Autonomous Vehicles: Part 1
Probably the best way to start is to use CES’ clever one word campaign that defines CES 2017: Whoa!
Having spent 5+ days trying to take it all in, and by all I mean over 3,800 exhibiting companies, across several Las Vegas resort locations and the LV Convention Center, and is the largest event of its kind, I have to agree Whoa! best describes it.
If you are not familiar with CES, it used to be known as the Consumer Electronics Show, and now is called CES: the global consumer electronics and consumer technology trade show. While the new official name isn’t as ‘catchy’ as the original one, it is more accurate. Exhibitors and buyers from 150 plus countries attend, network, and place orders for this year’s hottest tech.
Additionally, it serves as a platform for the top experts in related fields and industries to come to share ideas and learn from one another. While it is not open to the public, it has a massive attendance- over 175,000 this year, along with a large media presence to get the word out.
CES 2017 covered a broad range of technology and its impact on:
- Aging and accessibility
- Cyber security
- Drones (from micro to those capable of carrying an individual)
- Enhanced audio and video
- Gaming, VR and AR (virtual and augmented reality)
- Health, fitness and wearables
- The Connected world
- Sustainable and Eco-friendly tech
- Vehicle technology
- Family and lifestyle
- Content and entertainment
The focus of this blog is one slice of CES 2017 which, in my opinion, will ultimately impact virtually everyone- that of Autonomous Vehicles. From my perspective, it truly reflects the synthesis and status of the technology found across most of the areas in the bullet list above.
Introduction: Just what is an autonomous vehicle?
Is it a car that can drive down the road by itself like a Tesla, or one that can park itself like a Toyota, or brake itself to avoid collision like a Cadillac, or is it reserved for something more like depicted in the 1960s series the Jetsons?
Courtesy of Newsday
At CES 2017 there were numerous autonomous vehicles in all shapes and sizes.
And there were even semi-autonomous trucks demonstrating platooning technology, where they are able to travel in a caravan fashion saving fuel and driver effort.
SAE has developed the most broadly accepted definition of the levels of driving automation. As seen on the accompanying chart, they have described five levels ranging from ‘no automation’ through ‘full automation.’ Most important is the transition role (responsibilities) between the human and the ‘system.’ The biggest shift is between levels 2 and 3, where the responsibility for monitoring the driving environment shifts from the person to the system. The role of the human becomes one of back-up to the automated driving system. Of course, this shift in responsibility is one of the thorniest and most complex components of the process.
Autonomous vehicles– the major potential ‘pros’:
Among the top reasons to move towards automation level 3, 4 or ultimately 5, include anticipated significant reductions in vehicular deaths; reduction in congestion; reduction in pollution; facilitated transport of individuals unable to or who should not be driving (too old, infirm, disabled, too young, under medically induced or other impairment).
For example, there are approximately 32,000 automotive related deaths per year. NHTSA has estimated that between 90 and 94% of those are due to human error. Further, the economic cost is c. $242 billion and societal harm c $836 billion. Automated drive systems, whether as low as SAE level 2 on upwards to 5, is expected to significantly reduce deaths due to human error. Most agree it is reasonable to expect automation to quickly reduce the automotive related deaths easily by half or more.
Damien Riehl (a technology lawyer with a background in legal software design) summed up the critical advantages of the ‘hand-off’ from human to machine: “Computers do not share human drivers’ foibles: They cannot be inebriated, they don’t text, and they don’t fall asleep. Automated-driving systems can also have super-human qualities: 360–degree vision; 100 percent alert time; constant communication with the road, traffic lights, and other cars; “sight” through fog and darkness; and universal, system-wide routing for traffic-flow optimization. Computers react faster: Humans’ reaction time is approximately 1.5 seconds, while computers’ reaction times are measured in milliseconds (and, per Moore’s Law, improving exponentially). [ from the Bench & Bar of Minnesota, the official publication of the Minnesota State Bar Association; Riehl Oct. 4, 2016]
Another significant advantage of moving towards autonomous vehicles comes from the necessary connectivity in each vehicle. Autonomous vehicles will need to be able to ‘communicate’ with other vehicles on the same road, the environmental variables such as traffic lights, weather, flow, etc. This critical inter-connectivity will enable aggregated, and most cases, instantaneous learning by the vehicle’s system. Much like we see today in applications such as WAZE and LIVE, where we as drivers hear of traffic issues, police actions, etc. in near real time, and they can choose to act upon such information, that is learn from it, or ignore it. But of course, the difference is that autonomous vehicles will be programmed with algorithms to instantaneously incorporate the new information and take appropriate corrective actions. For example, if an autonomous vehicle is driving along a road where there is a traffic accident or construction, it would send the information to other autonomous vehicles further back on the same route, resulting in a seamless rerouting. This built in collective and incremental learning will mean that the more the autonomous vehicles drive, the more of them on the road with vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-environs instant and continuous connections, the more efficient and expeditious each will become.
Potential applications abound (many you probably have heard about) including driverless pick up via Uber/Lyft; calling your own car to pick you up and drop you off; driverless public transportation like Olli; platooning of freight hauling trucks, etc. Autonomous vehicles also open up new modes of transportation, such as the hyperloop. For example, Hyperloop One is being built north of Las Vegas, Nevada as a proof of concept. Here in their own words is an explanation: “The Hyperloop is a new way to move people or things anywhere in the world quickly, safely, efficiently, on-demand and with minimal impact to the environment. The system accelerates a passenger or cargo vehicle through a steel tube in a near-vacuum using that linear electric motor. The autonomous vehicles glide comfortably at faster-than-airline speeds over long distances due to the extremely low aerodynamic drag and non-contact levitation. There’s no direct emissions, noise, delay, weather concerns nor pilot error. “[By Bruce Upbin, VP Strategic Communications, Hyperloop One]. Ultimately the vision for hyperloop is to have direct connections (non-stop) between cities, with hubs where either you could drive your car or take an autonomous car to the hub. At the hub you would drive onto an autonomous platform, be in a small grouping of platforms going to the same location, and be sent out within minutes of your driving onto the platform to your destination, non-stop, at speeds of up to 700+ miles per hour. At your destination, you would leave the hub and drive or be driven to your objective.
Autonomous vehicles logically could also result in lack of need for personal car (or multiple car) ownership, personal automobile insurance, significant reduction in the need for parking garages in cities, decreased pollution, and increased personal time.
But is it all rosy?
For a sample of my photographs from CES 2017 please see http://www.daumphotography.com/Events/2017-CES/