Dawn of the Driverless car – documentary

Dawn of the driverless car

Dawn of the Driverless car is an excellent documentary from the BBC, currently available on iPlayer. Driverless vehicle technology changes incredibly quickly but this film manages to capture the very latest developments. The film examines the technological challenges in using LIDAR, radar, and machine vision to create a machine that can ‘see’, ‘think’, and ‘learn’.

It also does a good job of explaining the different types of autonomy – from a simple ‘enhanced cruise control’ system to a fully automated vehicle. The challenges in getting computers to ‘understand’ and ‘learn’ are also addressed. This is really useful as ITGS students don’t always understand just how difficult certain mundane tasks (such as tying laces) actually are for machines.

Driverless car
Driverless vehicle must sense the roads around them

In true ITGS style, Dawn of the Driverless car also examines the social impacts and related ethical issues. Perhaps the most obvious of these is the loss of jobs (think bus drivers, taxi drivers, and delivery drivers). As the film makes clear, companies such as Uber are already examining the potential for driverless vehicles, so potentially thousands of jobs are at risk.

Ethical issues are also explored, particularly in regard the reliability of the vehicles and culpability in the event of accidents. Related BBC resources offer extra material for generating classroom discussions on topics like should human drivers be able to override the controls?

In the past one of my favourite driverless vehicle resources has been the documentary The Great Robot Race. This follows teams in the DARPA Grand Challenge as they build robots to race across the Mojave desert. However, the Grand Challenge took place in 2005, so the video is showing its age now. Even the latest challenge – the DARPA Robotic Challenge – took place five years ago. Dawn of the Driverless car looks like it could be a great new way to introduce the HL robotics topic to ITGS students.

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