A case of 'driver' error? An Uber in Baltimore appears to have run out of gas unexpectedly.

By Jeff Sanford

Toronto, Ontario -- November 20, 2016 -- This week in the autonomous vehicle (AV) world, we look at Nissan's CEO's vision for the future of AVs, concerns that President-elect Trump will gut self-driving regs and a self-driving Uber appears to have made a very human error.

- The Detroit News suggests that, “Consumer safety groups are worried that President-elect Donald Trump will do away with proposed guidelines for self-driving car testing that President Barack Obama’s administration has been working on for years ... The new Republican president could be likely to reverse the Obama administration’s course on self-driving cars as part of his push to reduce the number of federal regulations that are impacting businesses ...”

The story quotes John Simpson of Consumer Watchdog group as saying, “It’s not clear if anything (the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) has been up until now will survive into Trump’s administration....There seems to be an anti-regulatory mentality to do away with as many regulations as possible, which would make robot cars even more of a wild, wild West than it is already is.”

The story also notes that Trump has appointed, “...Shirley Ybarra, former senior transportation policy analyst at the libertarian Reason Foundation, to lead his transition team for the Department of Transportation. The Reason Foundation has chided states like California for moving to require that self-driving cars have steering wheels and brake pedals.”

- A self-driving Uber in Baltimore managed to run out of gas, according to a photo found on Imgur.

- A report in the Wall Street Journal suggests that, “Autonomous car proliferation is decades away.” The article quotes National Highway Transportation Safety Authority (NHTSA) head Mark Rosekind, who says it will, “... take 20 to 30 years to cycle out older vehicles.”

According to the article, “Self-driving cars won’t dominate American roadways for decades given the  millions of older vehicles consumers own." There are roughly 250 million cars and trucks currently on US roadways that are more than a decade old on average.

- A story on AVs quotes Adrian Lund, President of the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS), "The rhetoric has jumped ahead of the technology in many cases ... What many people think of as a self-driving car doesn't exist yet. I can't hop in my car, enter a destination and have it take me from point A to point B. What I can do is activate adaptive cruise control to maintain a safe following distance and speed, use lane-keeping assist to centre my car and blind-spot assist to monitor adjacent travel lanes. These technologies improve my daily commute and add a layer of safety, but I am still the driver. I can't fall asleep at the wheel.”

- A recent article in Tech Crunch listed several of the ways in which the future will shift as a result of AVs. One prediction: Driving could become illegal. According to the story, humans are bad drivers. “In America alone, there’s hasn’t been a year since WW2 where car crashes didn’t kill over 30,000 people and 94 percent of those are caused by human error.”

Another prediction: AV technology will lead to massive public surveillance. The “staggering amount of information collected could massively improve public safety by identifying roadblocks, accidents or potential dangers and immediately contact the right service,” according to the story. But all the video and data collected will also allow, say the police, to know exactly where someone has travelled at every minute of the day.

Another prediction in the story: “Owning a car will ... be a foreign concept to young kids.” As costs for one vehicle are shared among the many people who would access it over a day, the price of using a shared AV will drop to just 35 cents a mile."

- An article in Fortune magazine quotes the CEO of Renault-Nissan, Carlos Ghosn, as saying, “The most exciting part of the technology in driverless cars will be the one spent in the extra two hours drivers will gain per day when they no longer have to sit behind the wheel ...” Ghosn was speaking at a meeting in Spain. He suggested that the extra two hours – “the average time spent by drivers behind the wheel worldwide” – will open an entire new world of technological possibilities.

“The most exciting technology is the combination of connected and autonomous [vehicles],” said Ghosn. “Now the car becomes a mobile space, connected, where you can have a video conference, see a movie, talk to your kids or consult your doctor.” Ghosn went on to predict that subsequent “waves” of autonomous driving will see, “... multiple-lane highway driving in 2018 and then the technology for autonomous driving in cities should be ready by 2020 ... Then, after 2020 you’ll have the driverless cars, the cars without the driver.”

- Intel CEO Brian Krzanich spoke at the recent LA car show. It was the first appearnce of the head of the chip maker at an auto show. Krzanich was at the show to promote his company's chips for use in AVs. He was quoted as saying that when it comes to the future of automobiles, “data is the new oil.”

Krzanich was delivering a keynote speech at the show. According to a report from Design News he, “... outlined a near future in which automobiles will be just as dependent on data and connectivity as they are on oil. 'Data has the potential to radically change the way we think about the driving experience: as consumers, as automakers, as technologists and as citizens of our communities,' Krzanich said."

- Google received a patent this week that might hint at some future places. In short, the patent is for tech that provides a way for AVs to signal their customers.

“That signal could be given by an electronic display on the outside of the vehicle that identifies it to a user,” according to a report in The Mercury News. The patent, “... reveals the firm’s vision of a world where fleets of self-driving cars provide on-demand personal transportation and delivery of goods ... In that vision, the vehicles would be on the roads in such numbers that customers would need help sorting out which one has arrived to pick them up or drop off their package."

- Computer-based neural networks that mimic the human brain will be a key component of the artificial intelligence technologies that will be used in AVs. These networks are being “... trained on an extensive set of real-world images and videos to accurately recognize different 'classes' of objects, such as cars, pedestrians, road signs ...,” according to a story on New Atlas.

A Spanish research centre known as the Computer Vision Center has found a way to “... teach driving AIs how to behave even in the most unusual situations imaginable, all from inside a video game. They then 'built' a virtual car inside the simulation, chose specific positioning and orientation for the car's autopilot cameras, and let the car roam the virtual world, shooting video and pictures from the camera's vantage point. Because the software can identify with complete accuracy what the virtual cameras have captured, the system can generate a very large collection of realistic, impeccably annotated pictures and video which the researchers have dubbed Synthia (Synthetic collection of Imagery and Annotations of urban scenario).”



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