Robocars

The future of computer-driven cars and deliverbots

How does a robocar see a pedestrian and how might Uber have gone wrong?

How does a robocar see and avoid hitting a pedestrian? There are a lot of different ways. Some are very common, some are used only by certain teams. To understand what the Uber car was supposed to do, it can help to look at them. I write this without specific knowledge of what techniques Uber uses.

In particular, I want to examine what could go wrong at any of these points, and what is not likely to go wrong.

The usual pipeline looks something like this:

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Uber settles quickly

Uber has reached an undisclosed settlement in the fatal incident with the victim's husband and daughter. This matches my prediction of Uber's likely best course of action, since it will shut down much of the public discussion and avoid dragging all sorts of details out into the open in a lengthy trial. The settlement comes with an agreement for silence, as you might expect.

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Uber right turn, what government should do and minimum standards for robocars

Yesterday we saw the state of Arizona kick Uber's robocar program out of the state. Arizona worked hard to provide very light regulation and attracted many teams to the state, but now it has understandable fear of political bite-back. Here I discuss what the government might do about this and what standards the courts, public or government might demand.

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Arizona bans Uber self-driving cars

The governor of Arizona has told Uber to "get an Uber" and stop testing in the state. With no instructions on how to come back.

Unlike the early positive statements from Tempe police, this letter is harsh and to the point. It's even more bad news for Uber, and the bad news is not over. Uber has not released any log data that makes them look better, the longer they take to do that, the more it seems that the data don't tell a good story for them.

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On crosswalks and safety driver interventions for robocars

In the wake of the Uber fatality, I'm seeing lots of questions. Let's consider the issues of crosswalks and interventions by safety drivers.

The importance of the crosswalk

Crosswalks actually are important to robocars in spite of the fact that they still should stop for a pedestrian outside of a crosswalk.

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Almost every thing that went wrong in the Uber fatality is both terrible and expected

Today I'm going to examine how you attain safety in a robocar, and outline a contradiction in the things that went wrong for Uber and their victim. Each thing that went wrong is both important and worthy of discussion, but at the same time unimportant. For almost every thing that went wrong Is something that we want to prevent going wrong, but it's also something that we must expect will go wrong sometimes, and to plan for it.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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