Volvo has little confidence that human drivers will be reliably kind and courteous to the first robot cars to hit the road: The carmaker plans to leave its first road-faring self-driving cars, a pilot group of 100 SUVs leased to users in London sometime in 2018, completely unmarked. Details of the plan come from Volvo senior technical lead Erik Coelingh, who shared the info with The Guardian.
“I’m pretty sure that people will challenge them if they are marked by doing really harsh braking in front of a self-driving car or putting themselves in the way,” Coelingh explained to the British outlet, explaining why the automaker decided to leave the vehicles without any obvious indication that they’re fully autonomous.
It’s a reasonable fear to have: A recent study found that a sizeable number of human drivers are looking forward to the advent of self-driving cars precisely because they believe they’ll be able to bully them, since self-driving software will be tuned to go to any length to avoid collisions and drive as safely as possible. Because of the networked nature of self-driving systems, however, it’s possible networks could learn to identify specifically bad drivers over time, which might end up impacting their insurance and other factors, too.
Still, Volvo doesn’t want to tempt fate by giving hot-headed or aggro drivers any reason to single out their test cars rom the crowd, and that’s probably for the best. There’s no predicting the behavior of a cornered animal fighting for survival, and that’s what the human driver is soon to become.