Autonomous Cars vs Driver Assistance in 2021

Op-Ed by Wimsett and A.R. Bunch

Swiss Semi-Autonomous Street Car

People are worried about sharing the road with autonomous cars, although there is a race by the car companies to create a level 5…

Level 5?

Every car has a level of autonomy. Level 5 is the highest.

Here is this list in full:

Level 0: This is a regular car with no autonomous features. The driver is in full capability – and full liability – of the car.

Level 1: Only one task is done autonomously, whether it is braking or so on. Otherwise the driver needs to be in charge. Presumably if anything goes wrong with the one thing being done autonomously, you need to take that over too.

Level 2: This car can handle more than one task, for example driver assist, braking and so on. This is being carried out by the big names such as Cadillac and Tesla. Unfortunately, it still isn’t considered self-driving as such, you need human intervention.

Level 3: This type of vehicle can only be driven autonomously if the conditions are correct. In emergencies, the car needs to switch to a regular car. Only the Audi A8 currently fits this description in the US.

Level 4: These show a massive difference from Level 3, they don’t require a driver. These at the moment cannot be purchased, they can’t drive in bad weather or at high speeds.

Level 5: Fully autonomous car and cannot switch off even for emergencies.

This technology relies on a number of sensors, but they need to be thorough. As hinted above there is a whole range of outside variables such as weather, traffic, road layout and so on. Either radar or laser can be used. But it is needs to be better in order to work on US roads.

The whole idea of autonomous cars is that comprehensive self-driving removes all the “driver error” but what of computer error? The theory is that even if a particular driver was able to outperform a computer driver, if every car on the road were computer driven, we’d have fewer accidents. The bad drivers wouldn’t be wracking up wrecks and the computers would learn to avoid each other by driving in a predictable manor.

Right now, at level 1, 2, and 3 the most effective use of autonomous driving capability is to reduce driver fatigue. In a way, these systems are just sophisticated versions of cruise control. Driver assists like emergency breaking, etc. aren’t controversial and don’t require a huge outlay of federal highway dollars to build infrastructure in order to enable them to operate “autonomously.” So how long before we’re banned from driving our own cars? Maybe we at the kicker will hazard a guess when car makers actually create the first level 5 car.

Tesla Cars – Their Success Continues

Tesla seems to have a different way of selling than its rivals. They speak of being mission-focused, consumer-focused and giving a consistent experience, but how does it stack up?

There is certainly expansion occuring, not only in the US but also they are building factories in China and Germany. But why have they reached such lofty heights?

Despite various models, such as the Roadster, Model S and Model X they seem more than a car company. With (according to CNN) revenue valued at 24.6 billion, they are also a hardware and software company.

There are other authorities which speak well of Tesla – the Owner Satisfaction Survey in 2017, run by Consumer Reports, placed them highest. The survey looked into such variables as the driving experience, comfort and value amongst other items.

These cars are in majority sold online, selling cars directly to the customers instead of using dealerships. Their showrooms are in malls and places with high footfall instead of the regular out of town places. There is remote diagnosis and even remote repair so no need to visit the customer. Relying on mobile technology they don’t make a profit on service.

The prototypes of the Tesla were revealed in July 2006 in Santa Monica to 350 invited guests. It was certainly about quality, not quantity.

A loan from the US Department of Energy in January 2010 of a massive 465 million dollars was certainly good for business. It was repaid in 2013 in full. Tesla has been developing its technology in an environmentally friendly way ever since.

Surprisingly, the patents aren’t heavily protected but can be used by other companies. As a sidenote, the number of patents registered is certainly a sign that it’s a technology company with a emphasis on the internet; most car companies have only the odd patent. While they are flexible with their patents, there are several trade secrets of Tesla which do remain private.

If you wish to let Tesla self-drive, there is an autopilot program available. If you wish to drive it yourself reviews of the cars talk about a “feeling of acceleration” in addition to “ride quality.”

There is some controversy as to whether it is actually “self-driving,” the car still needs to be supervised. The Tesla can handle various automatic tasks such as lane centering, lane changes, self-parking and summoning cars from a parking space or a garage. It all sounds pretty cool.

20% of all electric cars were produced by Tesla, which given the strong Japanese and German electric car market this is quite an achievement. So in the grand scheme of all cars made in the world, Tesla has a tiny piece, however in an apples to apple comparison to similar cars produced they are a big fish in their tiny pond.

So, are you self-driving or are you supervising the driving? In September 2020 someone was charged with driving over 90mph, it appears both “passengers” where asleep. According to the authorities these support systems are meant to be complementary, the human behind the wheel is ultimately responsible.

Despite this differentiation from how other car makers sell their cars, there is a huge amount of choice with a Tesla. The sky is the limit—did you know they were developing a space program as well?

The Future of Transportation

OP-ED by Stephanie Larson

With the interstate building project of the 1950s, most U.S. cities suddenly became connected by paved roads. What was once dirt and gravel roads became paved asphalt highways. For car lovers, these highways were a dream come true. Drivers finally had long stretches of paved roads where they could see what their vehicles could do.

Some thought the interstate system was the future of transportation, but technology is advancing and changing how drivers get around. Here are some automotive advances you should watch for in the coming years.

1. Self-Driving Vehicles

Autonomous vehicles are already here, and several car manufacturers have models slowly making their way up the guideline levels set by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. There are four levels and two sub-levels vehicles have to pass before considered fully-automatic and safe to drive.

Most self-driving models are at level one. The vehicle reliably provides drivers with warnings and information. Some vehicles are in the early stages of level 2 for automated parking and highway driving. However, Google is currently the company ahead at level four. While the company’s vehicle is fully-automated there are still a few glitches that need to be worked out.

Soon, your car may be the one driving instead of you.

2. All Electric Vehicles

Hybrid vehicles are becoming more common as technology progresses. The batteries are capable of holding a charge longer and the vehicles are getting a little bigger instead of smaller. All electric models still won’t be larger than a small sedan for quite some time.

One of the appeals electric vehicles have is its simple components. Without the need for gasoline, several components will no longer be necessary. The essentially scale-downed vehicles are also expected to cost consumers less in the purchase price and maintenance.

These advancements in technology have even lead Bloomberg New Energy Finance to predict electric vehicles will comprise 35 percent of worldwide car sales by 2040.

3. Self-Driving Electric Vehicles

It’s not uncommon for technologies to mix. Smart cars owe their intelligence to computer technology. It’s not too far-fetched to imagine smart electric cars. Automobile manufacturers with eminent plans to release self-driving technology in 2022 now include giants like Ford. However, the automotive giant plans on using the technology in their hybrid vehicles first.

In the future, ride share services like Uber and others could do away with their drivers. When you use the app to order a ride, a self-driving electric vehicle shows up. Instead of bus drivers and train operators, public transportation could also become fully automated, along with electrically powered.

With these vehicles, you are the passenger.

What These Changes Mean For You

It’s impossible to stop technology advancing and this means changes, even in transportation. Self-driving cars, both gas and electric will be on the roads in the future. However, this doesn’t mean that your love of the open road has to change.

Electric cars don’t have the ‘oomph’ that an 8-cyllander engine has. Self-driving vehicles are still crashing into things on road tests. However, these glitches will be fixed, and these automobiles will become a common sight on the interstate.

There is one thing that will remain the same regardless of how far technology goes. Vehicle maintenance will always be important. Even self-driving electric vehicles need regular tune-ups. You will also want to keep an eye on the battery condition. This is something that you should still be doing regularly whether you drive a hybrid or have a gas engine.

The Mind Car?

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Could the next step from the self-driving car be the car with thoughts of their own? Is this a dip into science fiction, perhaps, but it’s more likely a dip into future science fact.

Although we think of self-driving or autonomous vehicles (AVs) as “cars with minds of their own” in reality they’re no different from a calculator or a computer. It’s actually just following a sophisticated set of logical steps as a result of stimuli, which is a fancy way of saying when something triggers it the car responds according to it’s programming.

A car having it’s own thoughts comes under the umbrella of artificial intelligence.

To be fair, most of us sort of feel like computers have a mind of their own. When a computer breaks down it feels like its acting out of spite. Even non-autonomous cars are sometime feel like they have minds of their own. And most car owners take refuge in giving their car a personality, sometimes even a name.

There are two possible ways a car might gain the ability to generate its own thoughts.

  • True artificial intelligence: where programming become so sophisticated that the program writes additional programming to deal with situations it wasn’t already programmed to handle.
  • Creating a digital imprint of a human to act as a logic engine from which programs will feed in questions and carry out instructions

A current example of the first kind is Siri, which sort of spoofs intelligence by being able to intuit what is being asked of it and trying to carry out instructions as best it can. A science fiction example would be HAL 9000 the murderous computer in “2001 a Space Odyssey” who decided it was self-defense to wipe out the astronauts who want to disable it for making an error.

eeg-2680957_1920Science fiction is rife with examples of the second kind of artificial intelligence as it has become a common trope. The idea that a human nearing the end of his/her life could “upload” their conscious into an android, for example, is alluring and entertaining. But taking it the extra step and uploading the contents of the human brain into a vehicle is also portrayed frequently. Take for example, “The Tunnel Under the World” by Frederick Pohl (1955), which is perhaps the first story about transferring a mind into a machine. (Earlier works cantered on transferring the mind into another person.)

The advantage (or disadvantage) is that the new computer would have a personality as well as experiences and the ability to really read the subtext of spoken questions or instructions. The result would be giving your car an actual personality.

Do we really need a car to flip out when we pass gas while driving? That’s what our spouse is for, right? We’ll leave you to wrestle with these deep questions.

Current examples the second type of AI don’t exist, but how far off could they really be? Well, the science behind how you might do this is still in its infancy so you are unlikely to get a car with a real brain any time soon, but… there is a Wikipedia page devoted to whole brain emulation (WBE) so efforts are underway.

If a car can’t gain a mind what about cars that can read your mind? An institute in Lausanne in Switzerland reported that they had invented the brain-machine transference that allows wheelchairs to be powered by thought alone in disabled people. The next step, and it could be tricky, is to find a way they can interact with cars.

Nissan plans to look at the brainwaves of drivers to study the patterns as they about to react to driving situations. They Nissan will pilot the cars off their driver based on the actions it reads the driver attempting to make. Right now it requires you to wear an EEG headset which isn’t the kind of thing you might wear out to the mall, so there is room for improvement. The other key part of the research is keeping drivers focused on the road. Most drivers don’t actually concentrate on driving while driving any more than most pedestrians concentrate on walking while strolling down the sidewalk.

It could be said that this system won’t produce autonomic driving cars as much as it is could improving the system of “human driving.”

Nissan is not alone though; there have been similar plans with Jaguar and Renault. As with all things autonomous there’s always the problem of legally deciding who’s driving the vehicle, because our laws currently hold the driver liable for moving infractions. If an AV kills someone in an accident is the human occupant responsible or the company that made the AI in the AV.

Based on the money companies are throwing at these projects, it’s not likely they’ll give up.

The first idea on brain waves came not from a car company but from an EEG company in 2011, no doubt looking for a way to use their product. It’s commonly believed that General Motors got involved in the first experiments into fatigue though it wasn’t officially established. If that sounds a little wonky you have to remember that GM spent decades as the largest defense contractor in the US, and worked on many secret projects for the US military developing technology that we may never truly learn the origins of.

hand-prosthesis-3853267_1920Regardless of origin, the idea of brain scans was seen as a quite controversial idea at the time, maybe we’re just more used to augmented and virtual reality now?

When we throw in the ideas of reading human brains to drive, whether we’re leaving the brain in the head of the driver or transferring it into the vehicle, the better label for the topic should cybernetics. We are, after all, trying to meld man and machine, which is the heart of the idea when you say the word “driving.”

The term cybernetics was created in 1948 and apparently refers to both “control and communication.” So presumably the machine part allows human augmentation, in the case of the Swiss EEG driving experiment, a disabled person gets augmented control and an ability to express themselves.

 

What’s News: Tesla price cut on standard models

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(Reuters) – Tesla Inc (TSLA.O) has dropped the standard-range variants of its Model X and Model S from its product lineup and adjusted prices across its range, in a sales push that comes days after the U.S. electric vehicle maker reported record deliveries.

To simplify its offerings, the automaker on Tuesday limited variants of its Model X sport-utility vehicle and Model S sedan to “Long Range” and the more expensive “Performance”. It also trimmed the price of its now entry-level Long Range variants.

The discontinuation of the standard-range variants, however, means a rise in starting prices – to $84,990 for the Model X and $79,990 for the Model S, excluding potential buying incentives.

Story link

Best of the Web: Homebrew Tesla 3 pickup, #why?

Simone Giertz was tired of waiting for Elon Musk to unveil his new Tesla pickup truck, so she decided to make one herself. The popular YouTuber and self-described “queen of shitty robots”transformed a Model 3 into an honest-to-god pickup truck, which she dubs “Truckla” — and naturally you can watch all the cutting and welding (and cursing) on her YouTube channel. There’s even a fake truck commercial to go along with it.

Original Story
Giertz spent over a year planning and designing before launching into the arduous task of turning her Model 3 into a pickup truck. And she recruited a ragtag team of mechanics and DIY car modifiers to tackle the project: Marcos Ramirez, a Bay Area maker, mechanic and artist; Boston-based Richard Benoit, whose YouTube channel Rich Rebuilds is largely dedicated to the modification of pre-owned Tesla models; and German designer and YouTuber Laura Kampf.

Human Error and the Crash

 

car-accident-2789841_1920People worry about the rise of self-driving cars but it seems like most people struggle to negotiate the road with normal cars. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that 94% are due to dangerous choices or errors which people make when they are behind the wheel. Whether they are blatantly dangerous or are revealed to be so after hindsight must be worth looking into though.

The statistics divide things into “distracted driving,” “drunken driving,” or “driving while drowsy.” Possibly a crash might be caused by a combination of factors which no one can get to the bottom of. Some of which might be natural, such as ice on the road, stormy winds etc. Certainly, there are days when it pays to be more vigilant.

The errors can be divided into five types:

  • Recognition error
  • Decision error
  • Performance error
  • Non-performance error
  • Other

Distraction is usually regarded as a recognition error. Deciding to speed or do another illegal maneuver or not anticipating what other drivers will do is known as decision error. Performance error is losing control of the vehicle or pushing the car too far. Non-performance is another name for drowsiness and falling asleep. 8% of car accidents were caused by miscellaneous human error or “other”.

drink-driving-808790_1920Something which seems on the rise is drugged driving. There are warning signs of drunk or stoned driving you might watch out for, such as a driver weaving in and out of the traffic. Or it may be that a driver goes far too slowly, though that could be down to a number of factors, the weaving is more obvious a sign.

The problem with many drivers is that driving consists of many tiny micro-tasks which all need to be obeyed to keep the car on the road. If something changes then there could be a problem. It may be something the brain has yet to process or it could be something that is making the person behave in a reckless manner.

Teens age drivers are most likely to behave irresponsibly, and they win high insurance premiums as their only prize. It’s likely a combination of being less experienced drivers (not knowing how to react to a situation) and less experienced decision makers.

So what can you do to reduce the risk? Well, you’ve likely heard a lot of ideas that, while technically sound, are really difficult to carry out. Things like:

  • Never drive with someone to distract you?
  • Never drive late at night?

You can’t really avoid every situation that is inherently unsafe. Perhaps the bigger shift needs to happen in our thinking. Many people don’t think they are doing anything which might cause an accident, and that’s when it gets you.

Although self-driving is said to wipe out death by human error it is unlikely to be widespread any time soon. The same can be said for laws about what lanes trucks use, or sensors to detect pedestrians. The kicker has pondered these efforts before and we generally recommend actually trying things out before making sweeping changes because computers have yet to prove themselves as better decision makers than humans in the driving seat.

Hacking a Tesla?

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Like all modern cars, Tesla is computer controlled. Unlike most modern cars, Tesla equips there cars with the latest in Automated Driving Technology, which is to say they believe their cars can drive themselves. For the most part, they seem to have succeeded in the self-driving part.

Of course, our minds instantly begin to ponder what happens if a hacker gets it. I mean in most cars you might be able to give it bad fuel economy or lock the doors. What happens when you hack an A.V.

Well, a couple of white hat hackers have given it a try and managed to turn on the windshield wipers. While that doesn’t sound like much it does shoot down the hope that Tesla somehow created a hack-proof car.

HOWEVER, the hackers, Tencent, were also able to take over control of the steering wheel and run it via a gamepad controller. They did this even though the autopilot feature wasn’t activated. Here’s a link to more details below.

Original Story Link

 

Best of the Web: Cheaper Tesla finally out…in Canada

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Due to pricing restrictions, Tesla’s vehicles didn’t get access to Canada’s new $5,000 federal incentive for electric vehicles, but the automaker has now launched a new and cheaper Model 3 with a software-locked range of just 150 km (93 miles) in Canada to get access to the discount.

Link to story.

What is interesting here is that Tesla can still do it while not even listing the base Model 3 at $44,999 and only making it available as some secret product that you need to know about to be able to order.