Driverless cars may not be a gradual shift on roads. Instead, entire cities could from flip from having all human drivers to all autonomous vehicles quickly.
Two reasons why right now is the perfect time for driverless cars and a couple of technology trends are making driverless cars possible:
- Artificial intelligence — specifically deep learning — has improved significantly.
- The technology needed to build driverless vehicles continues to get cheaper and become more accessible.
Deep learning is the ability for machines to use algorithms to analyze data and solve problems. And recently, deep learning algorithms have become very accurate. Dixon cited the 2015 ImageNet challenge, an annual contest where computer scientists build algorithms to recognize objects in images and videos.
A few years ago, deep learning algorithms in the competition were wrong about 30% of the time. But last year, the error rate dropped to under 5%, making the algorithms more accurate at object recognition than humans.
To build an autonomous car, machine vision accuracy is critical. Vehicles need to be able to see and understand the world in real time, then make decisions accordingly.
All of the trends we’ve been observing over the last decade — from cloud computing to cheaper processing — have hit a tipping point. This is the core that’s getting people excited about AI, and specifically around autonomous vehicles and autonomous cars.
It’s also cheaper than ever to build a smart car. Many driverless car companies use tiny chips made by a publicly-traded company, NVIDIA. NVIDIA’s chips only cost a couple hundred dollars.
For $200, you could get what 10 years ago was a supercomputer on a little board and put it in your car, and it can run one of these sophisticated deep learning systems.
Additionally, a lot of the AI for autonomous vehicles is open-sourced, like Google’s product TensorFlow. This allows everyone in the space to create more accurate technology faster, because they can learn from each other’s data sets and build off the findings.
In about 2 years, you’ll be chauffeured around in driverless cars on highways
Many cars already have self-driving features, like Tesla’s AutoPilot, smart parking assistants and automatic lane-changing functionalities. Those features will continue to improve, Dixon says, until cars become fully autonomous.
Some types of driving are easier to automate than others. Highway driving and parking, for example, are much easier for autonomous cars to master than city driving, because there are fewer unpredictable obstacles, like pedestrians and bikers.
Companies like Uber and Lyft will become hybrid networks, offering both driver and driverless solutions depending on where you need to go.
Companies like Tesla and Comma.ai already have driverless features. But they’re solving the relatively easy driving problems autonomous vehicles face on the road and leaving bigger challenges alone for now. Other companies like Google and Uber seem to be building fully-autonomous cars that will be ready for any driving scenario.
Google says its driverless cars have already driven more than 1.5 million miles. Dixon thinks a lot of what Google has already built could probably be used on roads today with a lower accident rate than humans, who are accident-prone, easily distracted, and—in some cases—intoxicated. But the public may not be ready for driverless cars just yet.
Companies like Uber and Lyft will become hybrid networks, offering both driver and driverless solutions depending on where you need to go. Companies like Tesla and Comma.ai already have driverless features.
Regulations will change quickly because of a global autonomous race
Even if the technology for driverless cars is nearly ready, are governments and law enforcement ready for self-driving cars?
A global interest in autonomous vehicles could speed regulations along. Already other countries are moving aggressively into the space. China is especially forward-thinking and has kicked around the idea of converting cities to entirely driverless hubs with multi-year rollout plans.
Some US cities are already looking into it. And a lot of road decisions are handled on a municipal, not a state or national, level. For example, the mayor of Beverly Hills recently visited Silicon Valley and was interested in creating a driverless city.
With cars, you have a dynamic that is going to be very amenable to fast-moving regulatory change because tons of people are employed in it, it’s seen as strategic by lots of large countries, and there isn’t really a countervailing industry fighting against it. Obviously, there will be people concerned about safety — as they should be. But for the most part, I think people see it in the public interest to advance this field.
Entire cities will flip from drivers to driverless all at once, and they’ll change how we live and commute
Driverless cars may not be a gradual shift on roads. Instead, entire cities could from flip from having all human drivers to all autonomous vehicles quickly.
Parking spaces — which may take up 25% of city real estate — could be largely removed since people won’t need to own cars. That means more room for parks and expanded sidewalks. Autonomous vehicles would likely be electric, which would help keep air clean. There would be no street signs, because driverless cars won’t need them. And fewer human drivers means less unpredictability and more vehicle coordination, which means fewer traffic jams.
By making everything autonomous, you could dramatically simplify the [technology] problem because you wouldn’t have robots trying to predict what humans are doing and all of the cars could talk to each other and coordinate.
It would be kind of like an ad hoc subway system. They would automatically follow each other. I think it would be very safe … One of my guesses is that this will happen in a few cities, it will be awesome, and people will be like, ‘This is paradise.’ You just push a button and a car pop ups and takes you wherever you want to go. You have more pedestrian space, and the air smells better. If that happens in a few cities and it works really well, it could spread virally from there.
It’s hard to predict everything that will change as a result of widespread driverless cars. But at a minimum, they’ll change how we live and commute.
Suddenly, you can work in your car while you commute. And you can imagine, if self-driving cars work well, it should dramatically reduce traffic jams because the cars can all communicate with each other.
History suggests that these things have a dramatic impact on all sorts of things in ways you don’t predict,” says Dixon. “Like I don’t think that anyone in 1905 was predicting fast food and the suburbs and big box retail and all of these other things that happened [as the result of cars].
Within 10 years, we won’t own cars, we’ll just hail them
Right now, it’s hard to imagine not owning a car. But in the future, self-driving cars won’t be purchased by the masses, only the wealthy. And driving a car yourself will be a hobby, not a necessity.
Within 10 years, we won’t own cars, we’ll just hail them Right now, it’s hard to imagine not owning a car. But in the future, self-driving cars won’t be purchased by the masses, only the wealthy.
Big car companies are “freaked out” and “excited”
Andreessen Horowitz doesn’t just help startups. The firm also has a program that helps older companies understand and adapt to industry changes. And lately, a lot of the program’s visitors have been older car companies.
Ford, GM, BMW —their view of the world is, ‘We don’t want to become like Blackberry.’ They’re both freaked out/excited. They’re excited because…it’s a relatively sleepy industry, and there’s new stuff happening. But a little bit freaked out too because they don’t want an iPhone or Android to come around and make them Blackberry or Motorola.
Some of the companies have embraced autonomous changes and partnered with startups in the space. General Motors, for example, penned a big partnership with Lyft and purchased Cruise, a startup building self-driving technology. Toyota invested in Uber. But others aren’t ready to accept what’s about to happen.
Generally, companies that have direct relationships with consumers win. While car brands currently own that relationship, they’re at risk of losing it to dispatch networks if people start hailing rather than buying cars.
If a user is a loyal Uber rider, for example, they don’t care what type of car they get picked up in as long as the experience works.
The one thing they have going for them is years of manufacturing experience. But increasingly, cars don’t just require manufacturing, they require software.
The real hold up on driverless cars isn’t technology — it’s all of us
In May, the first death caused by Tesla’s AutoPilot feature occurred. A man who was using the feature on a highway and reportedly watching a DVD while the car manned the road hit a truck and then crashed into a power pole.
The accident made global headlines. One article in Fortune got a passionate response from Tesla founder Elon Musk: “Indeed, if anyone bothered to do the math (obviously, you did not) they would realize that of the over 1M auto deaths per year worldwide, approximately half a million people would have been saved if the Tesla autopilot was universally available,” Musk wrote to Fortune.
While Musk’s stat on car-related deaths may be accurate, the question looms: Will humans be forgiving of fatal crashes if they’re caused by machines, rather than people?
In probably 5 years, you’ll have autonomous cars that work as well as people, even in cities. But whenever there’s an accident with an autonomous car it’s headlined everywhere. Even if you have the perfect computerized, autonomous vehicle, there are still going to be accidents because you’re interacting with the real world … And then the question is: how does society deal with that? Do we accept the accidents, or are people just horrified by the idea of robots causing them? Meanwhile, humans are texting and they’re drunk and all sorts of things. But we’re used to it.
Dubai on the right road for the driverless cars phenomenon
The proclamation made by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, that a quarter of all journeys will be made in driverless vehicles by 2030, could lead to the city becoming a magnet for investment and pilot projects, according to one expert.
Lee Woodcock, global product director for intelligent mobility at the engineering consultancy Atkins, said that although there are many companies and research institutions around the world pumping money into connected (semi-autonomous) and autonomous vehicles, there are few cities and countries embracing them.
“For me, one thing that is quite frustrating is that there are two worlds that are not coming together,” Mr Woodcock said. “We’ve got the OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] and the automotive world that is doing some fantastic work around connected and autonomous vehicles, but then you’ve got the infrastructure and network managers, who manage cities and their road networks. At the moment, those two worlds are not coming together. And they need to.”
He said that the statement made by Sheikh Mohammed in late April that 25 per cent of journeys in Dubai will be made via driverless vehicles by 2030 “is exactly the right thing to do. It’s someone being serious and providing leadership and clarity about what we are going to do”.
Atkins is working on two major UK government-backed research projects into intelligent mobility, which is predicted to be worth £900 billion (Dh4.77 trillion) a year by 2025. It is part of a team researching levels of trust and acceptance in driverless cars, but also the legal and insurance implications of their use. It is also involved in a project assessing how the technology can be used to offer greater independence to older people. The company has produced a white paper arguing that for intelligent mobility to thrive, six fundamentals have to be in place: digital and physical infrastructure, data capture and exploitation capability, cyber security, leadership and partnership between developers and city chiefs.
The first four can be generated almost anywhere, Mr Woodcock said, but the last two are more difficult to replicate.
“If you’re creating an environment where the private sector knows that a city is serious about its ambitions for driverless cars, you can start to develop world-leading international test centres where people would want to come and validate their services and new technology in a safe manner.”
He said trials could start within “safe” environments such as ports and airports, where repetitive tasks such as refuelling planes and transporting passengers could be carried out by autonomous vehicles.
And although autonomous vehicles are already being touted as a more efficient and safer than today’s cars – allowing for the creation of “freight trains”, for example, where heavy goods vehicles are bunched closely together to increase road capacity – Mr Woodcock said work needs to be done on this transition.
Oliver Plunkett, the Middle East managing director of engineering consultancy BuroHappold, said he believed the 25 per cent target could be introduced through fairly simple measures, such as segregating lanes on the Dubai-Abu Dhabi motorway and other major routes.
“We need to be confident as a society that this change is a revolution in the way we transport ourselves, rather than an evolution.“As engineers, we have a responsibility to [think] what the ultimate solution should be.”
Connected, self-drive cars pose serious new security challenges
In a world where motor vehicles can be weapons and cars increasingly depend on internal computers and internet connections, automakers are under increasing pressure to find ways to guard against cyber-attacks.
Auto industry chiefs, security experts and government officials warned at an auto industry conference here Friday that hackers can threaten to do everything against cars that they do to other computers: remotely steal owner information, or hijack them and render them more dangerous.
“When you look at autonomous autos, the consequences are so much greater” than the Nice attack by a possibly Daesh-inspired man, said John Carlin, assistant US attorney general for national security,
“We know these terrorists. They don’t have the capability yet. But if they’re trying to get people to drive truck into crowds, than it doesn’t take too much imagination to think they are going to take an autonomous car and drive it into a crowd of people,” said Carlin.
General Motors’ chair and chief executive Mary Barra said that the advanced information technology that comes in new cars, especially “connectivity” systems linking cars to the internet, creates huge new challenges.
“One of these challenges is the issue of cybersecurity, and make no mistake, cybersecurity is foundational,” she said.
Barra pointed to the need to protect the personal data of customers who use their in-car system for banking or to pay for other services.
“The fact is personal data is stored in or transmitted through vehicle networks,” she said.
On top of that is the complexity of the newest auto IT systems, which, she said, “opens up opportunities for those who would do harm through cyber-attacks.”
“Cyber security is an issue of public safety,” she said.
Toyota to build artificial intelligence-based driving systems in 5 years
CEO Pratt said the company aims to improve car safety by enabling vehicles to anticipate and avoid potential accident situations
Toyota Motor Corp is targeting developing in the next five years driver assistance systems that integrate artificial intelligence (AI) to improve vehicle safety, the head of its advanced research division said.
Gill Pratt, CEO of recently set up Toyota Research Institute (TRI), the Japanese automaker’s research and development company that focuses on AI, said it aims to improve car safety by enabling vehicles to anticipate and avoid potential accident situations.
Toyota has said the institute will spend $1 billion (Dh3.67 billion) over the next five years, as competition to develop self-driving cars intensifies.
Earlier this month, home rival Honda Motor Co said it was setting up a new research body which would focus on artificial intelligence, joining other global automakers which are investing in robotics research, including Ford and Volkswagen AG.
“Some of the things that are in car safety, which is a near-term priority, I’m very confident that we will have some advances come out during the next five years,” Pratt told reporters late last week in comments embargoed for Monday.
The concept of allowing vehicles to think, act and take some control from drivers to perform evasive manoeuvres forms a key platform of Toyota’s efforts to produce a car which can drive automatically on highways by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
While currently driver assistance systems largely use image sensors to avoid obstacles including vehicles and pedestrians within the car’s lane, Pratt said TRI was looking at AI solutions to enable “the car to be evasive beyond the one lane”.
“The intelligence of the car would figure out a plan for evasive action … Essentially [it would] be like a guardian angel, pushing on the accelerators, pushing on the steering wheel, pushing on the brake in parallel with you.” As Japanese automakers race against technology companies to develop automated vehicles, they are also grappling with a rapidly greying society, which puts future demand for private vehicle ownership at risk.
Pratt said he saw the possibility that Toyota may one day become a maker of robots to help the elderly.
Asked of the potential for Toyota to produce robots for use in the home, he said: “That’s part of what we’re exploring at TRI.” Pratt declined to comment on a media report earlier this month that Toyota is in talks with Google’s parent company Alphabet to acquire Boston Dynamics and Schafts, both of which are robotics divisions of the technology company.