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Raft of Robocar News and Attack Ads


A round-up of just some of the recent robocar news:

Stanford Shelly at 120mph

While the trip up Pikes Peak by Stanford's Audi TT did not offer the high speeds we had hoped for, they have recently being doing some real race driving tests, clocking the car around a track at 120mph. Even more impressive because this car drives with limited sensors. Here the goal is to test computer driven high-speed tactics -- rounding corners, climbing hills and more. While they didn't quite reach the times of professional drivers, chances are someday they will, just from the perfect understanding of physics.

Driving this fast is hard in the real world because you're going beyond the range of most sensors (radar and special lidars can go further, and cameras can see very far but are not reliable in all lighting.) The Stanford team had a closed track to they were able to focus on cornering and skidding.

KPMG report on self-driving cars

The consulting firm KPMG has released an extensive report on self-driving cars. While it doesn't contain too much that is new to readers of this site and blog, it joins the group which believes that car-to-car communication is going to be necessary for proper deployment of robocars. I don't think so, and in fact think the idea of waiting for it is dangerous.

Speaking of V2V communication

For some time the V2V developers have been planning a testbed project in Ann Arbor, MI. They've equipped 3000 cars with "here I am" transponders that will broadcast their GPS data (position and velocity) along with other car data (brake application, turn signals, etc.) using DSRC. It is hoped that while these 3000 civilian cars will mostly wander around town, there will be times when the density of them gets high enough that some experiments on the success of DSRC can be made. Most of the drivers of the cars work in the same zone, making that possible.

If they don't prove the technology, they probably won't get the hoped-for 2013 mandate that all future cars have this technology in them. If they don't get that, the 75mhz of coveted spectrum allocated to DSRC will get other hungry forces going after it.

I owe readers a deeper analysis of the issues around vehicle-to-vehicle communications.

Google cars clock 300,000 miles

Google announced that our team (they are a consulting client) has now logged 300,000 miles of self-driving, with no accidents caused by the software. It was also acknowledged that the team has also converted a hybrid Lexus RX-450h in addition to the Toyota Prius. Certainly a more comfortable ride and the new system has very nice looks.

Google will also begin internal testing with team members doing solo commutes in the vehicles. Prior policy is vehicles are always operated off-campus with two staff onboard, as is appropriate in prototype systems.

Political attack ad goes after robocars

Jeff Brandes pushed Florida's legislation to allow robocar testing and operations in that state, 2nd after Nevada. Now his political opponents have produced an ad which suggests robocars are dangerous and you shouldn't vote for Mr. Brandes because of his support of them. While we should expect just about anything in attack ads, this is a harbinger of the real debate to come. I doubt the authors of the ads really care about robocars -- they just hope to find anything that might scare voters. My personal view, as I have said many times, is that while the technology does have to go through a period where it is less safe because it is being prototyped and developed, the hard truth is that the longer we wait to deploy the technology, the more years we rack up with 34,000 killed on the roads in the USA and 1.2 million worldwide. And Florida's seniors are among the first on the list to need robocars. Is Jim Frishe's campaign thinking about that?

Collision Warning strongly pushed in Europe

The EU is considering changing its crash-safety rules so that a car can't get a 5-star rating unless it has forward collision warning, or even forward-collision mitigation (where the system brakes if you don't.) These systems are already proving themselves, with data suggesting 15% to 25% reductions in crashes -- which is pretty huge. While the law would not force vendors to install this, there are certain car lines where a 5-star rating is considered essential to sales.


This is hardly surprising considering the opposition to automobiles back at the beginning of the 20th century.

Paper dealing with what would happen if we took today's car models, made them autonomous and inter-car communicative, as far as car density on the freeway is concerned.

The thing that strikes me most about V2V, and I've been thinking about writing up some trolling patents on this front, is that it can only be permissive, and will have to be heavily integrated with optical image recognition based systems anyway, because there's no way we're going to refit the entire fleet and the entire infrastructure to augment all of the visual cues which we currently use.

And radio is largely omnidirectional, or has a lot of spill-over.

Thus the obvious solution is to encode permissive signals in lights: Tail lights with a modulated signal that say "it's okay for an autonomous vehicle with platooning capabilities to follow this vehicle closely". Traffic lights which broadcast "can override for a vehicle with these timing and speed control abilities", and headlights which acknowledge "Will cross the stop line for this intersection in 1538 milliseconds, at the commanded speed, with a vehicle length of..."

The lights, in conjunction with the cameras doing image processing already, give you fairly accurate positioning information. They're encoded in a medium which is already there, and which people will notice if it fails before there's deployment at a density that matters. They're part of the existing safety systems.

I simply don't understand the rush to radio when the obvious solution is sitting right there.

While there are many issues with V2V, the choice of radio over optical is quite deliberate. They currently push the biggest reason for V2V as occluded vehicle detection. See around blind corners, or see vehicles occluded by the van in front of you. They are starting to realize that vehicles you can see will be detected with cameras or lasers. V2V can indeed make a small reduction in collisions by warning about hazards that can't be seen.

I was reading this article and it made me think of robocars.

The topic was that it would take us longer To build a mission to put men on the moon now than it did during the sixties because people have a different attitude toward risk today.

He was philosophical. “The problem isn’t with the science. It’s all about attitudes. People don’t think the way they did in the ‘60’s. They’re not as free-wheeling. There’s no spirit of adventure and excitement on the scale it was back then. People are scared. They’re afraid of things like making costly mistakes, afraid of liability, lawyers, juries, insurance, government policies, discrimination, compensations and hungry news media.

This reminds me of robocars today, because it isn't enough to build a robocar that is safer than a manually driven car. They will have to have a perfect safety record or robocars will be destroyed by lawsuits.

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