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robocars

While very few details have come out, Reuters reports that new proposed congressional bills on self-driving cars will reverse many of the provisions I critiqued in the NHTSA regulations last year.

Source: Waymo

Waymo (Google) has announced a pilot project in Phoenix offering a full ride service in their new minivans. Members of the public can sign up — the link is sure to be overwhelmed with applicants, but it has videos and more details — and some families are already participating.

Luminar, a bay area startup, has revealed details on their new LIDAR. Unlike all other commercial offerings, this is a LIDAR using 1.5 micron infrared light. They hope to sell it for $1,000.

First ride: Encountering a school bus on real city streets in Austin, Texas. Credit: Waymo/Google

Recently we’ve seen a series of startups arise hoping to make robocars with just computer vision, along with radar. That includes recently unstealthed AutoX, the off-again, on again efforts of comma.ai and at the non-startup end, the dedication of Tesla to not use LIDAR because it wants to sell cars today before LIDARs can be bought at automotive quantities and prices.

Costs for electrifying Caltrain are projected to run over $1.5 billion. In this article, Brad Templeton examines an alternative: a robotic transit line that uses self-driving cars, vans and buses.

ehang

Earlier I posted my gallery of CES gadgets and included a photo of the eHang 184 from China, a “personal drone” able, in theory, to carry a person up to 100kg.

Whether the eHang is real or not, some version of the personal automated flying vehicle is coming, and it’s not that far away. When I talk about robocars, I am often asked “what about flying cars?” and there will indeed be competition between them. There are a variety of factors that will affect that competition, and many other social effects not yet much discussed.

Tesla Model S autopilot-software. Source: Tesla
Tesla Model S autopilot-software. Source: Tesla

NHTSA released the report from their Office of Defects Investigation on the fatal Tesla crash in Florida last spring. It’s a report that is surprisingly favorable to Tesla. So much so that even I am surprised.

3d-printed-divergent3d-ces2017

CES is the big event for major car makers to show off robocar technology. Most of the north hall, and a giant parking lot next to it, were devoted to car technology and self-driving demos.

Source: Wikipedia Commons
Source: Wikipedia Commons

The vision of many of us for robocars is a world of less private car ownership and more use of robotaxis — on-demand ride service in a robocar. That’s what companies like Uber clearly are pushing for, and probably Google, but several of the big car companies including Mercedes, Ford and BMW among others have also said they want to get there — in the case of Ford, without first making private robocars for their traditional customers.

In this world, what does it cost to operate these cars? How much might competitive services charge for rides? How much money will they make? What factors, including price, will they compete on, and how will that alter the landscape?

Platooning. Photo: Dan Boman
Trucks platooning on the motorway. Photo: Dan Boman

At the recent AUVSI/TRB symposium, a popular research topic was platooning for robocars and trucks. Platooning is perhaps the oldest practical proposal when it comes to car automation because you can have the lead vehicle driven by a human, even a specially trained one, and thus, resolve all the problems that come from road situations too complex for software to easily handle.

smartphone-app-uber-taxi-car-cars

The cell phone ride hail apps like Uber and Lyft are now reporting great success with actual ride-sharing, under the names UberPool, LyftLines and Lyft Carpool. In addition, a whole new raft of apps to enable semi-planned and planned carpooling are out making changes.

Tesla P85D car. Source: Tesla
Tesla car. Source: Tesla

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.

Mercedes Benz autonomous concept car at the IAA 2015. Photo: VanderWolf Images/Bigstockphoto
Mercedes Benz autonomous concept car at the IAA 2015. Photo: VanderWolf Images/Bigstockphoto

What does that car of the future look like? There is no one answer; in this world, the car that is sent to pick you up can be tailored for your trip. The more people traveling, the bigger the car. If your trip does not involve a highway, it may not be a car capable for the highway.

What are the challenges facing existing automakers in the world of robocars?



ICRA 2017 Company Showcase
December 10, 2017


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