Here’s why self-driving cars may never really be self-driving

It sounds like the beginning of a bar room joke.

Two self-driving cars are headed down the highway when the lead car decides to speed up to avoid being rear-ended by the second. That car, in turn, slows down to avoid hitting the first. Then a third car suddenly comes between the two, prompting the slower car to change lanes to avoid and accident.

The problem: There are cars in the lanes on either side of it.

What’s an autonomous car to do? The answer is no joke.

The scenario is called “a ripple factor” and it’s one of many researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) are studying to understand how embedded software could address a myriad number of unexpected situations that could cause accidents as self-driving vehicles speed toward reality.

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