Reprogramming Pedestrians for Self-driving? You’re Joking, Right?

My twitter account offered up a headline the other day that I simply couldn’t believe.

Autonomous car boosters want to reprogram pedestrian.”


Twitter headlineThe Automotive News article (here) is fallout from an accident involving a pedestrian and an Uber-owned self driving test car in Arizona several months ago.

Reprogram pedestrians — its just absolutely stunning in its naivete. Now that’s not a word you would expect to associate with the automotive industry but from where we stand its absolutely real.

Please stay with me — this lands right in our wheelhouse at

We owe our very existence to a blindness in the auto industry that simply refuses to see its own disrespect of its customer base. From the first use of the term idiot light to the astounding growth in the use of those lights, the industry has long exhibited a disdain for drivers. Every new system gets a new warning light — or two or three — and a paragraph in the owner’s manual likely to end with “contact your dealer”.

Dealership employees are openly polite answering the same questions over and over again about the same systems, but privately shake their heads wondering why drivers seem to simply refuse to learn about their cars.

All the while manufacturers have grappled with the learning problem, announcing this program or that program designed to acquaint their customers with the products they sell. Yet, not once has a manufacturer announced the hiring of a teaching professional to accomplish this goal. And so they continue fail as they have failed for 50 years.

The driving public doesn’t refuse to learn — they simply learn like all humans learn — from experience. Being shown a system on delivery or reading about it in the manual is simply no substitute.

And aside from knowing nothing about teaching, auto manufacturers are butting their heads against the fundamentals of a) human nature and b) a simple maxim.


On human nature — people will learn what they need to about their car to get their business done. And as vehicles become more computerized the more likely it is that drivers will come face to face with a problem not associated with their everyday needs.

But more important is the maxim — if to get a particular result you could change one thing or had to change a million things, which would have the greater chance of succeeding?

What this means is that auto manufacturers have tried in vain to change the behavior of their millions of customers. And they themselves have refused to change their methods. And so there is no joy in Mudville.

The promise of self driving cars is that they will reduce or even eliminate traffic deaths. Now, now come statements from the developers of the systems needed that this will only succeed if pedestrians can be reeducated, essentially not to jaywalk.

Once again, an attempt to change the millions rather than the one!

Again, this is clearly in the wake of the pedestrian killed recently by the self driving car as we noted. And I will concede that the researchers quoted make some very good points — people learned not to stand in front of locomotives for instance. But we still walk along train tracks on occasion and at great risk.

Fortunately Uber and Waymo are both quoted in the article as saying that their goal is to develop self-driving cars that can handle the world as it is, without being dependent on changing human behavior. And this HAS to be focus. If, in fact, self driving cannot be accomplished independent of human re-education, then it needs to be abandoned. But I don’t believe this will be the case.

At the least, any company working the problem that is naïve enough to believe it can change human behavior needs to find a new industry to work in.


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