Here’s the next chunk.
When my parents bought a Volvo in 1969, that company had a well-established reputation for safety. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen them in the news for anything other than being acquired by Ford, but here they are again. Carol Glines’s July 21st Fox News “Safety first! Volvo’s intelligent drive and sensing technologies work to mitigate accidents” showed how that company is still there, adding cameras, radar sensors, and systems emitting sound warnings and dashboard red lights when they see objects ahead with crash-causing potential. These schemes, suitable for meatmobiles as well as autonomous vehicles, will not stop cars but will only warn drivers, which, at this early point in their development, is best. In the meantime, here in the Catskills I’d be glad to have Volvo’s new capability, mentioned in the article, to detect deer.
Legality of driverless cars on public roads has understandably been a patchwork. That may change. As described in “House advances bill to clear road for self-driving cars” (Keith Laing, Detroit News, July 27), this Washington legislative body showed foresight, and excellent restraint, by clearing a bill which would allow both the public use of 100,000 self-driving vehicles and prevention of overriding that with state laws. Per Laing, “lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said the compromise legislation represented a rare bipartisan consensus,” and while it did not please everyone, the House seems to have seen the wisdom of taking risks to reduce our 35,000 annual highway dead. Kudos to all involved.
Given creeping consumer concern, it was a nice surprise to see “Study: Majority Of Drivers Say Next Vehicle Will Be Autonomous” (Denisse Moreno, International Business Times, July 28). Some of the valuable research Moreno cited showed that women, as well as younger people, were more positive about that technology, but were still concerned about driverless safety, and another study found that 72% had no interest in self-driving public transportation. She also gave us an early glimpse of perceived brand perceptions, with a slim plurality of 19% of respondents saying Tesla seemed the best, and “nearly half” of respondents unable to name a single company doing driverless manufacturing. General Motors, Ford, and the others have some public relations work to do.
Popular Mechanics magazine was embarrassed about predicting, on one of its 1957 covers, an “aerial sedan” for 1967, and now we have heard from them again, in July 29th’s “Who’s Afraid of the Self-Driving Car?”. Author Johanna Zmud, a Texas A&M Transportation Institute senior research scientist, made good statements and raised good questions, such as “the number of highly automated cars as a share of everything on the road will grow over time, but only relatively slowly,” and “how will they handle changing conditions on unpaved roads, which make up nearly half of the country’s 4 million miles of road?”. She also said that “any argument that self-driving cars will be an antidote for congestion may be, at best, uninformed and specious” (I’d go for ‘overly speculative’), “what is certain is that we’re experiencing the most pivotal time in transportation history since we started building interstate highways,” and, perfectly articulated, “they’re not quite ready yet – and we’re not either – but it won’t be long.” A fine, fresh voice.
Electronic hacking is a huge potential driverless issue, but that’s not the only kind. In the August 4th “Researchers Find a Malicious Way to Meddle with Autonomous Cars” (Car and Driver), Mark Harris described “an attack algorithm” which, ostensibly knowing the internal workings of sign-interpretation software, involved stickers or apparent graffiti put on road signs to fool the systems into construing, say, stop signs as saying Speed Limit 45. The University of Michigan scholars who developed and tested this destructive technology have done well to pinpoint it as a true possible problem, which, I hope, can be solved through protection of proprietary code and stronger penalties for road sign defacement.
Going back to the business side, we have “Driverless-Car Outlook Shifts as Intel Takes Over Mobileye” (Neal E. Boudette, The New York Times, August 8). The chip manufacturer, as Boudette said, has jumped into the middle of the self-driving world by spending $15.3 billion on one of the largest and most successful driverless component makers, which is now producing “cameras, sensors and software that enable cars to detect what is ahead.” Intel now plans to build 100 self-driving cars and will test them in, among other places, Jerusalem, with its extreme pedestrian chaos; per Mobileye co-founder Amnon Shashua, “if you can successfully drive autonomously in Jerusalem, you can drive almost anywhere in the world.” Intel is now established as a competitor for Nvidia, which, per Boudette, “offers chips with more raw processing power.” But we will see.
I end with the combined technical and philosophical big-picture August 11th Salon “Self-driving cars are coming – but are we ready?”. Johanna Zmud and her co-worker Paul Carlson combined on more clear observations and queries. On one, “how might our nation’s roads and highways, and the driving done by we humans ourselves, need to change as autonomous vehicles become more ubiquitous?”, I have maintained that the burden must fall on the cars and trucks themselves. Indeed we “won’t likely find many in a dealer showroom for at least 10 years,” cities will see many more of them before they appear in any numbers on highways and in rural areas, and probably if not certainly “self-driving cars will be ready for the open road long before the open road is ready for them.” Although we can and should expect that use of driverless vehicles will decimate American and world highway casualties, there will be problems during the long transition period, during which there will be a mixture of meatmobiles and what will, by the end of this century, just be called “cars.” And, as correct as anything cited here, “we can expect it to be an eventful ride, no matter who’s in the driver’s seat.”
Three more weeks down. We’ll get closer to up-to-date next week.