mirrors and rearview mirrors were more likely to be seen. The researchers also developed a simulation model to estimate gaze behavior across a wider set of data.
“This change in behavior may be due to a misunderstanding of the limits of what the system can do, which is reinforced when the automation performs relatively well,” the MIT researchers wrote.
The team suggests that autonomous systems such as Autopilot should watch the road alongside drivers, showing warnings and adjusting system behavior depending on how attentive the human is behind the wheel. Right now, the autopilot uses the pressure on the steering wheel to determine whether someone is still paying attention.
Researchers say it’s also important to make drivers more fully aware of what self-driving technology can and cannot do. While Tesla tells drivers it still needs some attention, it calls its latest software update full self driving — which it isn’t.
The latest study makes no connection between attention span and safety, so no conclusions can be drawn about whether autopilot is more or less safer than manual driving. It is clear that due to this, the drivers pay less attention on the road.
“The model in this case may enable new safety benefit analysis through simulations that can inform the policy-making process and the design of driver support systems,” conclude the researchers.
research has been published in accident analysis and prevention.