BMW board member: This is the biggest issue facing self-driving cars

Autonomous cars would have the ability to choose between life and death — and this could be the biggest stumbling block to their introduction, a BMW board member says.

Ian Robertson, a member of BMW’s board, told UK publication AutoCar that fully autonomous cars should never be allowed to roam the streets without human supervision.

“Imagine a scenario where the car has to decide between hitting one person or the other — to choose whether to cause this death or that death,” says Robertson.

“What’s it going to do? Access the diary of one and ascertain they are terminally ill and so should be hit? I don’t think that situation will ever be allowed.”

This ethical dilemma could arise in a countless number of situations — whether a car should plunge off a ravine or swerve into a group of pedestrians, for example.

Robertson says driverless cars could be allowed in certain environments such as motorways where the traffic is more controlled. But he balked at the idea of a free-for-all on busy urban streets.

However, this has not stopped BMW developing driverless technology.

The Bavarian automaker recently opened its autonomous driving campus in Germany. The campus has been set up to develop high levels of autonomous cars and will eventually employ 1,800 people.

While fully autonomous vehicles may be a pipedream, research in the area has already provided some useful driver aids, including autonomous emergency braking — where a car will automatically hit the brakes if it senses a collision — and lane keep assist, which can steer a car back into its lane.

Autonomous cars have already sparked fierce debate in the US, where Tesla’s “autopilot” function has come under fire after several deaths.

Tesla’s technology maintains lane position and speed and brakes if necessary, but still requires human interaction.

An autonomous Volvo was also involved in a fatal accident as part of an Uber self-driving car trial. The vehicle hit a pedestrian crossing the road at night. Another trial vehicle has been caught running a red light.

Several states in Australia have commenced driverless car trials which revolve around autonomous shuttle buses ferrying passengers along an allotted route.

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