Chris Gerdes, PhD

Professor of Mechanical Engineering

Stanford University

Automated driving: from human to machine


Automated vehicles provide an unparalleled opportunity to reduce the approximately 35,000 fatalities that occur each year on US roads. With the ability to sense 360 degrees around the vehicle, avoid distraction and react within milliseconds, automated vehicles possess some inherent advantages over human drivers when it comes to avoiding collisions. To realize this potential, however, the cars must be explicitly designed to make full use of these advantages when designing and executing maneuvers.

For inspiration, we have been studying race car drivers, who are able to routinely handle cars safely at the very limits of their handling capabilities. By working with expert drivers and measuring their performance on the track, we have developed automated vehicles capable of lapping a track in less time than a champion amateur driver and drifting through courses with a precision exceeding human capability. More importantly, we are developing entirely new approaches to controlling cars that can transfer from race track performance to highway safety.

Even with driving capability at the level of the best human drivers, not all collisions are avoidable, due to laws of physics and the somewhat unpredictable actions of human road-users. Automated vehicles must be explicitly designed for these cases as well, requiring engineers to consider not only technical feasibility but also ethical frameworks for decision-making. Just as we sought out race car drivers to teach us about handling the car, we are now working with philosophers to handle these more human aspects of automation.

Meet the Speaker:

Chris Gerdes is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering and, by courtesy, of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Stanford University. His laboratory studies how cars move, how humans drive cars and how to design future cars that work cooperatively with the driver or drive themselves. When not teaching on campus, he can often be found at the racetrack with students, instrumenting historic race cars or trying out their latest prototypes for the future. Vehicles in the lab include X1, an entirely student-built test vehicle; Shelley, an automated Audi TT-S that can lap a racetrack as quickly as an expert driver; and MARTY, an electrified DeLorean capable of controlled drifts. Chris and his team have been recognized with a number of awards including the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the Ralph Teetor award from SAE International and the Rudolf Kalman Award from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.