Ben Shepard
Ben Shepard

Science & Society News

Learn what is happening inside the Duke Initiative for Science & Society. Stay up-to-date on our research, events, and student activities.

Wed, Sep 20

Much Movement in Policy Discussion Over Autonomous Vehicles

Autonomous Vehicle Safety IllustrationAs companies race to be the first to deliver autonomous vehicle technology to the public, the question remains as to how this new technology should be regulated. Should we limit regulations to give manufacturers the ability to deploy autonomous vehicles (and their related benefits) as quickly as possible or should we proceed with caution by regulating the technology to manage their impact on society? These questions took center stage last week as multiple government entities weighed in on the debate.

On Tuesday, September 12, US Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao announced the release of NHTSA’s updated guidance on highly automated vehicles, called “Automated Driving Systems: A Vision for Safety.” The updated guidance, which replaces last year’s “Federal Automated Vehicles Policy,” emphasizes a hands-off approach to speed the release of automated vehicle technology. While this updated guidance will likely benefit the manufacturers, safety advocates raise concerns that it may put drivers at risk.

These risks were highlighted just a few hours earlier that same day when the NTSB released its findings from the investigation of a fatal Tesla crash from May, 2016. The NTSB issued seven safety recommendations resulting from the crash and reported that the probable cause was a combination of the truck driver’s failure to yield the right of way and the Tesla driver’s “inattention due to overreliance on vehicle automation.” The NTSB’s findings present a contrasting view to the results of NHTSA’s investigation of the same crash, which did not identify any safety-related defects with Tesla’s technology.

To date, much of the conversation on autonomous vehicles has related to consumer use, which was the main motivation behind a bill on driverless vehicles, called the “Self Drive Act,” which recently passed in the House. However, there are concerns that the release of autonomous commercial vehicles could disrupt other facets of the transportation industry, and, as a result, the topic of commercial vehicles has been delaying Senate legislation on driverless vehicles. With this issue in mind, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation convened a hearing on Wednesday titled “Transportation Innovation: Automated Trucks and our Nation’s Highways” to discuss automated truck safety technology and its potential impacts on transportation jobs.

The companies developing autonomous vehicles promise a brave new world of improved safety, increased access to transportation, and reduced congestion on our roads. But as the events of the last week show, their societal impacts include negative consequences that need to be weighed against the benefits. The question remains as how much of that debate will be driven by policymakers, or by the vehicle manufacturers.


Michael Clamann

Dr. Michael ClamannMichael Clamann oversees the development and publication of SciPol content related to robotics and AI. He is also a Senior Research Scientist in the Humans and Autonomy Lab (HAL) within Duke Robotics and an Associate Director at the Collaborative Sciences Center for Road Safety.

Wed, Sep 06

SciPol Development Brief: Rapid DNA Act of 2017 Signed Into Law

On August 18, the President signed into law the Rapid DNA Act of 2017, removing barriers for the incorporation of automated DNA analysis technology into US law enforcement.

Read the full article on SciPol

Thu, Aug 17

Making Driverless Cars Safe for People on Foot

Right now, there are two ways to be safe crossing a road: Wait until no cars are close by, so there’s enough time to make it to the other side of the street – or communicate with oncoming drivers. As the number of pedestrian deaths on U.S. roads climbs, up 25 percent since 2010 to more than 5,000 people in 2015, the dawn of driverless cars offers the promise of improving that sad safety record.

Read the full article on the Conversation

Mon, Aug 07

For D.C.’s DukeEngage Students, Science and Society are Two Sides of the Same Coin

Duke’s Initiative for Science & Society tries to pluralize the world of science. In order to magnify the social benefit of scientific progress, Science&Society endeavors to make it more accessible, just, and integrated into society. But uses of the word ‘science’ are vast, and the use of ‘science’ in the policy world is even more nebulous. With working definitions of ‘science’ and the scientific process are so easily misconstrued in national policymaking, Duke’s Science&Society program has collaborated with DukeEngage to train the next generation of health leaders to engage the policy machine and vice versa.

Read the Full Article on Duke Today

Tue, Aug 01

Duke SLAP Lab 2017-2018 Call for Applications

SLAP Lab is currently looking for undergraduates, Master’s students, PhD students, JD or MD candidates, and post-docs to join the Lab for the 2017-2018 academic year. Applicants are encouraged to apply to participate for the mutual benefit of research, publication, and dissemination of work at the intersection of Science, Law, and Policy. Applicants must be willing to commit to weekly lab meetings and attend meetings on an ongoing basis for research with individual project teams. Applicants with an interest in novel, emerging technologies are encouraged to apply by September 8th, 2017.

Learn More & How to Apply

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