IELTS® Listening Practice 89

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Listening Script Vocabulary

(Section 3: You will hear a conversation between a tutor and a student about driverless cars. First, you will have some time to look at questions 21 to 24 [20 seconds]. Listen carefully and answer questions 21 to 24.)



T: Right, now you've been researching new technology related to driverless cars. Sophia, based on what you've read, is this a reality for the not too distant future or is it simply sci-fi?

S: Well, I agree, driverless cars used to be the sort of thing you'd see in sci-fi films - but nowadays they're becoming a reality. Autonomous car technology is already being developed by the likes of Lexus, BMW and Mercedes, and Tesla's driverless Autopilot system has even been tested on UK roads. Across the Atlantic, Google is developing its automated technology in the wild, and Apple is rumoured to be working with BMW on its own – probably automated – car.

T: But is it fair to say that fully driverless tech is still at the testing stage?

S: I'd say it's the point of advanced testing, but partially automated technology has been around for the last few years. Executive saloons like the BMW 7 Series feature automated parking and can even be controlled remotely.

T: Yes, that's true. How about investment? Where is the money coming from to develop these systems? 

S: There's heavy investment into autonomous tech around the world, especially in the UK. In 2015, the government announced new laws for testing driverless vehicles on our roads and with them, an unprecedented £20 million investment into the technology.

T: With so much investment and interest in driverless technology, you might assume that self-operating cars are imminent, but is that the case? Can we expect to see them on the streets any time soon?

S: I'd say they're much further away than we might think. Before our roads are flooded with driverless vehicles, manufacturers will have to solve a range of technical challenges.

(Before you hear the rest of the conversation, you will have some time to look at questions 25 to 30 [20 seconds]. Now, listen and answer questions 25 to 30.)

T: What would you say is the biggest threat to autonomous technology?

S: Hmm, good question. Well, autonomous vehicles rely on a range of sensors to interact with the world around them - for example, the Google Car prototype has eight. Sensors and cameras measure the distance between objects, building a 3D map, allowing the car to 'see' hazards. The car also has another set of 'eyes', a standard camera that points through the windscreen. This looks for nearby hazards like pedestrians, cyclists and other motorists, as well as reading road signs and detecting traffic lights. This way, the Google Car can read the road like a human, but these sensors have limitations. Autonomous cars simply replace the human eye with a camera, leaving them vulnerable to extreme sunlight, weather or even defective traffic lights. In current autonomous cars, the way this selection of pixels is analysed could be the difference between a safe journey and death.

T: I see. So, what's the solution?

S: Well, what people are currently working on is based on the idea that a connection between cars and traffic infrastructure is needed. For example, as the car approaches a red light, the road needs to give it information to stop. But how can we provide this information in every car at every red light? There has to be a solution for that to enable autonomous driving in areas with traffic lights. Plus, to become a viable solution, these systems will be required in every vehicle, including those still used by humans. It's likely that emergency vehicles like ambulances and police cars will continue to use human drivers, so they'll need a method of communicating with the autonomous cars around them.

T: What do you consider to be the greatest challenge for driverless car manufacturers?

S: Although autonomous cars will need better, more connected infrastructure to function effectively, they still face a larger, more unpredictable factor – us. Humans, as both drivers and pedestrians, present problems for autonomous cars. Dealing with our unpredictable behaviour represents a significant challenge for the technology. The Google Car is one of the most experienced autonomous vehicles, and its interaction with human drivers has exposed one of driverless cars' main weaknesses. The first injury involving the Google Car wasn't due to a fault in its system, but human error. It was caused by a human driver's failure to stop. While correctly waiting at traffic lights, Google's self-driving car was hit by an inattentive driver and, despite its sophisticated array of sensors, there was little it could do to avoid the incident. Luckily, the accident only resulted in whiplash for a few of the passengers, but it's a reminder that autonomous cars are at risk when surrounded by human road users.

T: Right, so despite their sophisticated systems, self-driving cars currently have no plan B for human road users. Human drivers are able to interact with each other and make allowances, but also make countless, small mistakes when driving – mistakes to which current self-driving cars simply can't adapt

S: Exactly. Autonomous cars need to understand the way pedestrians behave, while also mimicking the behaviour they'd expect from a human driver. However, by making their behaviour predictable, autonomous cars could be vulnerable to manipulation.

T: What do you mean?

S: Say that cars always react in the same way. That being the case, I could seriously injure people by walking out in front of a car on purpose, knowing that it wouldn't be able to hit me.

T: Right.

S: What's more, with each car manufacturer racing to develop its own self-driving solution, the behaviour of autonomous cars is becoming more and more fragmented. If all the major car manufacturers have a different version of this system, it's going to make no sense whatsoever. 

T: I see. Sophie, we're almost out of time so let's stop there and…

We want you to focus on use the exact words in the audio for these types of answers. There is no reason to risk getting an answer wrong on the actual IELTS exam because you think removing the determiner 'a' is fine.

Always use what is said.
Autonomous cars will have trouble predicating human behavior.
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