The long awaited list of recommendations and potential regulations for robocars has just been released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the federal agency that regulates car safety and safety issues in car manufacture. Normally, NHTSA does not regulate car technology before it is released into the market, and the agency, while it says it is wary of slowing down this safety-increasing technology, has decided to do the unprecedented — and at a whopping 115 pages.
Two self-driving car events of note: Uber just began operating a fleet of Volvo self-driving cars in Pittsburgh, and nuTonomy launched the first autonomous pilot taxi program last month in Singapore. Both still require a driver, although he/she will be as hands-off as much as possible.
Case IH (Case New Holland International Harvester) displayed their new cab-less tractor at a farming show in Iowa. The presentation was to show off what they hope will be the future: an autonomous tractor without a steering wheel, pedals or a cab for the driver.
In anticipation of the need for LiDAR devices in cars with assisted steering and other self-driving technologies, both Velodyne and Quanergy received funding. Quanergy raised $90 million and Velodyne got $150 million.
At the recent AUVSI/TRB conference in San Francisco, there was talk of upcoming regulation, particularly from NHTSA. Secretary of Transportation Foxx and his NHTSA staff spoke with just vague hints about what might come in the proposals due this fall. Generally, they said good things, namely that they are wary of slowing down the development of the technology. But they said things that suggest other directions.
Robin Chase wrote an article wondering if robocars will improve or ruin our cities and asked for my comment on it. It’s a long article, and I have lots of comment, since I have been considering these issues for a while. On this site, I spend most of my time on the potential positive future, though I have written various articles on downsides and there are yet more to write about.
Robin’s question has been a popular one of late, in part a reaction by urban planners who are finally starting to think more deeply on the topic and reacting to the utopian visions sometimes presented. I am guilty of such visions, though not as guilty as some. We are all seduced in part by excitement of what’s possible in a world where most or all cars are robocars — a world that is not coming for several decades, if in our lifetimes at all. It’s fair to look at the topic from both sides, as no technology is 100% good.
Brad Templeton describes Tesla’s Autopilot as a ‘distant cousin of a real robocar’ that primarily uses a MobilEye EyeQ3 camera combined with radars and ultrasonic sensors. Unlike robocar sensors, Tesla doesn’t have a lidar or use a map to help it understand the road and environment.
While trucks are big, and thus, riskier to automate, they are also risky for humans to drive. Even though truck drivers are professionals who drive all day, there are still around 4,000 killed every year in the USA in truck accidents. More than half of those are truck drivers, but a large number of ordinary road users are also killed. Done well, self-driving trucks will reduce this number. Just as with cars, companies will not release the systems until they believe they can match and beat the safety record of human drivers.
Volumes have been written about the possible beneficial (and negative) effects of self-driving cars and systems. But few have studied what industries will be disrupted by the transformations as self-driving devices begin to provide for our transportation needs.
Google is putting 25 new self-driving cars onto the streets of Mountain View, California, but agricultural equipment manufacturer John Deere reminds us that it already has tens of thousands of self-driving tractors in service around the world.