However, Taub says tomorrow's vehicles won't need to add much computing capability to make it all happen. Given the prevalence of today's complex safety systems, much of the computing power is already in place, he said.
"Each sensor will have its own smarts," he said. "And then all the information from the sensors will be sent to a central processor that will do the integration and fuse it into a single level of situational awareness. But you won't need supercomputers. It's a distributed network, and we think it's doable."
In the beginning, autonomous cars will be "sensor-intensive." They'll employ radar, LIDAR (light detection and ranging), ultrasound, and camera-based sensors. Such subsystems, working with central processors and highly developed software algorithms, will endow the vehicles with the full, 360° situational awareness that vehicle developers seek.
Eventually, some of the sensors will be augmented or even replaced by on-board vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication systems. Those systems will enable the vehicles to communicate silently with one another, as well as with stop lights, road signs, and virtually everything else that matters. As a result, the vehicles will get the situational awareness they need without the high cost of lasers.
To a small degree, vehicle autonomy may already be happening around us. The now-famous Google automated cars have logged more than 140,000 miles, including drives on such well-known venues as Hollywood Boulevard, Lombard Street in San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Pacific Coast Highway.
Taub says that much of the technology is already in place, and that production vehicle manufacturers are already using some of it. Adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping technologies are popping up on vehicles. And accident avoidance -- the ability to commandeer the brakes and steering wheel -- is coming very soon. Those features, he said, lay the groundwork for complete autonomy.
To keep up with our Chevy Volt coverage, go to Drive for Innovation and follow the cross-country journey of EE Life editorial director Brian Fuller. On his trip, sponsored by Avnet Express, Fuller is driving a Volt across America to interview engineers.
I suppose stranger things have happened and there's no doubt the technology will get there. This is clearly one of those situations where the technology is likely ahead of consumer's comfort zone for entrusting their safety to some computerized, autonomous vehicle system. Even the idea of cars chugging along with people in the backseats doing other stuff is creepy to me, however inevitable.
That's a good one, mrmikel. That brings up a huge question -- what happens when the car breaks the law -- turning too soon or too late in a left-turn situation with oncoming traffic? Those are tough calls under any circumstances. Even if the oncoming driver is at fault, what happens when that driver lies? The driver-less car can tell its side of the story. Or would video cameras be necessary?
I would think if the car is driving itself, video cameras and sensors will be standard features throughout the vehicle and will be able to deliver the video play back of the real story behind the accident. But you raise a really good issue.
Would the car be allowed to break the law? Could it be programmed to only perform legal manuvers? And then what about the speed limit? Might the automated car of the future be so complex that it could handle driving 104 instead of the typical 55 mph.
Sounds cool but a lot of questions still left to be answered.
I think one of the most difficult challenges would be judgment calls. We all experience them. You don't turn left if you can see that the upcoming car is going to enter the intersection a second after the light turns red. Would an auto-driving car be able to detect that?
I think that's the main safety concern, Rob. Our years of driving have given us a bit of intuition (or whatever you might want to call it). If you see a guy tailgating another car or continuously changing lanes, you might later see the same car again and give him more room that would normally be required or let him get ahead of you. It's doubtful that full autonomy would be able to make those types of judgement calls.
You're right, Jack. My daughter is learning to drive, so I find myself pointing out tons of maneuvers that come so naturally we are not even conscious of them any longer. Avoiding careless drivers is a good example. There are others such as avoiding something we see in the road up ahead or changing routes when it looks like the road is blocked by an accident. Sometimes you have to make the decision when you're half a mile away or you miss the last exit before you're trapped.
A good question might be what the consumer is lookin for. Does the average consumer want to get somewhere as soon as possible? Or does the the consumer want the car to drive to the location with as few lane changes as possible.
There is also the question of bad driving conditions. At some point does the car just refuse to drive because the road is too slippery.
I'm wondering how the Allstates of the world are viewing the increase in automotive computing capability and if they will factor it into their rates at some point. (I mean in terms of REDUCING insurance rates.) I was shocked recently to find out that my six-year old Sentra cost more to insure than a newer car, and the agent told me that one reason is that newer cars have all those airbags. By analogy, I wonder if a car with some demonstrated autonomy via computer control will be similar safer and thus qualify for reduced rates, at least at some point when this all shakes out and becomes more mainstream.
That's an interesting point, Alex, and really turns the notion of autonomous driving on its head when you really start to think about it. Of course, the goal is to eliminate driver distraction and increase vehicle safety, which is sort of hard to get your arms when envisioning cars driving themselves down the road. But I suppose as the technology matures and the vision systems, sensors, and embedded software systems become more powerful and refined, driving will likely be a much safer business and perhaps will garner the early adopters some whopping discounts on their insurance premiums.
As I posted in an earlier message, the lawyers will be able to hit on the auto manufacturers a lot easier if the drivers no longer have responsibility for accidents. It may reduce owner insurance premiums, but greatly increase manufacturer premiums and therefore initial cost of the vehicles.
Self-driving cars could boost the use of infotainment aboard vehicles. While many of us may see this as a way to work on the way to work, I would imagine the freedom of attention inside the bar would increase the consumption of videos and TV. In a self-driving car, a robust infotainment center would be a must.
That's a good point, Rob. The infotainment in cars could increase and will not undergo the discussion of "it is is a distraction" because there are no drivers to distract. I am curious to see how the self driving cars will play a part in car accidents and wonder if it would increase/decrease driver safety.
They’ve already commercialized the hardest part – parallel parking, now available from the very high-end cars all the way down to the Ford Focus. And as the article eludes, most (if not all) of the remaining sensing technology is already developed and ready.It was about 2005 I toured the M.I.T. Media center and saw a presentation on the autonomous vehicle in a highway environment.The constant distance and constant speed sensing completely eliminated the “rush-n-brake” situation that causes stop-n-go in the passing lanes.I dream of the day when it’s a reality.2020 seems realistic.
Eliminating the "rush-n-brake" situation that leads to "stop-n-go" passing--now that has to be THE salient sales pitch that can get skeptics like me rethinking their openness to embrace an autonomous vehicle system. Any one who's crawled in traffic for hours and hours on end will likely feel the same.
In addition to eliminating the "stop-n-go passing," think of the number of lives that can be saved by eliminating drunk driving. Personally, I hope that the car "trains" will be available as soon as the autonomous vehicles are commercially available, with scheduling like some carpool systems. This, of course, presumes that we have eliminated computer hacking by 2020.
The article mentions one very important fact, "low chaos situations". This sound's like it would only work if all cars were auto to reduce the chaos level. One other technology that is NOW READY (not) is speech recognician, it only works for calibrated speakers that don't have a chewing gum in their mouth etc. etc. I think autodriving is going to have the same issues. If they were entirely automated it might have chance of working as this would introduce predictability.
So will the technology include the ability to change speeds or does the car do that too. Does it go as fast as it can or is it something that can be changed by the driver. The options really are interesting.
In the middle of a traffic jam can all of the cars signal each other and just start going 55 to get everyone moving again.
Sounds cool but the logistics of it sound incredibly complex.
Jmiller, I think you've only touched on traffic flow improvement. Many cities use traffic signal synchronization to improve flow. Imagine what could be done by eliminating human inattention at lights, human response times. I would hope the cars will eventually communicate not only with each other but with the traffic signal systems too.
Good point, TJ. How many times have you seen a light change and wondered why no one seems to be moving? One of the goals of vehicle-to-vehicle communication is to enable vehicles to talk to one another and then move in organized "flights" through traffic lights.
And how many times have we been driving slow on the freeway for no apparent reason. I would assume electronically driven vehicles would result in less gawking out the window when there's some type of an issue. I've often dreamt of the ability for everyone to hear the word "GO!" shouted on the radio at the same time so we could all start moving at 55 instead of 15.
If we could create a grid that includes both moving and stationary items, that could save thousands upon thousands of lives. We're getting close to the technology, but deployment may be another factor. It would certainly require mammoth government investment, but probably much less that the interstate system cost.
I don't know about costing less, Rob. I would suspect much, much more. Traffic signals are a municipal responsibility, not federal. Each will have its own contractor, and probably multiple network protocols as industrial automation already sees. Cars will have to be able to communicate via these multiple protocols.
Implementing this at the same time as trying to jumpstart electrical charging stations is going to be a challenge. Modernizing the transportation infrastructure (not even counting the actual roads) is going to approach the trillion dollar level.
Good points, TJ. Lately, I've started to wonder about how quickly we will build out the charging stations. I'm not so sure we will soon have EVs and hybrids at scale to really begin to build out a decent infrastructure. If batteries keep blowing up and prices stay high, EV revolution may slow to a creep.
Until we can solve the charging station issue or have replacement batteries at every local gas station the electonic vehicles are going to be kept back. We have become such a mobile society. Often driving 40 or 50 miles to work in some rural areas. 40 years ago it wasn't that way. You worked in the town you lived and wouldn't have to worry about a long drive to work. In that environment a rechargeable vehicle would have been possible because few drove that far.
I wonder if we as a society are willing to give up some of our freedom to promote the electrical vehicles.
Good observation, Jmiller. Look like our current culture isn't quite ready for widespread use of EVs. It certainly doesn't seem EVs are designed for the long commute that is so prevalent in our present lifestyle. I can't imagine the long commutes will end soon. So EVs may have to develop quite a bit before they can truly replace an internal combustion car.
Or there will have to be a focus on the 100 mile round trip. When I think of designing something new, my first goal is to understand what the specifications are. I wonder what the car companies are focusing on.
That may be the toughest part of the development of the electronic car. What round trip do you try and shoot for? What kind of acceleration do you target? And I think from a generational standpoint I think the younger generation may be a little more likely to give up some things in favor of a green car. Some of us are a little too dreamy about our gas guzzling muscle car that we cruised around town in. And unfortunately, it's that group of people that might actually be able to afford the EVs.
It reminds me of some of the new technology out there for dark warehouses, where the forrkifts all drive themselves and bring the components to the assembly line automatically. And think about the accidents that could be prevented by one car talking to another as they weave in and out to get to their destination. Lots of potential. But lots of work to get there.
In that regard (telecommuting), one wonders if the excess computing capacity in the modern vehicle can be put to service for the back-seat passengers. Namely, instead of having them watch DVDs, perhaps those units could instead be removable, touch-screen computers upon which they could do their homework. (Of course, they could just carry tablets and use the car's Wi-Fi.)
Do their homework? You mean use the tablets to game, do Facebook, and watch Hulu TV. Maybe it's just my back-seat crew, but the autonomous vehicle isn't likely to become the autonomous classroom in my family!
As for homework, with my kids, homework remains surprisingly analog. My two teenage daughters are very tech savvy, yet most of their homework is still done on spiral notebooks with pencils or pens. The electronic devices are for fun and communication. Homework is still mostly paper.
Intersting thought. Being able to work during that 1 hr ride to work would be really nice. I am curious the amount of input that is expected by the driver. Is the car truly autonomous and no interaction is required by the driver? Could the driver really be in the back seat typing away whil the car goes to work. And then, how would this technology be sold. I think there are so many people out there that still want to drive or don't feel safe in a vehicle that's being driven by a computer.
This wil change the mobility option possibilities for the physically challenged too. Though this may sound like an initiative as "technology for the sake of it " it will metamorphose to a assistive or an effort of Transforming Lives Through Innovative Technology..!
Having the car drive itself will eventually happen, but the public shouldn't be allowed free access to it. Sure we can build it, but should we?
My point is malicious usage. A car is already a lethal weapon, but to let driverless cars loose for the public to use and the criminal potentials beyond battering type weapons are staggering.
Terrorists spring to mind, but assasins, and all sorts of other criminals would love to get their hands on a good decoy, autonomous barricade or maybe more that would all be used to thwart capture or distract/disable the efforts of law enforcement. Put enough big brother control/monitoring on the car and general usage becomes a problem.
A hacked autonomous car could become a pseudo guided missile in itself, but that's the first level of trouble.
I don't want to see people who might be on a stacked freeway, a bridge or even near a motorcade with an autonomous car or truck loaded with high explosives or worse and some nut job with the remote trigger. No driver, would make it much easier on the evil doers of the world as they would just set the course on this guided missile without having to make the ride. Look at what our troops deal with at check points add to that the IED issue and with a little imagination horrific scenarios spring to mind both here and abroad.
I don't think we are socially ready to accept or handle these potential problem tools in peoples garages or parked in front of their houses. Keep these technologies with DARPA/DoD or in some extremely controlled environment where every move of the vehicles are controlled, no external threats could be mounted, and some sort of check system is in place.
This is a veritable Pandoras box. Keep the lid shut.
I understand your point that something like this could be used maliciously but I don't think we curtail all development due to a few fanatics. However, what type of safety devices could be installed to make sure that the car can only be operate when a person is in the car.
I agree that we may not be ready for this technology but I think it has more to do with the fact that we are unsure what consumers are looking for as well as what the car makers mighrt deliver.
I personally love the thought of having the ability to turn the driving over to an autopilot I can trust on a really long drive. That might work in this world with minimal security risk.
As far as security goes, I perasonally think we have gone a bit overboard with the expenditures on the TSA, intrusions into personal privacy and silly measures such as continuing temporary flight restrictions on non-commercial aircraft just because the president passes through town. A post 9/11 society doesn't seem to see things such as liberty as important as control from dangerous attacks. To that I say control is truly an illusion and I am sure the people in charge of security pay that more than lip service to that fact. If it were up to me, the Patriot act would be repealled or allowed to expire and officials would have some reasonable cause boundaries put back up on their inspecting our lives. Personal liberty vs security is an interesting issue for the public to ponder when you move from private airplanes to private cars being restricted from whole areas just like deciding where to cut expenditures from our federal budget, perception overrides principles. It all takes time to sort out these balancing acts. Right after 9/11 we had precious little time for protecting ourselves and following evidence trails, but the world isn't quite in the same situation as it was when Osama and Mohamar were around. Personally, I am not buying any car with OnStar because of the potential misuse issue no matter what corporate assurances are given. If I have a device, I want to be able to decide what it sends out, "trust me" doesn't work when it comes to privacy.
Isaac Asimov had similar thoughts about autonomous machines in, "I Robot." It was a message that needed to be heard before we even needed to think about the implications way back in 1950 when he wrote the book.
Looking at my previous post, I have gone a bit off topic. My apologies. More on topic, when all is said and done 2020 is probably a bit too early for a really autonomous vehicle we can live with to really reach the city streets in anything but a combat type vehicle.
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