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Driving
March 12, 2021

Motor Mouth: The 'social ballet' of autonomous driving

“The social ballet of driving.” That’s what Dr. Ryan Eustice, senior vice-president of automated driving at Toyota’s Ann Arbor-based Research Institute, calls one of the biggest problems for the self-driving cars of the future. Different societal norms are going to make the task of having robots drive on the same roads as we humans a huge challenge.

“Driving in Boston is different from driving in Detroit,” says the director of the University of Michigan’s Perceptual Robotics Laboratory, “and having driven in Rome, I feel it’s more of a sport there.” That’s important, says Ryan, because every little bit of the art of safely controlling an automobile — the speeds driven, the attention given to traffic signals, and even the differing ways different cultures treat the always difficult pas de deux of merging traffic — will come into play when fully autonomous cars start sharing roads with humans.

And they will be most definitely sharing roads with us. As Stefanie Bruinsma, manager of industry engagement for the University of Waterloo, points out, “Governments are not going to build two highways” just so humans don’t have to share roads with computer-driven cars. In other words, humans and robots are going to need to learn to get along.