An update on the backlog of robocar related news caused by my recent travel and projects:
Many people have noticed the new law recently passed in Nevada which directs the Dept. of Transportation to create guidelines for the introduction of self-driving cars on Nevada roads. Here is the text of the law. Because Google, whom I consult for on robocars, helped instigate this law, I will refrain from comment, other than to repeat what I’ve said before: I predict that most transportation innovation will take place in robocars because they will be built from the ground up and bought by early adopters. The government need merely get out of the way and do very basic facilitation. This is very different from things like PRT and new transit lines, which require the government’s active participation and funding.
You’ll find lots of commentary on the story in major news media.
Volkswagen announces simple self-driving car
While VW has a long history supporting the Stanford team in DARPA challenges and funding the VAIL lab at Stanford, it was in Germany that they recently announced a “Temporary Auto Pilot” as a result of the EU Highly Automated Vehicles for Intelligent Transport project.
The VW autopilot is a combination of adaptive cruise control and lane-following. They plan operation in stop-and-go traffic as well as highway driving. These are all technologies that have been around for a while, though adding automatic steering to the lane following crosses the threshold into automatic driving. As designed, the system requires constant supervision — take your hands off the wheel but don’t take your eyes off the road, at least not for long and definitely not for long at speed.
At the same time, back in silicon valley, VW is sponsoring an effort for automatic valet parking in specialized parking lots. We first saw this in Junior 3 at VAIL.
Both of these are interesting approaches to the problem of how to deploy prototype robocars that are not yet ready for fully autonomous safe operation mixed with pedestrians and drivers. In the first case using human supervision, and in the second case, going very slow in a controlled environment.
BMW has also built a course-following car on top of a 330i. This is mainly an accurate-GPS vehicle used to show people how to drive a course at a racetrack.
Obama pushing robocars?
In his recent speech at CMU on advanced manufacturing, President Obama said:
“Imagine if America was first to develop and mass-produce a new treatment that kills cancer cells but leaves healthy ones untouched, or solar cells you can brush onto a house for the same cost as paint, or flexible displays that soldiers can wear on their arms, or a car that drives itself” Interesting that the White House is now identifying robocars as a key technology for U.S. success. We’ll see how far they go with that.
For decades, there has been research into what is known as formal proof of the correctness of software. The rigour of a mathematical proof is applied to code so you can be sure it won’t fail, at least if you trust the proof. This is valuable but very difficult, and judged too difficult with the full complexity of real world software systems. It has been done to C compilers and microkernels, however. At CMU, however there has been an effort to formally verify an automatic cruise control in a limited section of the problem space.
While I doubt that formal methods can be applied to all the systems in a robocar — and further feel an attempt to do so would slow down development greatly — it might well be applied to certain subsets and to safety check systems which monitor less verified systems. If there is a breakthrough in AI based program verification this also may bear fruit.
Greenhouse gas report
The most recent report on sources of greenhouse gas emissions confirms again what a large role cars play in that. While electric generation is also huge, electric cars on most power grids do reduce GHG substantially, even when they are as heavy as regular cars. (They are not quite as much of a win when it comes to total energy consumed.)
Because I believe that robocar technology can make the electric car a viable, marketable product this is good news for those looking to reduce GHGs. Indeed, if the issue of gasoline cars is not solved, there is very little chance of stopping the climb in GHGs.