The Autonomous Vehicle (AV), also known as self-driving car, promises to be a game changer for the transportation industry. This technology is predicted to drastically reduce the number of traffic fatalities due to human error .
However, road driving at any reasonable speed involves some risks. Therefore, even with high-tech AV algorithms and sophisticated sensors, there may be unavoidable crashes due to imperfection of the AV systems, or unexpected encounters with wildlife, children and pedestrians. Whenever there is a risk involved, there is the need for an ethical decision to be made .
While ethical and moral decision-making in humans has long been studied by experts, the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) also calls for machine ethics. To study the different moral and ethical decisions made by humans, experts may use the Trolley Problem , which is a scenario where one must pull a switch near a trolley track to redirect the trolley to kill one person on the track or do nothing, which will result in the deaths of five people. While it is important to take into account the input of members of a society and perform studies to understand how humans crash during unavoidable accidents to help program moral and ethical decision-making into self-driving cars, using the classical trolley problem is not ideal, as it is unrealistic and does not represent moral situations that people face in the real world.
This work seeks to increase the realism of the classical trolley problem for use in studies on moral and ethical decision-making by simulating realistic driving conditions in an immersive virtual environment with unavoidable crash scenarios, to investigate how drivers crash during these scenarios. Chapter 1 gives an in-depth background into autonomous vehicles and relevant ethical and moral problems; Chapter 2 describes current state-of-the-art online tools and simulators that were developed to study moral decision-making during unavoidable crashes. Chapters 3 focuses on building the simulator and the design of the crash scenarios. Chapter 4 describes human subjects experiments that were conducted with the simulator and their results, and Chapter 5 provides conclusions and avenues for future work.