Category Archives: robots

Imagine: A World Where Nobody Owns Their Own Car – Eric Jaffe – The Atlantic Cities

Eric Jaffe at Atlantic Cities writes: Imagine: A World Where Nobody Owns Their Own Car :

“Skeptics have also charged that autonomous cars will disrupt any city-based travel models, since people freed from the need to drive will move even farther away from the core. That might be true for people who own their autonomous cars, says University of Minnesota transport scholar David Levinson, but a strong sharing system could promote the opposite movement. “If you’re paying for the car by the minute, then you’re not going to want to move farther out,” says Levinson. “You’re going to want to move closer in.”

Levinson says SAV service that offers convenient on-demand trips gives people a much greater incentive to rely on that system — and a much smaller incentive to take the unnecessary trips often made by private cars. It’s a recipe for the type of multi-modal lifestyle change only possible right now in places like Manhattan. Transit for essential daily trips, cabs (or other alternatives based on the type of trip) for the rest.”

The big market question is when this world will begin to emerge. Levinson subscribes to a timeline in which autonomous cars enter the luxury market in 2020, the technology trickles down into the affordable mid-level range over the next several years, and by 2030 every [edit: NEW] car on the road is driverless. (Other cars would be banned a decade later.) Since car- and ride-sharing operations tend to rely on smaller cars, that would peg SAV networks closer to 2030 — about 16 years from now.

“It’s not that far away anymore,” says Levinson. “But 16 years ago was 1998, and Google hadn’t been invented. So it’s a short time and it’s a long time.”

CNN 10 Ideas: Self-Driving Cars

I get quoted by Todd Leopold of CNN for one of their  10 Ideas: Self-Driving Cars

Illustration by Stewart Scott-Curran, CNN
Illustration by Stewart Scott-Curran, CNN

Yes, flying cars and portable jetpacks are still, for the most part, the province of science fiction.

But another popular sci-fi idea, self-driving transportation, is rapidly becoming reality.

It’s no secret that Google has been working steadily on an automated car for years. Indeed, it’s even testing a few models on the streets of California.

But, more quietly, both auto manufacturers and government entities are also jumping on the bandwagon.

Automakers are already equipping cars with sensors that know, for example, when you’re about to plow into the car in front of you and can brake accordingly. David Levinson, a civil engineering professor at the University of Minnesota who writes the Transportationist blog, believes partially automated cars could be hitting the market by the end of the decade.

“My guess is that there will be some stuff on the market by 2020 that will be automated in that you could probably do hands-off driving on freeways in specific situations,” he says.

However, he quickly cautions, that prediction comes with a number of caveats. Automakers are concerned about liability – after all, who’s at fault if an automated car gets in an accident? There’s also the matter of equipping roadways and signage with helpful technology, something car manufacturers don’t expect in the short term. (Let’s face it: It’s hard enough to get potholes fixed.)

Finally, self-driving cars will likely take a generation to reach critical mass, says Levinson. Just as electrics and hybrids are only now becoming part of the everyday fleet, expect the number of automated vehicles to grow slowly in their early years, while people get rid of their previous vehicles.

Nevertheless, they could provide a huge benefit to society. Delivery services such as FedEx and UPS could automate their vehicles. Urban dwellers, who already use services such as Uber and Zipcar, would have more options to get around. And self-driving cars would be safer, thanks to the kinds of sensors that are becoming widespread today, such as auto-braking and blind-spot recognition.

Of course, such advances take both political and financial will. Technology already exists to automate aspects of rail; systems in Europe and Asia (such as Japan’s bullet trains) are run by machine. Congress even passed a 2008 law pushing for the installation of positive train control (PTC), a technology that helps recognize dangerous conditions, but U.S. systems have been slow to implement it.

Such a system could prevent deadly railway crashes that appear to have been caused by human error, such as a July high-speed derailment in Spain that killed 79 people and the crash of a commuter train this month in New York City.

“We should be doing more automation,” says Levinson. “It’s a lot easier to automate rail systems that it is to automate cars and highways.”

But, gradually, we’re getting there, he says. Throw in other innovations – 3-D printing, which could eliminate the need to have certain items shipped; telecommuting, which is already creating “virtual offices”; and alternate energy sources, which may reduce dependency on fossil fuels – and 20th-century transportation styles may finally end up in the rear-view mirror.

Volvo “Drive Me” project brings 100 autonomous cars to the road

SlashGear reports: Volvo “Drive Me” project brings 100 autonomous cars to the road:

“Volvo today announced its new project ‘Drive Me’, which aims to bring 100 autonomous cars to Sweden’s roads, something that has been endorsed by the Swedish government. Under the project, Volvo and other authorities will ‘pinpoint the societal benefits’ of self-driving cars, as well as seeing them in use on average public roads in ordinary everyday driving conditions. The project will take place in the city of Gothenburg.”


Automated Vehicles are Probably Legal in the United States

Bryant Walker Smith writes 99 pages saying Automated Vehicles are Probably Legal in the United States:

“This paper provides the most comprehensive discussion to date of whether so-called automated, autonomous, self-driving, or driverless vehicles can be lawfully sold and used on public roads in the United States. The short answer is that the computer direction of a motor vehicle’s steering, braking, and accelerating without real-time human input is probably legal. The long answer, which follows, provides a foundation for tailoring regulations and understanding liability issues related to these vehicles.
The paper’s largely descriptive analysis, which begins with the principle that everything is permitted unless prohibited, covers three key legal regimes: the 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic, regulations enacted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the vehicle codes of all fifty US states.
The Geneva Convention, to which the United States is a party, probably does not prohibit automated driving. The treaty promotes road safety by establishing uniform rules, one of which requires every vehicle or combination thereof to have a driver who is “at all times … able to control” it. However, this requirement is likely satisfied if a human is able to intervene in the automated vehicle’s operation.
NHTSA’s regulations, which include the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards to which new vehicles must be certified, do not generally prohibit or uniquely burden automated vehicles, with the possible exception of one rule regarding emergency flashers.
State vehicle codes probably do not prohibit—but may complicate—automated driving. These codes assume the presence of licensed human drivers who are able to exercise human judgment, and particular rules may functionally require that presence. New York somewhat uniquely directs a driver to keep one hand on the wheel at all times. In addition, far more common rules mandating reasonable, prudent, practicable, and safe driving have uncertain application to automated vehicles and their users. Following distance requirements may also restrict the lawful operation of tightly spaced vehicle platoons. Many of these issues arise even in the three states that expressly regulate automated vehicles.
The primary purpose of this paper is to assess the current legal status of automated vehicles. However, the paper includes draft language for US states that wish to clarify this status. It also recommends five near-term measures that may help increase legal certainty without producing premature regulation. First, regulators and standards organizations should develop common vocabularies and definitions that are useful in the legal, technical, and public realms. Second, the United States should closely monitor efforts to amend or interpret the 1969 Vienna Convention, which contains language similar to the Geneva Convention but does not bind the United States. Third, NHTSA should indicate the likely scope and schedule of potential regulatory action. Fourth, US states should analyze how their vehicle codes would or should apply to automated vehicles, including those that have an identifiable human operator and those that do not. Finally, additional research on laws applicable to trucks, buses, taxis, low-speed vehicles, and other specialty vehicles may be useful. This is in addition to ongoing research into the other legal aspects of vehicle automation.”

(Via Marginal Revolution.)

HSR and Self-driving vehicles

Christian Wolmar writes: Innovation ignored at our peril :

“One of the reasons for my scepticism about HS2 is on the basis that it does not take into account future development of technology. Just look at how technology has changed since 1993 when mobile phones had barely taken root, Google, Facebook and Twitter were but twinkles in their founders’ eye and digital TV was just starting. Will there really be enough people wanting to pile into what are likely to be expensive trains in 20 years time to justify the huge expenditure on this project?
And here’s where I stick my neck out. The next big technology, one with such huge implications that it is impossible to being to predict them, is driverless cars. Google, which is investing billions in the project, announced back in August that its fleet of more than a dozen driverless cars had completed 300,000 miles – ten times round the world – without an accident. The cars have driven through San Francisco and through various parts of California and Nevada – where a law has been passed allowing them – and while there are no plans to produce them commercially yet, their time will inevitably come.
Perhaps they will start by being driven only on motorways but even that would have enormous consequences. It would combine many of the advantages of train travel with the flexibility of car use. Think trucks, too. The economics of transport would change as radically as they did when the railways were first developed. The time frame may be a decade or two, but the consequences will be much more far reaching than, say, the much talked about electric cars. The driverless car – or rather motor vehicle – is the innovation that we ought all to be taking into account in our future thinking.”

London’s black cabs to get free high-speed WiFi hotspots from early 2013 – The Next Web

If anyone was wondering why Google is interested in self-driving vehicles … imagine the future as robot black cabs. The Next Web: London’s black cabs to get free high-speed WiFi hotspots from early 2013

Self-driving vehicles and self-preservation

New Yorker on Self-driving vehicles and ethics: Google’s Driver-less Car and Morality:

“‘Ethical subroutines’ may sound like science fiction, but once upon a time, so did self-driving cars.”

In the end, “preservation of the driver” is where we will land, as there will never be consensus on ethics (this has been going round and round for thousands of years), but there is a consensus on the ethic of self-preservation. Hopefully this will be a rare occurrence.
Determining the strategy for self-preservation will inevitably be easier than determining the strategy for what others are doing, as the others (a crowd of people, other cars) is much less predictable. If everyone assume the other will do self-preservation, that is more stable than me trying to predict what you will do to avoid hitting me while you try to predict what I will do, ad infinitum. In short, if I assume self-preservation on your part and you assume it on my part, we are likely better off than if we assume possible altruism on each other’s part. This might not always be the case though.
Imagine a scenario two cars driving fast around a narrow curve on the side of a mountain which don’t detect each other until two late. The best standard routine is for both cars to swerve to their right (or their left, but everyone must agree). If one swerves right and the other left, they collide and kill everyone involved. If I anticipate you will try to be self-preserving, and I am self-preserving, we can call the same (standard) sub-routine. But if on the left is a cliff (down) and the right is a relatively flat piece of land, we might see both altruistic cars going off the cliff, or both selfish cars swerving to the flatland, both scenarios killing everyone. But if both have a standard routine, we can save at least one of the cars. The scenarios are endless.
Marginal Revolution discusses as well.

Autonomous civil aircraft could be flying before cars go driverless

The Economist on Pilotless aircraft: This is your ground pilot speaking :

“Progress is being made, a conference in London heard this week. It was organised by the Autonomous Systems Technology Related Airborne Evaluation and Assessment (ASTRAEA), the group staging the British test flights. This £62m ($99m) programme, backed by the British government, involves seven European aerospace companies: AOS, BAE Systems, Cassidian, Cobham, QinetiQ, Rolls-Royce and Thales.
It is potentially a huge new market. America’s aviation regulators have been asked by Congress to integrate unmanned aircraft into the air-traffic control system as early as 2015. Some small drones are already used in commercial applications, such as aerial photography, but in most countries they are confined to flying within sight of their ground pilot, much like radio-controlled model aircraft. Bigger aircraft would be capable of flying farther and doing a lot more things.
Pilotless aircraft could carry out many jobs at a lower cost than manned aircraft and helicopters—tasks such as traffic monitoring, border patrols, police surveillance and checking power lines. They could also operate in conditions that are dangerous for pilots, including monitoring forest fires or nuclear-power accidents. And they could fly extended missions for search and rescue, environmental monitoring or even provide temporary airborne Wi-Fi and mobile-phone services. Some analysts think the global civilian market for unmanned aircraft and services could be worth more than $50 billion by 2020.”

Driverless Cars

Tim Taylor (Conversable Economist) on: Driverless Cars:

“The fully self-driving car isn’t right around the corner. Clearly, costs need to come down substantially and a number of complementary technologies need to be created. However, we do already have cars in the commercial market with cruise control and anti-lock brakes, as well as cars that sense potential crash hazards and can parallel park themselves. Changes like these happen slowly, and then in a rush. As the report [Self-driving cars: The next revolution From KPMG and CAR] notes, “The adoption of most new technologies proceeds along an S-curve, and we believe the path to self-driving vehicles will follow a similar trajectory.” Maybe 10-15 years? Faster? “

A pessimistic colleague of mine writes:

the arguments in favor of energy efficiency will be swamped by the added demand. Right now, people don’t drive more because it’s a pain. If I can drive while sleeping, I’ll be more likely to work in one city, commute to another; or, go to the cabin every weekend; or, allow little Johnny to sign up for a soccer league since the car (not me) will drive him; and so on.
automatic-drive cars would make travel much more convenient, which would increase travel demand — likely, a lot. That’s not a benefit for energy consumption.
maybe we’ll have electric-only cars, which would help with local emissions but not energy consumption; and, we’ll only get those if we require them, which it’s not clear we will..

I agree distances will increase, but the cars will be more efficient as human driving patterns (excessive braking and stop and start, e.g.) will be replaced. There are parallel trends in making cars more energy efficient as well. How this nets out is unclear, but I am more optimistic.