VW to eliminate worst road hazard: drivers
In 2028, the car you won't drive won't be yours
Hot Chips Soon you won't own a car, but one will come to you on its own when you call it, then whisk you away in perfect safety without you having to drive it — and that day may be closer than you think.
"If you ask, 'Is it a future story you're telling us?' No, it's not," said Burkhard Huhnke, executive director of the Volkswagen Group of America's Electronics Research Lab in Palo Alto, California, speaking to the Hot Chips conference earlier this week about what he calls "autonomous cars".
Although fully autonomous cars won't appear for about 20 years, Huhnke says that his research group is well on its way. "We are looking into some of the applications coming pretty soon. Traffic-jam assistance, for instance, automatic parking — we have park-assistance already introduced — collision-avoidance systems, and an emergency braking system that brakes automatically if it recognizes an obstacle that's in a specific speed range."
A "speed range" that includes, one assumes, not moving.
Huhnke cited two main motivations for autonomous cars: safety, and the elimination of what he identified as "annoying" driving — meaning, for example, traffic jams and long, boring stretches of open road.
He noted that current automotive-fatality figures in Germany hover at around 5,000 per year. "Over ten years you're counting pretty soon 50,000 people — and that's something that's really crazy. I think someone compared that with airplane crashes — would we accept that two airplanes would crash per day over a year? No, we would not accept that. But obviously we accept that in our daily traffic experience."
The reason for the vast majority of traffic accidents, he said, is human error. Of all the many and varied reasons for crashes, he cited studies which have shown that "84 per cent are misjudgment by the driver."
The solution is obvious: get rid of that error-prone driver.
"Here at Hot Chips you create consistently great chips and computers and you would not accept that the user would create so many problems. But as we all know, the user is usually the reason for the problems with the computers — and that's also the same with the cars."
He noted, though, that per-kilometer traffic fatalities have dropped precipitously in Europe in recent years, thanks to passive safety features such as seat belts, crush zones, and protected passenger compartments. Helping that decline have also been electronic safety features such as anti-lock braking system, electronic stability controls, and traction-control systems.
Those electronic systems have also added to cars' chip counts — according to Huhnke, there are "almost 50" CPUs in an average Volkswagen today.
But more electronic safety features are needed, he said. Active safety features such as adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warnings, and blind-spot detection, when taken together, could result in a 20 per cent reduction in fatal crashes, he estimates.
But to become truly autonomous, "The car needs to learn to see, [have] sufficient technology to understand its environment, to make the right decisions." Such a car would also be able to communicate with other cars, using what Huhnke called "wireless 'all-way' connection in a smart way."
As an example of the advantages of car-to-car communication, Huhnke envisioned a blind curve, around which a car has broken down in your lane. Rather than merely speeding around the curve and plowing into the rear of that stopped vehicle, "the cars can communicate and the driver can be warned."
Wireless-equipped cars could also communicate with traffic signs, which could provide information of road and traffic conditions — and if your car were fully autonomous, it could regulate its driving without you even knowing that it had received any external help.
Huhnke said that his group wanted to find out if
drivers passengers in autonomous cars would feel safe: "If you have an autonomous car driving ... do you trust your car? Do you really press the autopilot button and let the car drive you at 60 miles per hour?" So they conducted a study — and were surprised by the results.
"We created a car with a second steering wheel in the rear where the driver couldn't see it," he told his audience. "He or she pressed the autopilot button and thought the machine would really drive without human help. Someone drove in the rear seat without being recognized by her or him. Well, you couldn't imagine: after a few seconds, they already took the newspaper and read the news articles. So they trusted already the machine, which was great."
Huhnke's group then pushed its luck: "We also initialized some emergency situations: 'So please, go back to your steering wheel and take over, we need some help from you,' and they did it. They put the newspaper back, and just controlled the car through the situation. Then what did they do? Immediately press the button and start it again — it was really amazing."
Next page: Autopilots and angels
Huhnke envisioned a blind curve, around which a car has broken down in your lane
"...Rather than merely speeding around the curve and plowing into the rear of that stopped vehicle..."
Rather obvious but what if something other than an intelligent car is in your path? A person for instance, one who hadn't yet signed all free choice over to the machines. Or a fallen tree or rock slide. To take this into consideration manufacturers will program their cars to slow down for blind corners and take other sensible, existing precautions - thereby eliminating the need for a hugely complex and vulnerable network of moving vehicles.
Also at fail is the very concept of sharing cars. Nobody wants to give up their favourite possession, we love our cars too much. Nobody will ever want to risk getting a car on saturday night with a puddle of someone else's sick in the back, or worse! Fleet companies will try to cut corners too by having only enough cars for average load, cue hour-long waits for your ride to find you.
Lastly how is a long stretch of open road supposed to be annoying? That's the perfect time to go really, really fast.
...not another goddamn' "in the future your car will drive itself" story. I've been seeing this crap on a regular basis since I first saw it in My Weekly Reader back in the mid '60s, when I was about seven years old. I've become increasingly skeptical in leaps and bounds as each new automotive technological "advance" has only caused more headaches.
Even inasmuch as drivers -- at least on US roads -- have become increasingly retarded by rising orders of magnitude, I'd still rather have humans in control of cars rather than computers, whose instruction sets are written by _humans_ who, experience teaches us, have an amazing propensity towards fallibility.
I think the problem with the current generation of "futurists" is that they're of a generation who spent a large number of hours watching Star Trek, The Jetsons, and Wonderful World Of Disney. Too much goddamn' unfounded optimism, too goddamn' much gee-whizzery, not enough sober, rational realism.
Did you just say what I think you said? Essentially "peak oil is never going to happen?" That's the dumbest damned thing I have ever heard. Where exactly do you think it comes from? God makes it and puts it in the ground for good little Texans to find?
There may be debate on the WHEN peak oil will happen, (quite a few believe we have already hit it,) but it is 100% inevitable. Given that, it makes more sense to me to invest in methods of propelling our cars without requiring portable chemical fuels. “The Grid” isn’t a magical source of energy, but there is a damned sight more coal than there is Oil left, and if we really get desperate there is always solar, wind and even wood burning..
If, as a society, we are going to invest in essentially ripping up our transportation infrastructure to install a bunch of sensors, guides, beacons and other goodies to allow vehicles to drive autonomously, we should seriously consider installing some sort of track system similar to light rail transit by which vehicles can continuously draw energy from the grid while driving.
There has to be a way to accomplish this without requiring either rails or overhead power lines. Preferably one that isn’t as ridiculously inefficient as inductive charging. I can think of a few ideas right off the top of my head, though they would need refinement. IF we start installing that sort of infrastructure now, alongside the beacons and sensors and whatnot, then I think we will be far further along preparing for the future than simply believing God Provideth Our Oil (or other such abiogenic nonsense) and pretending the looming energy crisis doesn’t exist.
What matters is collectively coming to a few agreements.
First: there is a looming energy crisis; this involves telling the oil companies to shut the fuck up and stay out of the negotiations for once.
Second: Even if the energy crisis is a ways off, as a society we can’t afford to keep burning our precious fossil fuels for personal transport. We need those hydrocarbons for plastics and other petrochemical industries we don’t have the technology to replace with alternates yet.
Third: We need to agree on standards. Standards for energy transfer to vehicles, standards for the beacons and sensors required to have pilotless aircraft, driverless cars and all other such things. There are some problems that transcend national borders, and the petty bickering is delaying the research and implementation which will do nothing but drive up the TCO.
Lastly: We need to come up with a way to address privacy concerns inherent in a society where all movement by all citizens is tracked. If your driverless car is responding to beacons on the road and has an array of sensors of it’s on, it is only a matter of time before someone starts recording the information collected and transmitting it centrally. We need to look at these issues BEFORE they become a problem, and legislate accordingly. (Otherwise you get some uppity island government telling everyone their privacy laws are invalid and spying on all of its citizens even whilst it is being sued and sanctioned for its misdeeds. Ooops…)
I am sorry, but when it comes to something as important to the lives of so many as personal transportation, the issues aren’t simple. They are complex and integrated into issues from the personal to the international. As a global society we need to grow the fuck up, stop it will the selfish reactionary bullshit and start actually PLANNING for the future.
Be PROactive rather than REactive; if you head of as many problems as you can before they arrive, that leaves you more time and resources to deal with the ones you didn’t expect and couldn’t have anticipated.
It’s a bloody shame that personal greed is always standing in the way. Someone stop the world: I want off.