It’s no secret that the world’s automakers are well into producing self-driving cars. Volvo, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, Kia and Google, among others, are all known to be working on fully autonomous vehicles for the future, many of which have even begun real-world tests.

But according to Missy Cummings, a robotics expert, engineering professor and human-factors expert at Duke University in the US, fully autonomous cars are nowhere near ready for widespread deployment. In an interview with Automotive News, Cummings explained why.

“It doesn’t take much training to get a driver’s license in this country (US), and we’re not going to move to a society where you have to go to school for six months just to operate a driverless car. We’re going to need to be sure everyone from ages 16 to 96 can operate these things,” she said.

Cummings is also a former US Navy pilot, and one of the first women fighter pilots in the warfare division. “I think the auto industry could learn a lot from how airlines and airplane manufacturers worked to automate their planes,” she said. “We would have never allowed people to fly in airplanes when the industry was still trying to figure out automated landing.”


“I believe that before we take drastic steps such as taking steering wheels out of cars, the car manufacturers need to prove that a human will never need to intervene. I just think it’s not going to happen as quickly as Google might want,” she said.

Cummings added that while she was all for autonomous vehicles, the technology and data she has seen do not suggest that self-driving cars are ready. She believes that it will only be considered ready when the tech is capable of safely managing dangerous situations on the road without human intervention.

“Context is important. If a traffic policeman is gesturing and a car can’t interpret the gesture, it could slow down and vibrate the seat and ask a human to take over. It’s not critical that a human take over in that case. If they don’t, the car can stop,” she said.


“But if a car is going 65 mph (104 km/h) and is having trouble deciding whether to get off the interstate, it can’t just say “three, two, one, now take over.” A car would need to say “click this button if you’re ready to take over,” and if the driver doesn’t, the car will need to be able to come to a safe stop in some way,” Cummings added.

Understandably, car makers aren’t all jumping into the deep end this instant. Volvo, for example, has pledged to deliver its first taste of autonomous driving to the public in 2017 via its Drive Me initiative. It will take its baby steps with just 100 vehicles in the Swedish city of Gothenburg.

At the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show, Toyota invited us to experience its self-driving tech called the Mobility Teammate Concept. Using a modified Lexus GS fitted with various sensory equipment, the vehicle is able to steer, accelerate, brake and maintain its position in a lane. The Japanese car maker has committed to bringing this technology to its production models by 2020 — around the same time Honda plans to introduce its driverless tech as well.