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The future of computer-driven cars and deliverbots

New facts and questions on Uber robocar fatality

As expected, yesterday's fatal accident with an Uber robocar has created a great deal of buzz and controversy. There have been many updates since I wrote yesterday's post, and I have updated the article with most of them. My biggest question, however, revolves around the police statement that the victim was crossing from the west (left side) but the debris is in the right lane, at about the place where the right turn lane is expanding away from it.


Uber robocar hits and kills pedestrian in Arizona

Update: Did the woman cross 3.5 lanes of road before being hit?

It's just been reported that one of Uber's test self-driving cars struck a woman in Tempe, Arizona during the night. She died in the hospital. There are not a lot of facts at present, so any of these things might be contradicted later.


Waymo goes totally unmanned, arbitration and other news

One of the biggest milestones of the robocar world has gotten just a little coverage. Waymo, which last year removed the safety driver from behind the wheel of their cars in Phoenix, still had a supervisor sitting in the back with a kill switch. That supervisor is now gone and the car comes to pick up passengers entirely unmanned.


Kitty Hawk "Cora" comes out of stealth

In the world of flying cars, another big step was taken with the partial unveiling of the Kitty Hawk Cora. Kitty Hawk is a project involving some friends of mine who made the Google car project happen, and while it's very nascent it could have some big effects.

A modern paternoster elevator (for cars and maybe people)

Earlier this week, I wrote about making a subway for robotic vans which just has tunnels and ramps to the surface, rather than the vastly more expensive system of giant stations we use for today's underground transit. It offers the chance to save immense amounts of money because stations are expensive to build and maintain.


The paradox on robocar accidents

I have written a few times about the unusual nature of robocar accidents. Recently I was discussing this with a former student who is doing some research on the area. As a first step, she began looking at lists of all the reasons that humans cause accidents. (The majority of them, on police reports, are simply that one car was not in its proper right-of-way, which doesn't reveal a lot.)

This led me, though to the following declaration that goes against most early intuitions.


How robots might alter hiking

A hiker online asked me about when we might see a robotic "pack mule" to make long hikes easier. The big problem is energy (and noise) since right now the walking robots that exist use a lot of energy to travel, and most hikes involve some terrain you can't do on wheels.

He hoped for solar charging, but most hikers like to hike under cover away from the burning sun. The robot probably wants to be electric since nobody wants a loud engine on a pack robot on the trail. That's a problem.

Making tunnels for robocars would be vastly cheaper than subways for trains like SF's new Central Subway

San Francisco is building its new Central Subway -- an underground light rail line. Ground was broken in 2010 but due to delays it will not open until 2021. This line will finally make the Caltrain commuter rail (which otherwise dumps passengers into an industrial zone far from where most of them wish to go) more useful, and offer travel not slowed by SF's terrible central district congestion.


Designing a metric to measure robocar safety -- what does insurance teach?

The most challenging problem for robocars today is proving they are safe. Yes, making them safe is very important, but they'll only be let on the roads by the companies making them if that safety levels can be demonstrated.


Local Motors hopes to win with 3D printed robocars

There are lots of players in the robocar space now -- car companies, startups, suppliers, high-tech companies, and two I did not talk as much about -- shuttles and delivery robots.


Uber and Waymo settle lawsuit in a giant victory for Uber

In a shocker, it was announced that Uber and Waymo (Google/Alphabet) have settled their famous lawsuit for around $245 million of Uber stock. No cash, and Uber agrees it won't use any Google hardware or software trade secrets -- which it of course had always denied that it ever did.


New "Shared Mobility Principles" have too much 2018 thinking.

A new group has released a document called the "Shared Mobility Principles" for livable cities. It was started by Robin Chase (who built companies like ZipCar and others) and has had several of the mobile app taxi companies like Uber, Lyft, Didi and others sign on, though not Waymo, Cruise or the automakers.


Robocars enter phase two as different strategies abound

At CES 2018, autos took over the show, and self-driving took over autos. At least in the industry, it's now mainstream. So what new approaches are teams taking, and how do they hope to win?


All about sensors: Advanced radar and more for the future of perception

Earlier this week I talked about many of the LIDAR offerings of recent times. Today I want to look at two "up and coming" sensor technologies: Advanced radar and thermal cameras.

I will begin by pointing readers to a very well done summary of car sensor technologies at EE Times which covers almost all the sensor areas. For those tracking the field it is a worthwhile resource.

Advanced radar

Robocars have used radar from the earliest days. It's not that expensive, and has many superhuman capabilities -- it sees through fog and all other forms of weather, it has very long range, and it tells you how fast every target is moving.


The Flying car -- and Flying Ambulance -- is closer than we thought

Autonomous flying personal transportation -- "the flying car" -- is becoming real. I have written previously about some of the issues such as noise, energy efficiency and "sky pollution" but it's clear that the engineering problems are being solved.

Solving those other problems is a challenge, but I can be more confident in predicting that in the 2020s, many ambulances, police, fire and military vehicles will be based on multirotor technology. This will be particularly true in more rural areas or areas with limited roads.


Gallery of photos from CES 2018, and other news

I have created a gallery in Google Photos with some of the more interesting items I saw at CES, with the bulk of them being related to robocars, robotic delivery and transportation.


The GM/Cruise robocar interior is refreshingly spartan

GM revealed photos of what they say is the production form of their self-driving car based on the Chevy Bolt and Cruise software. They say it will be released next year, making it almost surely the first release from a major car company if they make it.


Tons of LIDARs at CES 2018

When it comes to robocars, new LIDAR products were the story of CES 2018. Far more companies showed off LIDAR products than can succeed, with a surprising variety of approaches. CES is now the 5th largest car show, with almost the entire north hall devoted to cars. In coming articles I will look at other sensors, software teams and non-car aspects of CES, but let's begin with the LIDARs.


Top Robocar News of 2017

Here are the biggest Robocar stories of 2017

Waymo starts pilot with no safety driver behind the wheel

By far, the biggest milestone of 2017 was the announcement by Waymo of their Phoenix Pilot which will feature cars with no safety driver behind the wheel, and the hints at making this pilot open to the public.


San Francisco bans delivery robots

San Francisco just passed legislation largely banning delivery robots on the city's sidewalks. The rule allows each company testing such robots to get a permit which would allow only a trivial number of robots, and limit them to industrial streets at low speeds for testing only.



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