Wednesday, July 17, 2019

80/20 strikes again: Self-driving cars are "Way in the future" [He had high hopes...Ooops there goes another problem]

Neal E. Boudette, Despite High Hopes, Self-Driving Cars Are ‘Way in the Future’, NYTimes, July 17, 2019.

Detroit and Silicon Valley where shooting for 2019. 2019 is here and self-driving ares aren't.
Researchers at Argo say the cars they are testing in Pittsburgh and Miami have to navigate unexpected situations every day. Recently, one of the company’s cars encountered a bicyclist riding the wrong way down a busy street between other vehicles. Another Argo test car came across a street sweeper that suddenly turned a giant circle in an intersection, touching all four corners and crossing lanes of traffic that had the green light.

“You see all kinds of crazy things on the road, and it turns out they’re not all that infrequent, but you have to be able to handle all of them,” Mr. Salesky said. “With radar and high-resolution cameras and all the computing power we have, we can detect and identify the objects on a street. The hard part is anticipating what they’re going to do next.”

Mr. Salesky said Argo and many competitors had developed about 80 percent of the technology needed to put self-driving cars into routine use — the radar, cameras and other sensors that can identify objects far down roads and highways. But the remaining 20 percent, including developing software that can reliably anticipate what other drivers, pedestrians and cyclists are going to do, will be much more difficult, he said.
Will that remaining 20% turn out to require 80% of the total R&D effort, if not more? Are we up against the Pareto principle once again?

Elon Musk isn't buying it:
Tesla and its chief executive, Elon Musk, are nearly alone in predicting widespread use of self-driving cars within the next year. In April, Mr. Musk said Tesla would have as many as a million autonomous “robo taxis” by the end of 2020.

Tesla believes its new self-driving system, based on a computer chip it designed, and the data it gathers from Tesla cars now on the road will enable the company to start offering fully autonomous driving next year.

But many experts are very skeptical that Tesla can pull that off.

Mr. Salesky said it was relatively easy to enable a car to see and identify obstacles on the road with the help of radar, cameras and lidar — a kind of radar that uses lasers — as well as the software and computing power to process images and data.

It’s much more difficult to prepare self-driving cars for unusual circumstances — pedestrians crossing the road when cars have the green light, cars making illegal turns. Researchers call these “corner cases,” although in city traffic they occur often.
Maybe we start slow:
Some companies argue that the way to get more self-driving vehicles on the road is by using them in controlled settings and situations. May Mobility operates autonomous shuttles in Detroit; Providence, R.I.; and Columbus, Ohio. These are not minivans or full-size cars but six-passenger golf carts. They travel short, defined routes at no more than 25 miles per hour. In many cases they provide public transportation where none is available.

“A vehicle that needs to go at higher speeds will need more expensive, more exotic sensors,” said Alisyn Malek, the company’s chief operating officer. “Using a low-speed vehicle makes the task of operating an autonomous vehicle easier, so we can use what works in the technology today.”
Malek also said it might "take years and perhaps even a decade or more to develop driverless cars that could travel anywhere, any time." That's not much of a reset at all. FWIW that's pretty much what I'd been thinking. "Way in the future" seems like an overstatement to me.

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