Monday, June 02, 2014

Self driving cars and the future of logistics

It's difficult to see the downside, especially if the technology is showing that it's better than human drivers (MITTechReview) - even if driving through the downtown of any major metropolitan city, it doesn't seem like a high bar to reach. But it's fascinating to follow the iterations the Google team has been making in testing its prototypes:

The idea was that the human drives onto the freeway, engages the system, [and] it takes them on the bulk of the trip—the boring part—and then they re├źngage,” said Nathaniel Fairfield, a technical lead on the project, speaking at the Embedded Vision Summit in Santa Clara, California, on Thursday.

That approach had to be scrapped after tests showed that human drivers weren’t trustworthy enough to be co-pilots to Google’s software. When people began riding in one of the vehicles, they paid close attention to what the car was doing and to activity on the road around them, which meant the hand-off between person and machine was smooth. But that interest faded to indifference over weeks and months as people became too trusting of the car’s abilities. “Humans are lazy,” says Fairfield. “People go from plausible suspicion to way overconfidence.”

And so Google’s new vehicle design takes a leaf out of NASA’s design book to cope with such eventualities. “It doesn’t have a fallback to human—it has redundant systems,” said Fairfield. “It has two steering motors, and we have various ways we can bring it to a stop.”
While Wired calls it sneaky, incremental technology improvements are already making their way into mass produced cars. The developing technology also seems to seeping into other industries where we may see more immediate gains with technologies that are allowing trucks to drive in platoons reducing wind drag and increasing fuel efficiency as much as 10% for the rear truck (MITTechReview). Exciting developments to watch...

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