In the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge, a team headed by Torc Technologies LLC used multiple LIDAR sensors atop their vehicle to sense the road ahead. (Source: Charles Reinholtz, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University)
Autonomous cars will be safe on our streets & highways only when all or nearly all are autonomous. Until then they're just as likely to cause as much trouble, even chaos, as they prevent.
Consider: On Ma highways spaces between vehicles are quickly filled by another vehicle from an adjacent lane. Since an autonomous car will attempt to maintain a safe interval is will slow down until the space the vehicle in front increases. That space will soon be filled again & the autonomous vehicle will again slow down, and so on. Not only will the autonomous vehicle effectively be moving backwards, it will cause non-autonomous drivers behind it to go around it. This does not make for safe highways.
On city streets the opposite will be true. Autonomous vehicles will slow or stop in all sorts of situations, some of which call for speeding up instead. Given the "safety mindset," speeding up is never a safe alternative.
Also, in MA the first two vehicles at a red light are required by law to go through the light, and the next three are encouraged to do so. Alternatively, MA used to allow the first vehicle and the next two behind it to proceed through a stop sign after the first one stops. Thirty years or so ago that law changed to one requiring every vehicle to stop, but MA drivers still obey the old law, treating stop signs as red lights.
Will autonomous vehicles be programmed to obey these laws? For that matter, will they be programmed to obey the different laws of each state, and "know" when they cross state lines? Until almost all vehicles are autonomous how will they be able to cope with the unpredictability, even stupidity, in the incredible variety of driving situations, of human-driven vehicles, to say nothing of the enormous variety of vehicles people drive?
For those situations that do require human intervention, will the human on board be attentive and aware enough to intervene correctly and in time. Most of the time, no, since autonomous vehicles will only encourage distractions: "My car's doing the driving, so I'll just keep from getting bored by texting/yakking/watching a video/reading/playing games/making out/taking a nap...."
How much will autonomous vehicles cost? Little enough so, say, 95-plus percent of people can afford them? As a semi-SWAG, not for the first ten years of general availability at least.
Yes, Chuck, your stories have really brought out the skeptics. However, if these features help the elderly stay independent longer, and if we see traffic deaths decrease, there will be a swell of support.
I agree with you on all counts, bobjengr (including your comment about the fed). I do believe, though, that this technology is going to mature very quickly, however, and the feds will again face a decision about whether to allow these cars on the road.
I agree with Siemens' points, Rob. There's a strange disagreement going on here, though. Experts tend to agree on the future importance of autonomous vehicles, but drivers are very leery of the technology.
Very interesting story Charles. I have not been agreeing with the FED lately but on this one I AM in total agreement. The technology is definitely improving but we are really not there as yet due to the two (2) reasons you mention in your post; i.e. weather and malfunction of equipment. Improvements are obviously being made but a test track is definitely different than a busy city environment. It will be very interesting to follow this technology to see improvements and refinements.
Hey Chuck, at some point, the reduction in accidents has got to break some of the resistance to autonomous cars. In an article about net principles in auto design, safety was one of the three big points:
I agree, Rob. We're on the edge of some big developments here. And although there will be a great deal of resistance going forward, I believe those developments will some day help eliminate a lot of those 30,000 annual road fatalities in this country.
@kenish--your points are well taken, however in the Air France incident I beleive that the iced over pitot tube was giving them improper information, which the pilots, having full control over the aircraft, misinterpreted and stalled the aircraft. It seems they missed many other indications which could have suggested they get out of the stall before hitting the water.
Which then supports your point--if most of the time you don't have to drive, then how will you be prepared when you need to take control? That is a good question which implies that rules about having someone in the driver seat "just in case' probably won't work as drivers would quickly get used to ignoring things.
Perhaps a design wherein the driver drives but the car constantly applies corrections to improve things--avoiding collissions, improper lane departure, and, of course, missing that turn to get to your destination. Instead of the navigation system saying "in 500 feet, turn right" it will say "in 500 feet I will turn right" and the driver can over-ride if desired.
Design engineers need to prepare for a future in which their electronic products will use not just one or two, but possibly many user interfaces that involve touch, vision, gestures, and even eye movements.
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