Team Victor Tango, headed by Torc Technologies LLC, took third place in the DARPA Urban Challenge in 2007 using multiple LIDAR sensors atop the vehicle. (Source: Charles Reinholtz, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University)
I have to admit--this is one technology I have a hard time wrapping my brain around, although I know it's only a matter of time before this doesn't seem weird or scary. I think the slow and steady approach to tackling the problem in discrete phases is a necessity. Not only does it ensure everything is working up to snuff, but it gives us, as a society, time to digest and feel comfortable with the whole concept of autonomous driving cars.
Beth, I think it will take time to get used to this. I have trouble riding in the front when my teenage boys drive. At least I can yell at them. I guess I would yell at the car in the future.
On the serious side, I think it is interesting that the current research uses all these complex sensors. Humans use mostly just vision. Multi-sensor fusion, as it is called, is very complex. It might be better to work on vision driven algorithms. If you could merge what humans do with vision with the "concentration" that computer are good at, you would have safe roads.
It certainly has admirable goals - I am all for a zero fatality rate in any mode of transportation! But the complexity of successful sensor integration coupled with the challenges of interpreting unpredictable situations overwhelms me. I think doing it in stages is very smart indeed. If the technology is viable - it will certainly solve a lot of problems. I can sympathize with you Naperlou - I have two teenage sons that will soon become new drivers and I find the prospect very worrisome. Completely autonomous driving would not only eliminate the human element - it would also allow those who are uncomfortable driving themselves or who are physically impaired to utilize autonomous driving and be back on the road again...but like Beth, I do have a hard time wrapping my brain around it. I know hubby won't want to give up his 87 Cutlass so I guess they'll have to come up with a refit kit too ;)
Chuck, Excellent article. It makes sense to me that software algorithms are really the key to making this happen. It's not that hard to foresee the hardware being refined and relatively inexpensive but fast, accurate, decision-making is really the key. Especially given the number of lawsuits that could be spawned as a result of product liability issues.
I can see this as an addition instead of a replacement to how we drive today. This could help sight impaired people become more independent and mobile. It can also solve the drowsy driving issue amoung many truck drivers or long commuters.
No matter how cool, if it doesn't look sexy, it will never catch on...like the segway. Many drivers (aka mistake-prone humans) around the world love speed and versatility. And, they love showing off the skills needed to drive a car well.
Thanks, Al. You've hit the nail on the head with your comment about lawsuits. There are a few big problems on the horizon. One is that many drivers won't want to give up control. Another is the legal issues that will arise when machines make mistakes. And the third is that everyone won'y buy their autonomous cars on the same day, or same year, or same decade. There's going to be a mix of human drivers and autonomous cars for awhile, and the machines will need to be able to deal with that.
Like any parent with a new teenage driver, you're going to be apprehensive at first with this technology, but humans are quick to accept it if it "just works."
I entirely expect that insurance costs will actually push this tech forward. When people are offered significant discounts for hands-off driving, they'll weigh the costs and be motivated towards whatever saves them money.
I personally would love to have a chauffeur. A non-human one is always immediately available. Besides, with people wanting to be "connected" all the time as is evident by the increasingly common texting-while-driving stories, I won't be surprised if the car becomes a mobile hot spot, where we just get in an go. I feel sorry for the taxi drivers though (not really).
In a line of ultra-futuristic projects, DARPA is developing a brain microchip that will help heal the bodies and minds of soldiers. A final product is far off, but preliminary chips are already being tested.
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