Las Vegas unleashed its first driverless shuttle packed with passengers yesterday, and within two hours it was hit by a delivery truck with a human driver.
Apparently, the shuttle's sensors recognized the truck – which was backing up – so the shuttle stopped to avoid an accident. The truck, however, did not stop and it hit the shuttle. Luckily, it was minor and no one was hurt.
According to the Huffington Post:
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“The shuttle just stayed still and we were like, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s gonna hit us, it’s gonna hit us!’ and then, it hit us!” passenger Jenny Wong told KSNV. “And the shuttle didn’t have the ability to move back, either. Like, the shuttle just stayed still.”
Fortunately, no humans were injured in the crash, the city said.
The eight-passenger shuttle is currently offering free rides to people along a half-mile loop in the city’s Fremont East “Innovation District.” The operation is part of a 12-month pilot program, the city said.
The Chinese tech firm Baidu said Tuesday it will launch a self-driving car technology in July. A first release will involve a restricted environment, but the company plans to gradually introduce “fully autonomous driving capabilities on highways and open city roads by 2020,” Reuters reports.
Charlie Miller made headlines in 2015 as part of the team that showed it was possible to remote-drive a Jeep Cherokee over the internet, triggering a 1.4 million vehicle recall; now, he's just quit a job at Uber where he was working on security for future self-driving taxis, and he's not optimistic about the future of this important task. Read the rest
Google is suing Uber, alleging that the company recruited a former Google exec who had secretly offered to give them access to trade-secrets from Google's self-driving car project. Read the rest
Visteon makes high-definition dashboard displays for instrument clusters, navigation panels, and entertainment systems. They also know the future is autonomous driving, and to help anxious customers get a sense of the technological possibilities, they are developing driving simulators that demonstrate manual vs. autonomous driving conditions. Read the rest
Federal auto safety regulators today said that self-driving cars “will save time, money and lives,” but also sent a clear signal that they want the power to inspect and approve technology before it hits the highways, rather than each U.S. state setting its own safety standards.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said on a press call today that a new federal premarket approval system "would require a lot more upfront discussion, dialogue and staffing on our part."
The government's statement today is big news for Uber, Google, Apple, and other Silicon Valley firms pouring millions of R&D dollars into figuring out how to swap human drivers for smart machines, or at least allow us to share control in “semiautonomous” setups.
From Tesla's release notes for its upgraded Autopilot technology based on radar as its primary control sensor:
The net effect of this, combined with the fact that radar sees through most visual obscuration, is that the car should almost always hit the brakes correctly even if a UFO were to land on the freeway in zero visibility conditions.
Taking this one step further, a Tesla will also be able to bounce the radar signal under a vehicle in front - using the radar pulse signature and photon time of flight to distinguish the signal - and still brake even when trailing a car that is opaque to both vision and radar. The car in front might hit the UFO in dense fog, but the Tesla will not.
Of course they're kidding. Or so they'd like us to believe.
Video clip from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).
The promise of self-driving cars is to take our vehicle fleets from 5% utilization to near-100% utilization, reducing congestion, parking problems, emissions and road accidents. But what if the cheapest way to "park" your autonomous vehicle is to have it endlessly circle the block while you're at work? What do we do about the lost jobs of bus-, truck- and cab-drivers? How will we pay for roads if gas-tax revenues plummet thanks to all-electric fleets? Read the rest
Here's something to fear about self-driving cars! Once they're up and running and insurance companies and legislators realize they're much better at it than humans, you won't even be allowed to drive. Also, the infrastructure is decaying badly and there's no political will to face up to the costs of fixing it, so the roads themselves may end up getting effectively sold off.
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Public-private partnerships for roads might begin the erosion of the public right of way. But it’s also possible that autonomous vehicles will all but require limited access to public roads to operate effectively.
Today’s self-driving cars have to be designed and programmed to interact with messy circumstances. Pedestrians, dogs, bicycles, human-driven vehicles, and other obstacles all pose challenges to robocars, and if autonomous vehicles are even modestly successful, avoiding collisions with fallible human drivers will prove a temporary problem. ... The more self-driving cars there are on the roads, the less complex and more predictable the overall behavior of traffic becomes.
In my latest Guardian column, The problem with self-driving cars: who controls the code?, I take issue with the "Trolley Problem" as applied to autonomous vehicles, which asks, if your car has to choose between a maneuver that kills you and one that kills other people, which one should it be programmed to do? Read the rest