Driverless Technology – It’s going to happen – Someday

As autonomous vehicles take to the streets in test after test, the limitations of the current technology comes to the fore. In about 225 locations across the country, shuttles carrying folks from metro stops to parking areas and vice versa are in full blown test mode.

They have two people in the driver’s seat, an engineer and a driver. And in most cases, limit their speed to under 25 MPH (it seems that if you hit someone that that speed you probably won’t do a lot of damage.)

A quote from an article in the Washington Post:

Traveling under 25 mph means there is less risk of killing someone if a pedestrian is hit, and the vehicle requires less-sophisticated sensors because stopping distances are shorter, said Sam Abuelsamid, an analyst at Navigant Research. But even for slow-speed vehicles, there are still significant technical hurdles to overcome.

Huei Peng director of Mcity, an autonomous-vehicle-research center at the University of Michigan, said the technology is advancing, but even low-speed self-driving cars have severe limitations. He compared them to the Wright brothers’ early airplanes.

 “They flew a very short distance: not very high, not very far, not very fast,” Peng said. “They were not very exciting. They were not very useful.”

Perhaps the most obvious challenge: getting the vehicles to be truly driverless. Optimus uses modified six-seat electric buggies manufactured by Polaris, but two of the seats are occupied by a safety driver and an engineer.

This is not exactly roaring praise.

Don’t get me wrong – These AVs are coming. But it isn’t easy. It’s easier, MUCH easier to write a program to fly an airplane from New York to Los Angeles than to successfully guide an AV from the Village to the Upper East Side.

If every vehicle was an AVT, many of the problems would go away. However predicting what a driver will do is hard for a machine, actually much harder for a machine than for another driver.

AV companies are proud of the fact that they have mapped cities down to the inch and know where all the curbs and turns are. But have they checked with the department of streets and highways and checked just where the lanes will be blocked, where the flagmen will be positioned, or where a construction site has moved in a huge crane for a few days.

These little problems will be solved. But not tomorrow, or even the day after.


H/T Kim Fernandez – IPMI

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