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Drs. James Hubbard Jr. and Srikanth Saripalli shared their perspective on human engagement in the future of autonomous vehicles. | Image: Texas A&M Engineering Communications

Even as autonomous vehicles continue to hold a growing role in modern transportation, the role of human judgment remains critical for implementation.

An article written by Drs. James Hubbard Jr. and Srikanth Saripalli was featured in the National Academy of Engineering's (NAE) 50th-anniversary issue of The Bridge magazine, highlighting their work in the area of autonomous systems and necessary inclusion of human participation.

Hubbard, who serves as Oscar J. Wyatt, Jr. '45 Chair I Professor in the J. Mike Walker '66 Department of Mechanical Engineering at Texas A&M University, said their goal in writing the article was to emphasize the necessary role that human decision-making plays in modern autonomous systems. 

As an example of autonomous operations, the magazine article outlined a self-driving shuttle project led by Saripalli, professor in the mechanical engineering department, in the city of Bryan. Although the program's shuttles do not have a safety driver behind the wheel, each autonomous vehicle has a safety navigator located in the front passenger seat and is monitored from a state-of-the-art teleoperations center.

While the sophistication of autonomous vehicles is increasing rapidly, Hubbard said it is important to recognize that human intervention is an inevitable component for safe operation.

"The public should know that there will always be a need and a role for humans in collaboration with autonomous systems," Hubbard said. "Our research is focused on a better understanding of the role of humans and machines working in collaboration in order to improve decision-making for both humans and machines."