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People scared of self driving cars: BMW

BMW believes the biggest issue with driverless cars is people's acceptance of the technology.

The world is not yet ready for autonomous cars to make life and death decisions, according to BMW's global boss of sales and marketing, Ian Robertson.

Despite the German car maker investing billions of dollars each year to be one of the leading pioneers of self-driving cars and admitting it will have a fully autonomous car ready for sale by 2021, at the recent Geneva motor show Robertson said that society's acceptance of machine learning will be a bigger hurdle to overcome than any technology or regulatory barriers.

"We are going to see cars becoming a lot safer, but there is going to be a mismatch for decades. The legislation around it is also very immature and we are just beginning to ask the questions 'What If'," he said.

Would you trust a plane without a crew? Or a car without a driver? The German giant BMW says public acceptance will be a big hurdle to autonomous vehicles.

"Does the car have the ability to answer the life or death question?  Yes it does. Are we ready for that? No we're not. It will be limited not by the technology but by society."

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Robertson likened the imminent proliferation of self-driving cars to the adoption of autopilot functionality in aeroplanes. But he conceded that while passengers know the technology exists - and comprehend that it has the ability to fly an entire trip without any human intervention - the general population would not trust a plane without a crew.


"I look at the US, where 40,000 people died on the roads last year. If we said we could halve that, we'd all say that was a really good step. But on the other hand, if 20,000 people fell out of the sky in aeroplanes each year we wouldn't be flying," he said.

"You can look at the aircraft industry, and they have had autopilot for a long time, but that is quite easy as you don't tend to have people running out in front of you in the sky, or traffic lights and the such. It works though and we could quite easily fly from Sydney to Geneva and go on autopilot the whole way, but there is still a crew sitting there all the time because sometimes things can go wrong. And in those instances you need to have the person take over. And I doubt many people would get on the plane if they knew there wasn't a crew upfront.

"You could say that industry has some lessons [the car industry could use] but I'm not sure they are helpful because the circumstances of a vehicle within the complexities of which it runs is much greater.

"So our perceptions of what this looks like is not easy. How this develops will not be limited by the technical steps but it will be limited by the other things around it, what we're prepared to accept and how we're prepared to accept it. And we're really not ready, as a world, for a machine to make that final decision yet."



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