I've been a little leery of the self-driving car concept, but I have to say, the idea of a car that would cruise crowded parking lots by itself and find me a spot--now that has some merit, in my book. Of course, there's always the paranoia about the car taking off and never coming back, but I suppose those concerns dissipate as people get more accustomed to what initially seems like out there technology.
Hi Beth, I agree. To have automonous vehicles driving on roads and neighbor streets seems dangerous. I wonder if the car has the ability to detect kids darting out into the steet to retreive a ball and stop immediately? Also, to drive in hazardous conditions like snow and rain storms requires an experience driver. I wonder how much AI can be programmed into these vehicles to handle such driving conditions. But like you, I'm kind of digging the find a parking spot in a crowded mall garage scenario.
Herein lies the biggest obstacle of autonomous vehicles: Human's inability to come to terms with the fact that we are not better than computers at many tasks. It turns out, that computers are now incredibly good about seeing objects like children and other cars. They (computers) are never distracted like a human, their sensors watch constantly and don't turn away when they are looking for (or at) their cell phone, children, or any other of many distractions that Americans have in their vehicles. Computer systems have reaction times are far better than human reaction times. I only wonder why collision avoidance systems aren't more popular. The technology on the top of the line Prius is where the future needs to go on all automobiles, these systems would solve many of the easy to avoid accidents that are caused by distracted drivers. Granted, it will be some time before cars go completely autonomous, we love to be in control, but systems that prevent distracted driver errors would save the insurance industry huge amounts of money.
As a middle age human, the idea of retirement in a self driving RV is really appealing to me. Imagine taking a nap while the RV travels to your next destination. Imagine the RV robotically recharging itself when the batteries are in need. Imagine not having a 70 or 80 year old human driving the RV down the road. That is how I see my retirement in 25 or 30 years. It is an awesome dream, can we make it the reality?
Computers are cool tools to aid us with mundane task but I rather be in control of my vehicle without the worry of a system malfunction. The key to safe driving is to pay attention to the road. To rely on a computer for driveability is becoming too dependent on technology which makes society lazy and not able to think on their own. A simple example of technology dependency is the TV remote. For alot of folks if their not able to find it the TV is broke as opposed to just turning the channels manually.
mrdon, I agree with your comment about it making society lazy but not just mentally - I often intentionally park my car far away from the entrance in order to get some needed exercise. While having a car park itself can be a blessing for the handicapped or infirmed, I think we are losing too much physical activity to technological advances and our health will suffer because of it...
Hi Nancy, I do the same as well when parking my car at the mall. I agree, for the physically impaired this car will definitely provide mobility but individiuals who are not physically challenge, improve your driving skills and keep the eyes on the road!
@TJ: That's the kind of imagery that could potentially throw this technology right off the map. Imagine the chaos, what's akin to autonomous road rage, of self-parking cars. Yikes. I'd want to steer clear.
I think the new term will be "computer gridlock" as driverless cars will not be able to see beyond the nearest car and see other driver intentions by looking them in the eye or seeing them smile, wave, or flip you the sign.
"driverless cars will not be able to see beyond the nearest car and see other driver intentions"
Actually, driverless cars will able to sense every thing every other car in the lot senses and negotiate intentions with every other car, and eventually read gestures, which vary from culture to culture (if not from city to city or city to county road ....)
All is well and good until 50 people dump off their cars into a parking lot with 40 spaces (most full). You come back an hour later to find a herd of cars circling endlessly around a full parking lot with near empty gas tanks. Gridlock in the parking lot.
In fact, why even have a parking lot. Just have a big oval track where the car inserts itself with the rest of the idle cars. Since all the cars will communicate with each other (how else would they be able to plot against us?) they can all stop moving until one needs to exit, then move in concert to allow that car to reach the exit point.
In all seriousness, since Nissan programmed the car, will they be responsible for accidents/incidents while the car is driving itself? We are entering a brave new world where causality and responsibility are being blurred. Until the infrastructural, legal, moral, and social frameworks are in place to deal with robots and humans interacting, all of this is merely fantasy.
3drob, I would imagine that that this could easily be solved with a gate, similar to those at parking structures. You simply count cars and parking spaces
On a slightly different topic, another advange would be that parking lots could be higher density, and therefore, not take up as much space per car. All you need is actual driving clearance, not room to fully open doors between cars.
I can see the group of 10 year olds standing at the doors of the mall with their hacked Ipads directing the computers in the cars to collide with each other. Unless and until someone comes up with a computer that cannot be taken over by a bad guy/prankster, I'll settle for dealing with illogical human powered vehicles.
I would love to know more about the systems that allow this to happen and how apps integrate relative to those systems. This is an excellent article and falls in line with another I read discussing the use of application software and Wi-Fi packages to program and trouble shoot robots used in manufacturing processes. One very beneficial advantage would be protecting workers and shutting down machinery in case health issues arose. This could prevent injury and promote safety. Great article.
While it's interesting to dream of automated cars like in a Phillip K. Dick movie, it is cool to start to see them becoming a reality, even if only in minor stages.
I'd have to agree with 3drob, in that there are all sorts of questions that arise and considerations to worry about; however, even now, I don't think it's all fantasy, but just another hurdle to overcome.
While it may be cool to have a permanent built-in valet, I can see this as a potential major catastrophe waiting to happen once it's released to a 'real world', uncontrolled environment.
Minor inconveniences could range from the car chooses it's 'parking spot'... in a city, without the infrastructure to rely upon, could it mistake stop and go traffic as a parking spot? Park in front of a fire hydrant, loading zone, or other non-parking area.... What about those timed zones with parking only certain hours or on one side of the street on certain days of the week/month? Will we have a rash of double-parked automaton cars? Will it drive into pay lots or parking garages? Will we have automated parking lot attendants that recognize robot cars to let them in and out, and when they return we discover a parking fee charge on our phone? In suburban environments, will we find strange cars in our driveways blocking our cars in? In commercial areas, could we expect to find businesses losing money because robot cars are filling their parking lots for a business down the street?
Of course we can imagine all sorts of possibilities of futuristic robot cars... whether it's as mundane as letting your car find it's own parking space during those crowded Christmas shopping excursions, sporting events, concerts, amusement parks, or other parking nightmares... to the more practical, such as those busy adults, teenagers, and children with tight, varied, and/or conflicting schedules... imagine your family only has one car, but during your spouse's workday, your spouse needs to go to the doctor but you need the car an hour later to drive to meeting... after your spouse takes the car to the doctor, it'll drive itself back to your parking lot so you can have it when you need it... Or how about mandatory automated car usage for those convicted of DUIs or DWIs? How about for teenagers and adult drivers that seem to drive by 'feel'? Imagine ambulances where you actually have two or more paramedics able to provide care while en route while the vehicle drives itself? Or long haul vehicles, with advanced, situational AI for dangerous routes like ice road hauling? How about installed hardware that comes standard, but for a price an AI module can turn your car into a robot car just by plugging it into a computer port (look out OBD) under the hood or dash... We could also imagine emergency overrides, such as if vehicles are blocking a fire lane, hydrant, or access to a building, special override controllers would send the (automated) vehicles out of the way to find new parking spots. Could AI be developed for police and military so that armored vehicles could recognize threats and screen our people (IFF) from harm as they advance (moving screen)? Imagine fully automated dump trucks at mines, quarries, and construction sites making runs without running stop lights because the drivers are paid by the run.
But what if something goes wrong? Could the car self-analyze if it breaks down, summon a tow truck or repair vehicle, or even ambulance or rescue team, or even use predictive or preventative schedules to maintain itself, drive itself to a shop while you sleep and you simple see the charge the next day?
Unfortunately, we can also imagine more nefarious uses... Imagine your phone or car being hacked... Maybe the least scary is your car simply being stolen... Imagine your car making one or more unknown stops, picking up an unwanted passenger before it arrives at your location... or your car being borrowed as an escape car in a crime... used as a drug mule/transport while you sleep? ...or, as gwilki suggests, imagine a group of kids hacking several cars and having a Mario Kart race in real life around the mall parking lot, suburb, or even downtown? What about hacker 'hit men' using the cars, over-riding safeties, and using them to commit vehicular homicides (or 'accidents')? Even scarier, imagine terrorists using these to deliver ordinance to targets... no need even for a suicidal zealot, just "let your fingers do the walking" (driving)... nuclear, chemical, and/or biological delivery via (hacked) car and satellite phone
Automated cars can represent an idyllic dreamworld or a nightmarish hell, but, with most advancing technology, it'll be somewhere in between... We're just hoping for more of the former and none of the latter...
I'm a little surprised that Nissan plans to bring this car to market by 2015. Self-parking cars is one thing -- the driver is still behind the wheel while the car is parking itself. This, however, seems to call for full autonomy. Up to now, the problem has been so-called "rogue vehicles" -- i.e,, vehicles driven by humans. Autonomous cars get confused by the crazy and unpredictable things that humans do. In an article we did earlier this year, an autonomous vehicle expert told us: "We never saw a robotic vehicle run a stop sign or fail to use turn signals. They were much more predictable than the humans." So what will happen when these Nissan vehicles are sharing the road with human-driven cars and pedestrians?
My concern with all self-driving vehicles will be the application of logic. Naturally, as a sci-fi reader I think back to Isaac Asimov's 3 rules of robotics and how they would resolve conflicts. Okay, we have an unattended car and an unavoidable collision ahead, two individuals in a crosswalk and the vehicle brakes have failed on a narrow street. But wait, one individual is smaller than the other, which means less damage to the unit. Of course the smaller human is 6 while the larger human is 85, but logic would demand that the car hit the 6-year-old and damage itself less. Why? The first rule of robotics is not to harm humans, but that becomes a moot point under the current circumstances- a collision in unavoidable. The second law, obeying human commands, is not applicable. The third law, self preservation, remains. So it runs over the kid and causes a smaller dent in the bumper. Now how would I, as a presumed human, respond to the same situation? I can only guess. But I'm certain how the car would respond, given its directives, and I'm not sure how much I like that.
The idea of computer-driven cars seems cool, but then I ask, who writes the programming? Would it be Microsoft, the most skilled at mass-market programming, but also the inventors of the fabled Blue Screen of Death? The designers who thought it made perfect sense to hit the Start button to turn off the computer? I dunno. I guess this all sounded a lot better on paper.
Ah, but the First Law would forbid the exposure of pedestrians to vehicles with fallible brakes, wouldn't it, rendering your example irrelevant. Remember, Dr. Asimov truly believed only robots could save humanity from itself. IIRC, what is missing from his laws is Risk Management – safety comes at a cost.
Theory of Mind has an interesting relationship with driving – 90% of us "feel" the emotions of the pedestrian and drivers we see, or more precisely, our minds extrapolate the emotions we would have if we were in the other person's place, and we act accordingly. Thus, seeing a person in a position to feel threatened by a speeding car would cause most of us to feel that sensation and be motivated to slow down. Now the other 10%, not having such sensations, would have rely on explicit rule-base thinking "If I hit someone, my car will be damaged/my premiums will go up/I would be ticketed/etc." or "If I break the law, and get caught, I will be punished". Theory of Mind for robot cars?
Ok, too far off-topic for this arena, but how does a robotic device "forbid the exposure of pedestrians to vehicles with fallible brakes"? They're robots, not some machine God who knows all. Things happen- a sharp rock could be kicked up and sever a brake hose, and dozens of other things. A machine can only respond as well as its programming permits, so all the onus is on the programming (my point in this).
"They're robots, not some machine God who knows all."
Super human intelligence is implied by the reference to Dr. Asimov's Laws. If, as you suggest, the cars driving would be constrained by the laws, the car's design and the right-of-way management would be so constrained as well! How could the car's driving function comply with the 1st law if the brake system was not fail-safe? The onus is not on the programming but on the system safety assessment.
Robots are flying planes, and programming there is only a fraction of the safety consideration. I refer to SAE ARP4754 and SAE ARP4761, where you start out methodically considering the safety impact of every element at every level. The safety related effect of a kicked up rock IS considered and validated for non-robotic systems - today! I suppose that by the time we are trying to assess the safety considerations of robots that can weigh the relative "lives in the balance" impacts of two unavoidable imminent hazards, we will have already had to assess the safety considerations of robots automating the safety assessment of robots (DO-178'D'?). The safety assessment comes first, then the definition of safety requirements, >then< the programming.
Refer to Baxter, by Rethink Robots -- Baxter shows that system safety analysis precedes "programming": arms and actuators are padded, power loss actions are fail-safe, the system senses the presence of humans and slows down, humans can overpower the arms and actuators.
As I discussed under Theory of Mind, Baxter (which has no Theory of Mind (yet)) obeys "statutory" laws rather than emotions to slow down when it senses humans nearby.
Baxter doesn't need to be able to weigh "lives in the balance" – from a system safety stand point Baxter is incapable of being in a direct accident where it would have to choose. This is system planning, not programming.
That said, Baxter and the Robotic Cars have sensors in place that have the capacity to detect hazards and accidents outside of their tasks. Baxter has the potential to see smoke and flames. An automotive machine vision system than can detect pedestrians has the potential to detect collapsed humans.
What obligations do free humans have to act when "bad things" happen, e.g., witnessing a fire breaking out or seeing a body lying on a sidewalk? In the situation of slaves/servants, do these obligations revert to the owner/boss?
This is Second Law stuff. If not now, then "soon", cars will have all system elements and infrastructure in place to both detect hazards and accidents and to report them ("Hey, buddy, you have a low tire." "Slow dow, you idiot!" "Did you see what that moron just did?"). If the robotic car just steers around a body in the street, who gets sued if it doesn't "call 911"?
Chuck_IAG, What is this obsession with Microsoft and the Start button? There are countless products that use the same button/switch to start &* stop the device, yes? Lights, car key, TV, etc. There are lots of things to bash Gates about - but that one is not valid.
Suppose the parkbot will know how to discern the parking rules: street cleaning hours, local parking decal only, fire hydrant, etc?
This is a bit off subject-- But, since I have a large group of car folks on line ... what is going on with head rests (a mandated feature?) one can no longer adjust the headrest front to back, and what is the wire that seems to be tied into the airbag system?
So how will this wonderful driverless car understand to not park in a handycapped spot or a buss stop or fire lane? And if it is tom be so safe, it will be functionless and always som very slow, since it can't access risk, and it is moving based upon rules created by lawyers. And what will it do if there are NO parking spots? Would I come back four hours later and find a car out of fuel, or worse, with a dead drive batery?
At some time we must decide that the most poorly equipped 10% simply DON"T DRIVE, rather than give them a robot to help them cause accidents. Because computers can't actually think, they must follow sets of rules, and that precludes handling exceptions.
So instead of wasting time pushing in tht direction, research should pursue matter tramsort, instead. Another item from the future, but with vastly greater utility.
These are all good concerns, William, and I imagine the car makers will address them in the underlying programming to make sure they don't cause problems. I imagine it wouldn't be hard to teach the car to recognize a handicapped sign or a bus stop through artificial intelligence, programming it to identify certain signs or the shape of a bus stop, for instance. I think rather than helping people who shouldn't be driving to drive, this car is actually meant to just make it a little less painless for the average and fully capable driver to get around.
The frequent fault associated with automating things is that many people forget how to do them, or just get way out of practice. That could lead to disater when they forget how to drive, since the most likely time that a human would need to take over would be for some exception that the system was unable to deal with. That would be a real problem.
Another portion of this blog has been discussing the start-stop button for cars. One button for both start and stop has got to be one of the very stupidest things ever released to the public. No apology offered, it is just stupid to have one control with two opposite functions. Even more, to have that control just sending a request to a computer is very poor judgement indeed. If you examine the industrial controls industry you will see that for many years the emergency stop function has been in hardware, bypassing the computer (PLC). That was not just a "suggested practice", it was a non-negotiable rule, both by PLC makers and by the industry management people, the safety people, and even the unions. They all had a mandate that the emergency stop function not only be a single function button, but also that it be independant of any computer type of controls.
If the controls in your robotic car fail, you certainly don't want to be in the situation where your only option is to say "please stop". Computers often don't hear very well.
During my junior and senior years at the university I was a commuting student and lived off-campus. My wife and I had a small apartment about 10 miles from the parking lot that serviced most of the engineering buildings. (I'll just bet you know what's coming next.) There were those mornings, when leaving late, I just managed to slide into the last parking space, jump out of the car, and literally run to class. I never looked back to notice where I had parked. That bit of trivia could wait. Four hours later, it was walk and search. I really could have used Nissan's robocar back then. I drove a third-hand Ford Falcon, grey in color. In other words--a generic car very suitable for my commute but somewhat nondescript. From that experience, I can definitely see some benefit from a vehicle such as this but wonder if their time is near or far. Let's hope the safety aspects are well thought and remain operational during the life of the car.
Thanks for sharing that story, Bob. It shows the other side of the coin--not only can the car find a spot for you, but it also can help you find IT (or it finds YOU) if you've forgotten where you've parked. I am among those type of absentminded people who sometimes actually forgets this trivial detail as well. :) If the programming is right and the car is intelligent enough, I, too, can see its usefulness in limited situations, as long as all types of safety precautions are taken and the car only uses appropriate spots. I am not sure I am comfortable with the idea of driverless cars going all over the roads, but in limited and specific use cases, I am all for it.
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