My trip around London in an autonomous vehicle

From Bill Gates:

I’ve always been a car guy. When I was younger, I used to love driving fast (sometimes too fast). Now, I look forward to my daily commute to work. There’s something so fun yet meditative about driving a car.

Despite that, I’m excited for the day I get to hand over control of my car to a machine.

That day is coming sooner rather than later. We’ve made tremendous progress on autonomous vehicles, or AVs, in recent years, and I believe we’ll reach a tipping point within the next decade. When it happens, AVs will change transportation as dramatically as the PC changed office work. A lot of this development has been enabled by the progress made in artificial intelligence more broadly. (I recently shared my thoughts about AI on this blog. You can read them here.)

Some background for those who might not know a lot about AVs: The best way to understand where we are today is by looking at the Society of American Engineers, or SAE, classification system. This is widely used to describe how autonomous a vehicle is.

. . . .

In levels 0-2, a human driver is in full control of the car, but the vehicle can provide assistance through features like adaptive cruise control and lane centering. Level 3 is when the technology starts to move from the driver being in control to the vehicle being in control. By the time you reach the highest level, the car can be fully autonomous at all times and under all conditions—the level 5 vehicles of the future might not have steering wheels at all.

Right now, we’re close to the tipping point—between levels 2 and 3—when cars are becoming available that allow drivers to take their hands off the wheel and let the system drive in certain circumstances. The first level 3 car was recently approved for use in the United States, although only in very specific conditions: Autonomous mode is permitted if you’re going under 40 mph on a highway in Nevada on a sunny day.

Over the next decade, we’ll start to see more vehicles crossing this threshold. AVs are rapidly reaching the point where almost all of the technology required has been invented. Now, the focus is on refining algorithms and perfecting the engineering. There have been huge advances in recent years—especially in sensors, which scan the surrounding environment and tell the vehicle about things it needs to react to, like pedestrians crossing the street or another driver who swerves into your lane.

. . . .

I recently had the opportunity to test drive—or test ride, I guess—a vehicle made by the British company Wayve, which has a fairly novel approach. While a lot of AVs can only navigate on streets that have been loaded into their system, the Wayve vehicle operates more like a person. It can drive anywhere a human can drive.

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Link to the rest at Bill Gates

10 thoughts on “My trip around London in an autonomous vehicle”

  1. “I believe we’ll reach a tipping point within the next decade”

    Ten years ago we were only five years out. Things seem to be regressing.

  2. Maybe I’m a young dinosaur, but I will refuse to buy a car that doesn’t have a steering wheel or some way to turn the self-driving feature off.

    (Ironically, the captcha was to identify images of cars)

  3. The problem isn’t the control software “AI” per se, it is the chaos created by human drivers, who regularly do things no self-respecting softwate would consider or know how to cope with.
    Self driving vehicles would be all over if *all* vehicles were self driving.

    As is, I don’t think we’ll them broadly deployed in cities or suburbs. But on limited access/segregated highways (interstates) they can and will work beutifully. Just the human drivers off that part of the road. (As a bonus, remotely supervised self-driving truck convoys would be a viable way to fil l in the lack of qualified long range drivers.)

    Tl:DR, don’t blame the tech. Blame the humans.

    • See even that scenario has problems, though. Remember the “turn left and drive into the Black Sea” debacles from a when Google maps was just getting started? And every so often there’s still a tragedy or mishap from people following the badly programmed GPS maps in less than ideal situations. Which means, for liability purposes, there will have to be an override for the human at the wheel in case the car is using one of those maps. So we’re back where we started.

      Unless … to clarify, do you mean only have these cars on select roads that have absolutely no room for navigation shenanigans? I think these cars can work well in enclosed environments, like those retirement cities where people get around on golf carts. Or a space station, if one were being futuristic.

      • What has been proposed is a lead drone truck, monitored by a human remotelly, followed by several trucks taking cues from it. For now, the lead truck has a driver.

        The endgame is to make the lead autonomous with a huan supervision multiple convoys remotely.

        As for the segregated roads, the idea wouls be to dedicate one lane (out of 3-4) in each direction (with barriers to keep pesky humans out) kinda like the carpool or bicycle lanes but without access for human driven vehicles. Which has the added benefit of keeping the human lanes free of slower moving trucks, reducing accidents and road damage to the car lanes.

        There have been proposals for segregated toll “express” lanes next to free lanes in hravy traffic freeways and, in fact, such a scheme is in place in (of all places) San Juan, PR. (Home of the worst drivers this side of Manhattan.) In another stretch, the median was paved over and turned into a “convertibe” lane so the freeway stretch has 7(?) lanes. The middle lane has one loonnggg line of concrete barriers and early in the morning each day a specialized truck runs through moving the barrier pieces from one side to the other proving three lanes in one direction for morning rush hour and back later in the day for afternoon tush hour. Not sure where else they use that wacky scheme but it works.

        As to GPS, well:

        1- GPS has improved
        2- Robo cars use radar *and* lidar (machine vision) for obstacle detection along with detailed maps of the route (inertial guidance, as it were).
        3- Tesla’s endless delays are due to their theory that machine learning algorithms plus lidar alone can work, drastically reducing cost by eliminating the need for radar. A work in progress as it is only high nineties percent accurate. Getting to 100% is the bone of contention. Plus: humans.

        Interstates are the natural environment for robotrucks becuse there is a shortage of capable drivers and highway hypnosis is real. Plus those long runs on the rad are murder on family life. Remote guided autonomous convoys turn truck driving into a three shift office job, with “drivers” swapping convoys during their shifts to stay sharp. Start up is capital heavy though and capital is about to become scarce so its unclear how the ramp up economics will play out.

        Now, for SF scenarios–say an off world colony–things get easier. For starters, every road can be built wired from day one. The underground wire can provide the vehicles with power (smaller batteries, infinite range), guidance (the road would be like slot cars), and vehicle communication for tracking and load management. Wired road experiments are all over the place but retrofitting the tech is likely too expensive and power hungry. A virgin world? Easy. Story fodder.

  4. The concept is Fantasy, never to be achieved, but that leads to a number of interesting observations besides the one I have mentioned many times before:

    – If robots can drive Santa Fe streets, we will have a Singularity, since humans can’t drive Santa Fe streets.

    1) On a regular basis delivery people drop off packages, groceries, restaurant take-out to my front door. The problem is, my house is not the destination, they should have gone next door.

    – This has been happening since the 90s when I bought the house.

    The cause:

    – The driver is only looking at their smartphone/tablet, not the actual address posted on the house.

    The smartphone/tablet says that they are at their destination, so it is impossible for them to realize that they are wrong.

    I have literally walked out my front door as a delivery guy shows up. I point out that they are at the wrong house, and it takes them minutes to shift over to next house.

    2) Lately, when I order something from Amazon, and look at “Tracking”, they are showing a map of the destination which is three miles from the actual point of delivery.

    – God help us if they start using drones when they are that wrong.

    3) “The universe we see playing out in space and time may be just the surface level, where we float like little boats while leviathans stir in the deep.” — George Musser

    The Leviathans already have too much fun playing with traffic. Add robot cars and they will start creating even more havoc, just for the fun of it.

    The stigmata of Leviathans moving beneath cars is seeing people turn left from the right lane, or turning right from the left lane. Construction lane drops seem to attract them the most.

    BTW, Each time I get in the car I go through the mantra:

    – I am in the car, on the road, and people are trying to kill me.

    It actually does help to state the obvious when I start out.

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