On-board computers and sensors could stop the next car or truck-based attack

The truck which slammed into revelers is seen near the site of an attack in the French resort city of Nice, southern France.

In the wake of car- and truck-based attacks around the world, most recently in New York City, cities are scrambling to protect busy pedestrian areas and popular events. It’s extremely difficult to prevent vehicles from being used as weapons, but technology can help.

Right now, cities are trying to determine where and how to place statues, spike strip nets and other barriers to protect crowds. Police departments are trying to gather better advance intelligence about potential threats, and training officers to respond – while regular people are seeking advice for surviving vehicle attacks.

These solutions aren’t enough: It’s impractical to put up physical barriers everywhere, and all but impossible to prevent would-be attackers from getting a vehicle. As a researcher of technologies for self-driving vehicles, I see that potential solutions already exist, and are built into many vehicles on the road today. There are, however, ethical questions to weigh about who should control the vehicle – the driver behind the wheel or the computer system that perceives potential danger in the human’s actions.

A computerized solution

Approximately three-fourths of cars and trucks surveyed by Consumer Reports in 2017 have forward-collision detection as either a standard or an optional feature. These vehicles can detect obstacles – including pedestrians – and stop or avoid hitting them. By 2022, emergency braking will be required in all vehicles sold in the U.S.

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