Wednesday, September 26, 2012

It's Legal in California

The CBC is reporting that yesterday (Sept 25, 2012) California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that allows the testing and driving of automated cars on California roads.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Comedy Alert - Why Automated Driving is Bad

I found a post on the Alt Text blog that I found vastly amusing.  It is a tongue in cheek look at why automated driving systems are sooo bad.  Enjoy reading it.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Hacking the Automated Car

I was pleased to come across a site recently from a group called the Center for Automotive Embedded Systems Security (CAESS).  The Center is a collaboration between the University of Washington, the University of California San Diego, and the US National Sciences Foundation.  It deals with, as the name suggests, making computers in automated driving systems secure.

The computer security of automated cars and automated driving systems is something I have given thought to over the past 15 to 20 years, more as the capabilities of our computers have increased.  There are certain things that can be done to reduce the opportunity to hack automated driving systems.. The one that springs to mind is to hardwire as many functions as possible so that they cannot be hacked.  Hardwire refers to making the physical design of the chip control the program that runs on it.  Such a chip, once made, cannot be reprogrammed, only replaced.  Obviously there are disadvantages to such an approach, but in a systems where safety needs to be paramount, we may need to live with those disadvantages.

Heavy security needs to be built in from the bottom up.  And frankly, what can already be done to hack the rudimentary systems in cars is scarey enough.  Stay tuned for more.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Google Cars Get Ready for Prime Time?

Last week a report on TechCrunch, and a post on the Google Blog indicates that Google now believes that their automated cars are safe enough for a single person to be in the car while the car drives the person to and from work and, it is implied, other tasks.

Politics in Florida

Not being an American my opinion doesn't count for much in their politics, however, some things really burn me.  There is a commercial against Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg).  Unfortunately the commercial takes aim at him through his support of automated driving systems, using all the usual scare tactics.

The Democrats (presumably) should be ashamed of themselves.

A Response to "Learning to Let the Car Drive"

I recently read an article on Wired Autopia, Learning to Let the Car Drive about how we would slowly increase the amount of automation in the driving process, and there would be a point when driver assistance would be needed sometimes, but mostly not, and how it would be necessary to keep drivers focused on the task of driving.

I find three of  the assumptions problematic - 1) that drivers will need to stay on the driving task when the car does most of the work, and 2) that cars will stay in their lanes through surface markers on the road  3) avoidance of side hazards, eg deer or children

Regarding the first assumption,  when the car is capable of driving itself in most conditions, say 65% or more of the time, I strongly suspect that we will need to make cars that leap over that last 35% completely.  Think about human nature.  If you don't have to pay attention to something most of the time, then you don't pay attention to it at all.  How will the car companies force people to pay attention to the driving task when it is mostly handled by the car?  We have enough problems making people focus on driving and not texting or not using cell phones now, and we drive manually.  Quite frankly, once we are capable of making cars that handle most situations, we will have to start making cars that handle all situations, at least as well as a human, in very short order.  Even with some sort of alert system, it will require the "driver" to:
  1. shift between the task they are doing, and the hazard that the system alerts them to, 
  2. locate the hazard
  3. evaluate the hazard, and then 
  4. respond appropriately.
Even if each of the above steps takes only one second, which seems to me exceedingly optimistic, then at least four seconds is required before the car begins to do something under driver control.  Most likely it will take much longer.  We would all be better off letting the car drive and react which are at speeds beyond human ability.

The second assumption seems to be that surface road markers, e.g. paint, will be used by the vehicle for way finding and location maintenance purposes.  With all due respect, evidently road conditions of heavy or blowing snow seem not to have been considered, or for that matter the highly reflective road surfaces of wet roads at night, or immediately after a heavy rain when the sun shines on the road surface.  In order for an automated driving system to work effectively we will need to install some sort of edge marking, whether for lanes or for road edges, that is not dependent on the ability of the markers to be visually observed by cameras (maybe magnetic pucks embedded in the pavement).  This is not to say that cameras as an edge finding device should not be on vehicles, but they cannot be the only way a vehicle will maintain its correct position on the road.

The third assumption is that humans will see side hazards sooner, and react more appropriately.  Humans may be able to evaluate whether or not something is a side hazard to a vehicle more appropriately than a computer, but humans could never respond faster when the hazard appears in the driving space.  In some cases, think a child dashing from between parked cars, then even a human cannot respond quickly enough, whereas an automated braking might.  Additionally, humans tend to speed, and a response to a perceived side hazard is to slow down to the speed limit.  An automated system would have the following advantages:
  1. it would already be doing the speed limit, so slowing down would be to below the speed limit and,
  2. an automated system would react faster than a human once the threat was perceived
So I find it problematic that humans are better equipped to handle side hazards, especially given the faster reaction times of computer systems.

It would be interesting to know exactly how drivers will be kept on task when the car does most of the driving.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Automated Driving in Ann Arbor, Michigan

TorqueNews recently reported that Ann Arbor was was to be the test city for an automated driving test.  The project (Safety Pilot Model Deployment) which will allow vehicles to communicate with each other and with roadside information stations via wireless, is now accepting applications from potential participants.  It is being run by University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.  Wireless communication is a vital component for an automated driving system because the ability of individual vehicles to exchange information with each other or roadside information stations will help an automated driving system reach its full potential in terms of both safety and efficiency.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Privacy in Automated Driving

Consumer Watchdog has released a letter calling on the California State Assembly to block passage of a bill to allow driverless cars on California roads unless strong privacy protections are put in place.  Specifically the last line of the letter states, "SB 1298 must be amended to provide that individual data profiles about the use of a driverless vehicle cannot be compiled without the user’s permission and that permission should not be required for use or purchase of such a vehicle."

I happen to agree entirely with this sentiment.  We should build privacy, from both business and government, into the automated driving systems from the ground up, not try to add it after the fact.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Right to Drive?

One objection I have heard to an ADS is that it takes away the "right" to drive.  Driving is not a right.  In every declaration of human rights I have read nowhere do any of them say that driving is a right.

For example in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms there are two sections that, in my admittedly limited legal understanding, would deal with the actual rights that people have.  Section 2 has a portion about Freedom of Association.  Section 6 deals with mobility rights.  Essentially Canadians have the right to go where we want and associate with who we want, but the Charter says nothing (to my knowledge) about how we are able to exercise those rights.

Another document is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Canada is signatory.  Article 13 states that people have "right to the freedom of movement", but does not state how that freedom can be exercised.

There is also the fact that everywhere you have cars you have a drivers license, which can be revoked if you violate the local laws governing driving.

Does this mean that in a fully implemented ADS nobody would, or could, ever drive manually.  Of course not.  Some people would have to learn how to drive and maintain a certain level of experience.  Firefighters, police, ambulance/paramedic staff, and electrical line workers, to name a few, would need to know how to drive manually as their jobs would take them into areas without ADS infrastructure from time to time.

In a fully implemented ADS the general public should not ever drive manually on public roads.  However, there is nothing to stop people from joining a driving club, and driving manually on roads maintained by the club.  The club could be just a racetrack, but it could also be a fairly large area, think square miles, with roads winding through it.  Regardless of whether it was a track or winding roads, it would be on private land.  I see no need for any government to maintain driving areas for the use of manual driving enthusiasts.

So while one may not have the right to drive on public roads, there is no reason one cannot drive as part of a club.

Privacy is an issue, who wants Big Brother able to determine on demand where we have driven, but that is for another post.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Spain Joins the Pack

Automated driving vehicles have been tested with the SARTRE Project on highways around Barcelona, Spain, according to a Volvo press release.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

California Senate Passes Automated Driving Bill

California has passed a bill that would set standards for autonomous vehicles on state roads.  You can read a copy of the bill as introduced here, or the Wired article here.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Intelligent Transportation Systems in New Mexico

The Cite-City will be more than ITS, but it is certainly something that needs to be done.  I wonder if Google is involved or will use it?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Google Rumours

Rumour has it that Washington, D.C. is next on Google's automated driving circuit.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Look at the Future

What could a fully implemented ADS look like?

The roads and streets would be completely different than anything we have now, and would look more like something from the early 20th century than anything we are familiar now.

With a fully automated system there would no longer be multi-directional traffic lights to control traffic flow.  There would be some sort of traffic control bollard or pole, perhaps situated in the middle of the intersection, but what you see now in 2012 in terms of traffic signals would not be needed.  You would still see pedestrian signals though.

The painted lines on the roads that tell drivers where the lanes are would no longer be needed.  The function of the painted lines would be taken over by a combination of GPS, road side control systems, and in-vehicle sensors.  Once again, you would probably find painted lines for pedestrians at major intersections.

Street lighting would be dramatically affected.  On urban highways lighting would all but disappear.  The cars don't need light at all, and the people in the cars don't need it because they aren't driving.  Perhaps there would be some sort of lighting that would come on in the case of accidents of whatever description, e.g. animals or people on the road, debris falling of bridges or other vehicles, and that lighting would be for the people who need to deal with whatever the incident is.

On residential and open access urban roads the lighting would change to pedestrian level street lighting, as there would be no need for light for drivers to navigate their cars.

Road signs that currently tell drivers to expect winding roads, that the bridge ices, or that the Main Street exit is in four kilometers would for the most part disappear.  Indeed, there might be no informational signs at all on closed access highways and roads.  Why put them  up when you can ask your car what your location is, or where the nearest rest stop is?  Perhaps there would be tourist attraction type signs on the roads for people to take that impulse to see the local attractions as they drive along.

Road rage would be, mostly, a thing of the past.  One of the main causes of road rage is people driving foolishly in the opinion of another driver near them.  When no one is driving, when all the rules of the road are being followed, and no one around you is driving foolishly, why get angry?

Accidents would be rare.  Car computers do not get distracted by the pretty girl or cute guy on the sidewalk.  They don't get drunk, or fall asleep at the wheel.  They don't drive too fast for the conditions, or too slowly on the highway.  Sadly, I suspect that when accidents did happen they would be bad because it would mean the failure of the individual car computer or of the local ADS node.

The design of cars themselves would change radically.  Imagine a car that had no steering wheel.  Consider, you have grown up never having driven a car.  You are thirty years old, speeding down the highway at 100km/hour, and the ADS system goes down.  Even if you have a steering wheel, a brake, and a gas pedal, what would you do?  Imagine the very first time you drove a car.  How nervous were you then?  Now imagine how you would have felt if you were driving a car for the first time, in an emergency situation, on a closed access highway.  What will you do?  That scenario is why steering wheels will be removed from cars, along with the gas pedal , and the brake - people will no longer know how to use them.

If a car has no steering wheel, then what does that do to the interior design of the car?  Do we all really need to face the same direction is a standard passenger car?  Why not have the front seats face the back seats, and put a table between them?  You could eat, play games, watch movies, or work, and in more comfort than we do now.  Perhaps the interior of the car could be converted into a surround movie experience, on an as needed basis.  Much of the current dashboard would be eliminated in car with no steering wheel, which would free up space for the above mentioned rearrangement of the seating.

What about exterior and interior lighting?  Exterior lighting on a car serves three purposes, one is to allow the driver to see the road in dark conditions, the second is to allow pedestrians to see the car, and finally to signal intention to other drivers and pedestrians.  With an automated system the headlights would be, not eliminated, but dimmed significantly, giving enough light to show location to pedestrians, but not enough to illuminate for any great distance.  Signal lights would remain so pedestrians could know what a car was going to do.

Interior lighting could be significantly improved.  The reduced light levels in cars at night are so the driver can see out the windows.  When there are no drivers, then the light levels in the cabin of the car can be made comfortably bright enough for people to read without impacting the operation of the car.

Cars would drive by in tightly packed trains (at least in good weather conditions), starting and stopping as a unit, which might look rather interesting.

Curiously enough, there might actually be be less road construction.  Currently roads are built on a scale that allows for human interactions, and reaction times.  If computers are controlling the cars then the current road system should be able to handle significantly more traffic, how much would depend on the road, but I would guess at least 25% more cars.  The other impact that would reduce road construction, would be that overweight vehicles (trucks) would not be able to drive on roads they were not approved for, which reduces the wear on the roadbed, and so the need for maintenance on the road.

There are of course more items I could mention, but I will leave them for other posts.