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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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