Category: Self-driving cars

Autonomous Cars Will be on California Roads in 2018 — Without Human Drivers

Autonomous Cars Hit the Road

Autonomous cars are already on the road in California, as 42 companies including General Motors, Google/Waymo and Zoox are testing 285 self-driving cars in various cities. However, thus far, all of them have had humans inside them at all times. That’s about to change.

At the moment, requirements promulgated by the California Department of Motor Vehicles insist on the human driver for safety reasons. However, at some point that flesh and blood security blanket has to go in order to achieve truly reliable, proven autonomous technology. With this line of thinking in mind, the DMV released a proposal for updating the regulations for autonomous vehicles. The changes would allow companies to deploy autonomous vehicles without drivers on public roads, and they should be in place by June of 2018, if not sooner.

Image Credit: zombieite/Flickr
Image Credit: zombieite/Flickr

Meanwhile, Congress is slowly making progress around the issue of autonomous
vehicles. California has always served as a sort of laboratory for testing innovative laws, especially in the realm of tech. If California has driverless cars on the road before Congress acts in a definitive way, and these trials go well, it may well determine what comes next.

California’s new regulations also raise the price of testing permits from $150 a year to $3,600 for two years, and prohibit testing companies from charging riders fees for being passengers in testing vehicles. They also require testing companies to notify local authorities about any tests they undertake without drivers, including providing them with specific details about which roads and vehicles will be involved in the testing.

There is always the chance that the federal government will either refuse to follow California’s example or act before there’s an example to follow. If they set national rules for autonomous vehicles, state laws like the new California regulations will be preempted. However, if we’ve seen anything as we’ve navigated the quickly-changing autonomous driving landscape, it’s that predictions often fail — so we’ll just have to wait and see where the (driverless) road takes us.

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Mitsubishi’s New Vehicle Warning Signals Are Projected Onto the Road

Japanese car company Mitsubishi has announced its new Safe and Secure Lighting system, which utilizes a mixture of symbols projected on road surfaces and electronic car displays to signal vehicle warning signals, movement and actions.

For example: if a driver is backing up, the system projects a series of large illuminated arrows, signaling the backward movement to pedestrians and other vehicles. The system also can inform pedestrians and bicyclists when a vehicle occupant is opening a door, a welcome feature for the rising cycling community. The system is activated automatically, based on occupant actions, so drivers don’t have to worry about learning an entirely new way to signal.

Image credit: Mitsubishi
Image credit: Mitsubishi

The company’s press release states, “According to research, 60 percent of pedestrian fatalities on roads occur at night, so illuminated projections that are clearly visible to pedestrians in the dark are expected to help reduce such fatalities.”

This system could also be a precursor to a new set of signals for autonomous vehicles to help them integrate into modern roads, which will have a mixture of traditional and autonomous vehicles. Signaling what moves the cars intend to make could help reduce future accidents between self-driving cars and conventional drivers.

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According to Reports, Fully Driverless Cars Are Just a Few Months Away

Your Minivan Is on Its Way

Waymo, Google’s vehicle division that focuses on driverless cars, is preparing to launch a new ride-sharing service within the next few months, according to a report from Ars Technica via The Information.

Citing two sources familiar with the company’s plans, The Information states Waymo’s service will be “powered by self-driving vehicles with no human ‘safety’ drivers,” and may arrive as soon as this fall. The service is expected to launch in the suburban city of Chandler, Arizona (near Phoenix,) which certainly make the most sense, seeing as how the self-driving company has done extensive testing there this year.

There’s no clear indication that Waymo will actually hit this vague release window, and there are several factors that could impede the service’s progress or its expansion to other areas. For starters, their autonomous cars apparently have trouble making left turns, especially when no green arrow traffic signal is present. Cul-de-sacs and shopping mall parking lots have also confused the vehicles, the latter since they’re sometimes poorly represented on Waymo’s 3D maps.

A two-seater driverless car from Waymo.
Waymo’s self-driving two-seater vehicle. Image Credit: Waymo

Beyond that, the vehicles’ ability to call human operators for advice on confusing scenarios has resulted in them holding up traffic. This has reportedly happened in Phoenix, which is a little concerning — if they have performance issues in areas they’re familiar with, how are they expected to perform in areas where they haven’t been tested?

“When Waymo tested in Phoenix earlier this year, drivers sometimes had to take over the wheel to prevent the cars from holding up traffic because it took too long for humans in the command center to answer the cars’ requests for help,” writes The Information. Of course, since these issues occurred earlier in the year, they may have already addressed through further testing or Intel’s recent involvement. Waymo may also intend to hire and train more human operators.

Impending Launch of Driverless Cars

Despite the technical issues, Ars Technica notes these are problems a company only worries about when they’re on the verge of launching something in the near future, not something that’s years away. Furthermore, Waymo’s concerns can be taken as a sign of the company’s overall investment in self-driving technology, and its belief in their service’s potential to work and benefit society.

Waymo isn’t the only company testing their cars and service, as GM and Lyft have also been testing their own vehicles, but someone has to be the first to officially launch a commercial product. Even if it misses its reported release this fall and rolls out next year, Waymo would still be ahead of its competitors; Mercedes-Benz’s service isn’t coming until 2020, while the recent Ford and Lyft partnership won’t allow the use of autonomous cars until they’ve been fully tested.

If autonomous cars are going to impact the way we drive and save lives, they need to be available to more people. Waymo’s upcoming service could be the one that finally kicks off that change.

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National Transport Commission Says People in Autonomous Cars Should be Exempt From DUI Laws

Drink and Drive

Australia is generally considered to be a pretty relaxed place. You can go to work in Australia dressed in what other countries might consider to be rather casual attire. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, then, that the Australian National Transport Commission (NTC) has deemed it necessary for self-driving car owners to be exempt from the nation’s traditional driving-under-the-influence (DUI) laws for both alcohol and drugs.

In a new report called Changing driving laws to support automated vehicles, the NTC said that asking autonomous vehicle owners to be sober before getting in their vehicles is unnecessary and defeats the purpose of owning a self-driving car. “The situation is analogous to a person instructing a taxi driver where to go,” according to the NTC.

“One potential barrier to receiving the full benefits of automated vehicles would be to require occupants of automated vehicles, who are not driving, to comply with drink-driving laws,” the report added. “This would create a barrier to using a vehicle to safely drive home after drinking.”

This makes sense if you think about it. After all, driverless vehicles are exactly that — driverless. In theory, under Level 5 autonomy, a self-driving car doesn’t require intervention from a human operator. The NTC isn’t too lax about applying rules, however. “A risk of providing exemptions is that an occupant may subsequently choose to take over driving the vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs,” they said in the report. “If this occurred, they would become the driver of the vehicle and drink and drug driving [offenses] would apply.”

Saving Lives is the Point

More than just a wonderful display of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, autonomous vehicles are primarily designed to make roads safer. In the U.S. alone, some 30,000 to 40,000 people die from car accidents each year, and about 90 percent of these cases are due to human error. In Australia, car crashes claim around 1,300 every year, and most of these are also caused by human error.  By introducing driverless cars, we remove the greatest risk on the roads and experts think this can happen as early as 2020.

Some might worry that exempting driverless cars from DUI laws could cause problems and endanger more lives. The NTC, however, was clear about which cars and drivers would get the exemption. “Any exemptions should not apply to the fallback-ready user of a vehicle with conditional automation,” the report noted. “A fallback-ready user is required to be receptive to requests to intervene or system failures and must take over the dynamic driving task if the ADS cannot perform it.”

Now presently, most, if not all, of today’s self-driving cars are considered to be vehicles with conditional autonomy (Level 3). What the Australian NTC’s report suggests would only work when the technology is perfected and fully autonomous. The NTC made it clear that it’s exempting autonomous vehicles from DUI laws so as not to hinder the development of the technology.

“To hold the human responsible may restrict the introduction of automated vehicles into Australia and unnecessarily deny or delay the many potential benefits of the technology,” the NTC said. Currently, multiple states in Australia have allowed car makers to test self-driving vehicles on the roads.

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A Unanimous Vote Just Approved Legislation to Allow Self-Driving Cars in the U.S.

Legislation Aids Innovation

Today, inside the halls of the U.S. Senate, a committee unanimously approved legislation which secures a future for self-driving cars in the country — or at least lets carmakers test their autonomous driving systems with little to no hindrance from state governments. Dubbed the American Vision for Safer Transportation through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies (AV START) Act, the bi-partisan bill has moved forward with today’s vote.

Originally, as it was drafted by Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) and U.S. senator Gary Peters (D-Mich.), the bill contained a provision that allows car makers to field test 100,000 vehicles per year that are exempt from current safety standards. The number of vehicles comes from a similar bill that’s already been passed by the U.S. House of Representatives. The provision that the Senate committee approved today, which was introduced by Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), reduces the number to 80,000.

Still, it’s a workable number that would give autonomous vehicle manufacturers a huge leeway to test and gather data for the advancement of self-driving vehicle technology. “The most important part of this legislation is it allows for innovation,”  Sen. Peters said, according to the Detroit Free Press. “This is cutting-edge technology that is advancing extremely fast. It’s going to happen a lot sooner than people realize. This is not decades — it’s a matter of a few years.”

A Driverless Future

The positive reception of this self-driving car bill, both in the House and in the Senate, shows how U.S. lawmakers are open to boundary-pushing, life-saving technology. Data suggests that 90 percent of car crashes in the U.S., which takes roughly 40,000 lives every year, are due to human error. In addition to preventing crashes, some experts even predict that self-driving cars could eliminate traffic congestion by 2030.

Proponents of the bill in the Senate, however, said that concessions are necessary. The approved version has reduced the original bill’s provision for exempted cars in the first year of enactment from 50,000 to 15,000, and in the second year from 75,000 to 40,000, increasing to an annual 80,000 cap in the third year with no limit in the fourth.

To clarify, the bill allows for exemptions only in so far as manufacturers can show that self-driving vehicles are as safe as those already on the roads. But, while promising, Thune and others think that the bill has left out truck drivers who are part of another important industry that’s ripe for self-driving technologies.

“I do understand their anxieties,” Senator Todd Young (R-Ind.) told the Detroit Free Press, speaking about those hesitant to include autonomous trucks in the bill, “but we ought to be including large trucks. Large trucks are particularly likely to be involved in these fatal crashes… I really think we’re missing the boat here.”

At present, several U.S. states already allow car makers to test self-driving vehicles on their roads. Uber’s been testing driverless cars on Californian roads, despite previous hesitations and back in June, Washington state governor Jay Inslee allowed autonomous cars to run without drivers. Detroit has also embraced self-driving cars since July of this year.

The U.S. Senate is expected to put the bill to vote soon.

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Ford and Lyft Announce Partnership to Bring Self-Driving Cars to the Masses

Ford Gets a Lyft

This week, Ford and Lyft announced a new partnership in which both companies will work together to bring self-driving cars to the ride-hailing service and its users.

In order to achieve this goal, teams from both companies will begin working together to develop software that will allow Ford’s vehicles to operate with the Lyft mobile app.

Ford’s self-driving vehicles, as well as its traditional vehicles, will be added to Lyft’s network, but users won’t be able to use the former just yet. Over at Medium, Sherif Marakby, Ford’s Vice President of Autonomous Vehicles and Electrification, explained that autonomous vehicles won’t be available “until we are certain our technology delivers a positive, reassuring experience where we can gain meaningful feedback.”

Marakby did not provide a timeframe for when the self-driving cars would be accessible, but the end goal is for autonomous cars and human drivers to operate side-by-side.

Ford isn’t the only automaker Lyft is working with, as the company has also partnered with GM to build a separate fleet of self-driving vehicles; which is also different from Lyft’s own self-driving initiative that’s already arrived in San Francisco.

“We strongly believe that leaders across industries should work collaboratively to introduce self-driving technology in a way that positively impacts our cities,” said Lyft in a blog post. “Our two companies share a core belief that the future of transportation will meaningfully reshape how cities are designed, and improve the lives of people who live there.”

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Senate Approves Legislation to Get Self-Driving Cars On U.S. Roads

Paving the Way

United States roadways are one step closer to being traversed by driverless cars: on September 30, the Senate announced that it had reached an agreement to lift some of the regulations on manufacturers that made it harder to get self-driving cars on the road.

“While this Senate self-driving vehicle legislation still has room for further changes, it is a product of bipartisan cooperation we both stand behind,” said Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) and Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), who introduced the legislation, in a joint statement.

The original bill that Peters and Thune took to the Senate, known as the American Vision for Safer Transportation through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies (AV START) Act, was broad-reaching. In addition to removing barriers to manufacture, the bill proposed enhanced safety oversight of manufacturers, as well as guidance for state and local research on traffic safety and law enforcement challenges. It proposed to strengthen cyber-security policies to protect the information and safety of drivers. The bill also included measures on automated trucking, consumer education, and protections for drivers with disabilities.

Autonomous Car Forecasts: When Will They Actually Be on Our Roads?
Click to View Full Infographic

On October 5, the Senate will announce which provisions were retained in the approved legislation.

The bill is expected to utilize some provisions from a similar bill that was passed in the House of Representatives earlier in September. That bill allowed manufacturers to produce an initial load of 25,000 cars in the first year. After three years, if they can prove that AI vehicles are at least as safe as human-directed cars, that will increase to 100,000 annually.

Jobs and More

American policymakers and manufacturers alike have been hurrying to get aboard the self-driving train—so to speak. Around the country and the world, self-driving cars are rapidly multiplying. The UK will be testing “platoons” of driverless semi trucks by the end of next year. Uber already uses them to pick up passengers in Pittsburgh and Arizona, Lyft is introducing them in San Francisco, and the city of Sacramento is seeking to make their city a driverless car testing ground. Tesla CEO Elon Musk even believes that most cars in production will be autonomous within ten years.

Yet the legal framework still isn’t in place for this transportation revolution.

“Self-driving vehicles will completely revolutionize the way we get around in the future, and it is vital that public policy keep pace with these rapidly developing lifesaving technologies that will be on our roads in a matter of years,” said Senator Peters, in his statement on the original bill. He emphasized that the industry has the potential to create thousands of new jobs.

Given that approximately 93% of all accidents have been attributed to human error, the senators and others have emphasized that self-driving cars aren’t just a job creator or a cool way to get around—they could save millions of lives.

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Intel Can Provide Waymo’s Vehicles with the Power to Reach Full Autonomy

When Intel Met Waymo

Intel and Alphabet’s self-driving division Waymo announced on September 18 a new partnership that would see both companies working together on self-driving car technology in the future. As noted by Reuters, the move marks a first for Waymo, which has done most of its development internally.

The Technologies That Power Self-Driving Cars [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

“With so much life-saving potential, it’s a rapid transformation that Intel is excited to be at the forefront of along with other industry leaders like Waymo,” said Intel’s Chief Executive Officer Brian Krzanich in a statement.

As a result of the collaboration, Waymo’s self-driving Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans are now equipped with Intel’s own technology used for sensor processing, general computing, and connectivity. With Intel, Waymo’s autonomous cars have covered more ground than any other fleet of autonomous cars currently in operation, acquiring over 3 million miles of cumulative road travel — Waymo’s actual mileage is higher than this, however, as the company reached 3 million miles on its own by May, and that’s after all the progress it made in 2016.

Onward to Full Autonomy

“As Waymo’s self-driving technology becomes smarter and more capable, its high-performance hardware and software will require even more powerful and efficient compute [sic],” added Krzanich.

Krzanich went on to explain that by working together, Intel can provide Waymo’s vehicles with the necessary processing power to reach level 4 and 5 autonomy — the highest levels of self-driving, in which the vehicle’s systems are in control of nearly every aspect of the driving experience and neither need, nor expect, human input.

Waymo began testing it’s self-driving vehicles in Phoenix, Arizona in April as part of its Early Riders Program. Those accepted were able to incorporate the cars into their daily lives, before sharing their opinions with the company. People can still sign up for the program, though Waymo notes it’s only taking a few groups at a time.

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Intel and Waymo Have Teamed Up to Roll Out Fully Autonomous Vehicles

Intel announced on Monday that it’s partnering with Waymo, the self-driving car division of Google parent company Alphabet, to develop its autonomous vehicle technology. This new team seeks to bring Level 4 and Level 5 autonomy (or full driving autonomy, according to the Society of Automotive Engineers) to Waymo’s driverless vehicles using the computing power from Intel’s processors.

Waymo’s already using technology developed by Intel in its latest driverless Chrysler Pacifica minivans — from their sensor processing to overall connectivity. Now, they want to make it more official. “By working closely with partners like Intel, Waymo’s vehicles will continue to have the advanced processing power required for safe driving wherever they go,” Waymo said in a Medium post about the collaboration.

“Intel’s collaboration with Waymo ensures Intel will continue its leading role in helping realize the promise of autonomous driving and a safer, collision-free future.” Intel CEO Brian Krzanich wrote in a short editorial. This, as well as growing government support for self-driving cars, will make help make the safer roads of the future a reality. Indeed, autonomous cars are expected to decrease deaths caused by road crashes, which claim some 30,000 to 40,000 American lives each year. 90 percent of which are due to human error.

“I fully expect my children’s children will never have to drive a car,” Krzanich added. “That’s an astounding thought: Something almost 90 percent of Americans do every day will end within a generation. With so much life-saving potential, it’s a rapid transformation that Intel is excited to be at the forefront of along with other industry leaders like Waymo.”

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The World’s Biggest Smartphone Maker Is Investing $300 Million in Autonomous Car Tech

Samsung Galaxy Cruiser

Yesterday, Samsung turned heads with an announcement that they will be investing heavily in the automotive industry via not one, but two new projects.

First, the company known for a variety of electronics, but especially smartphones, revealed that they have launched a $300 million fund (Samsung Automotive Innovation Fund) to back startups and other ventures helping shape the future of the industry. TTTech, an Austrian developer of automotive software, is the first recipient of money from the fund, with Samsung allocating nearly $90 million toward their projects.

Image credit: Harmon
Image credit: Harmon

That wasn’t the only announcement, though. Last year, Samsung acquired Harman, a company that creates auto and audio products, and now, they’ve revealed that they’ll be putting that acquisition to use through an initiative to develop connected auto tech.

“During this period of extraordinary transformation in the automotive industry, we are excited to play a leadership role in supporting and shaping the future of smarter, more connected vehicles,” Young Sohn, President and Chief Strategy Officer of Samsung Electronics and Chairman of the Board of HARMAN, said in a statement.

Automotive Disrupt

A huge electronics company like Samsung investing so heavily in automotive ventures may come as a surprise to some, but it’s becoming increasingly common for tech companies to put money into the future of this industry.

The Technologies That Power Self-Driving Cars [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

Apple, Google, and Baidu are even going so far as to work on developing their own autonomous vehicles, investing huge amounts of money into R&D and the recruiting of the talent necessary to make their lofty goals a reality.

The opposite is true as well. Many huge automotive companies are investing in tech companies. For example, GM has teamed up with Lyft to develop a fleet of self-driving taxis.

This level of significant financial investment coming from both ends is poised to greatly benefit drivers. “Automotive advances like autonomous controls and advanced driver assistance systems will have a profound impact on society — from transforming urban spaces to bringing mobility to aging populations,” according to Sohn.

Clearly, this is the future of personal transport, and a spirit of collaboration and innovation is key to bringing the best product to the consumer.

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Experts Warn That Autonomous Cars Could Make Us Reckless Drivers

Giving Cars Control

The integration of autonomous cars into society appears inevitable. A number of companies and organizations, including Tesla and Apple, are already testing them on roads, and others, such as GM and Uber, are looking for ways to merge self-driving cars and the growing rideshare industry.

Once all the kinks are worked out, fully autonomous systems will allow drivers to do other things during their travels, such as sleep, eat, or text. However, some are concerned that driver-assist technologies are having an adverse effect on our ability to drive right now.

While cars that can travel across the country without any human input are on the way, they aren’t yet available. However, specific technologies that can handle tasks like checking a driver’s blindspots, making sure they stay in their lane, and ensuring they don’t rear-end the car in front of them are.

The problem is that relying on these systems can make drivers less likely to consider those tasks when they get behind the wheel of a car. The effect of this many not be immediate, but gradually, our driving capabilities will be impacted.

“There are lots of concerns about people checking out and we are trying to monitor that now,” Adrian Lund, president of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, told Bloomberg. “Everything we do that makes the driving task a little easier means that people are going to pay a little bit less attention when they’re driving.”

According to Bloomberg, the automotive industry is desperate to come up with ways to keep drivers-turned-passengers engaged and focused on their surroundings while their car handles an increasing larger share of the work, and several manufacturers are already making progress.

Nissan’s ProPILOT Assist brings a car to a stop if the driver doesn’t grab the steering wheel for over 30 seconds, while Audi’s “Traffic Jam Assist” feature gives a driver 15 seconds of hand-off driving before audibly warning them to place their hands on the steering wheel.

Conversely, GM’s Super Cruise eye-tracking technology doesn’t require that drivers keep their hands on the wheel, but it does force them to keep their eyes on the road. The system will pull the car over if the driver doesn’t respond to prompts to return their attention to the road soon enough.

Saving Lives

Even if autonomous systems do negatively impact our ability to drive, the trade off may be worth it. Nearly 30,000 people in the U.S. alone die from traffic accidents each year, and upwards of 2 million people are injured.

Even though laws meant to prevent distracted driving practices — texting or talking on phones, eating, fiddling with the radio, etc. — are on the books, not everyone abides by them, and in 2015 alone, nearly 3,477 people died as a result of distracted driving.

7 Benefits of Driverless Cars
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Meanwhile, numerous reports indicate that self-driving cars could be safer than human drivers, and they are most effective without any human input.

Earlier this year, the California Department of Motor Vehicles tracked the performances of autonomous cars from 11 companies, revealing a reduced number of incidents compared to their performance in 2016. Many of the incidents and accidents that were reported were caused by bad weather, debris on the road, or construction — not the technology of the autonomous cars.

Some of the most notable experts in the fields of science and technology think self-driving cars are worth the investment and much safer than their human-operated counterparts.

Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk has said that those skeptical of autonomous cars are slowing progress and “killing people,” while astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson explained in a tweet in June that car accidents will eventually become the leading cause of death if autonomous systems aren’t adopted: “When we cure all disease & stop aging, the leading cause of death will be Car Accidents, unless we develop Self-driving Cars.”

Autonomous cars may impair our ability to drive, but if they are able to meet the safety expectations of people like Musk and Tyson, that may be a fair price to pay.

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Mazda Announced Plan to Have Autonomous Driving Technology in All of its Cars by 2025


Lead the Way

Mazda has announced its intention to make autonomous driving technology standard in all of its vehicles by 2025. This is firmly in line with comments made by Elon Musk last month, in which he predicted that almost all cars would have such capabilities ten years from now.

Previously, Mazda CEO Masamichi Kogai has downplayed the company’s plans for self-driving vehicles, instead focusing on the idea of making active driving a more pleasurable experience.

This change of heart could stem from the 5 percent stake in Mazda that Toyota acquired earlier this month. The two companies are set to spend $1.6 billion on a manufacturing plant in the United States, which will be tailored toward producing cars with advanced driver-assistance systems and wholly self-driving vehicles.

Tesla has helped to lead the current movement toward autonomous driving, with its Autopilot technology going a long way to acclimatize the general public to the concept. While accidents have occurred, a report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Association has indicated that Tesla’s vehicles have been involved in 40 percent fewer accidents after the introduction of Autosteer.

Experts have concluded that a wider rollout of self-driving cars will help to make our roads much safer. The key is removing human error from the equation, so once autonomous driving systems have been put through their paces, it makes sense to transition as many vehicles to the technology as possible.

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We May Have Just Uncovered a Serious Problem With How AI “See”

Visually Impaired Cars?

People with certain visual impairments aren’t allowed to drive, for fairly obvious reasons. Now, a study from the University of Washington (UW) has shown that artificial intelligences (AI) aren’t immune to vision problems when operating motor vehicles either.

The researchers have determined that machine learning models can be prone to a kind of physical-world attack that impedes their ability to process images. Concretely, AI can have problems reading defaced street signs.

Image credit: University of Washington
Image credit: University of Washington

For their study, the researchers focused on two potential types of physical attacks. In the first, the attacker would place a printed poster over an actual road sign, while in the second, they would use stickers to alter an existing road sign. These attacks were designed to look like graffiti or art, which would make them more difficult for the casual observer to detect.

The attacks were extremely effective at confusing the AI. The printed overlay was 100 percent effective at fooling the system when placed over a Stop sign or a Right Turn sign. The stickers designed to look like abstract art were 100 percent effective on Stop signs, while the stickers placed to mimic graffiti were 66.7 percent effective.

Vision of the Future

If visually impaired people can correct their vision using glasses, contacts, or surgery, perhaps AI can improve its image recognition capabilities as well. One solution suggested by the UW team is teaching autonomous systems to recognize contextual information. This would mean the systems pay attention to where and how particular signs are placed and not just what’s on the signs themselves. Such a system would know that a Stop sign on a freeway, for example, doesn’t make contextual sense.

Autonomous Car Forecasts: When Will They Actually Be on Our Roads?
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Thankfully, efforts to improve autonomous vehicles are in the works. Governments are showing support for these efforts, and legislation will make it easier to test such cars in real-world scenarios. Governments could also directly help by making road signs that are difficult to deface, as Engadget suggested.

This study doesn’t mean that driverless cars aren’t safe. On the contrary, it’s another example of how human activity — in this case, vandalism — is the primary cause of road accidents. In the U.S. alone, some 40,000 of these happen every year, so autonomous driving systems have the potential to save thousands, even millions, of lives if they supplant all human-operated vehicles on the roads worldwide.

Given enough studies like this one from the UW team, we’ll be able to detect and address the potential shortcomings of autonomous systems and eventually develop ones that can safely transport us where we need to go.

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Tim Cook Hints That Apple Is Working on Autonomous Systems – But Not Just for Cars

The rumors that Apple may be building an autonomous system received an update yesterday. During a conference call with investors on Tuesday afternoon, CEO Tim Cook hinted at the work Apple is doing with such systems as well as with artificial intelligence (AI).

“[Autonomous] systems can be used in a variety of ways,” Cook said. “A vehicle is only one, but there are many different areas of it. And I don’t want to go any further with that.”

There you have it, folks. While it seems that Apple may be building a vehicle — and even received approval to test one in Californian roads — what’s clear is that it’s developing an autonomous system that could be used in more than just cars. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, especially now that Apple has been actively pursuing AI development.

“We are very focused on autonomous systems,” Cook added. “We do have a large project going, and are making a big investment in this. From our point of view, autonomy is sort of the mother of all AI projects.”

Much of the focus to this point has been the application of autonomous systems in cars, and for good reason. Autonomous vehicles are heralded as the future of safer driving. By eliminating the cause of most major accidents — human error — self-driving cars could save some 40,000 lives each year in the U.S.

But what is the potential of such systems beyond the automotive example? If anyone could think of exciting new ways to use AI and autonomous systems, it’s the creative minds at Apple. Hopefully they won’t keep us waiting too long to learn what new tech they are cooking up.

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The First Major U.S. Bill on Self-Driving Cars Just Got House Committee Approval

A bill that will introduce breakthrough legislation in support of autonomous vehicle technology just received approval from the U.S. House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Committee.

The Technologies That Power Self-Driving Cars [INFOGRAPHIC]
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It’s the first significant federal legislation on self-driving cars, and it is designed to facilitate the deployment of driverless vehicles while preventing states from blocking such efforts.

“Our aim was to develop a regulatory structure that allows for industry to safely innovate with significant government oversight,” U.S. congressman Greg Walden, chair of said committee, told Reuters.

Concretely, the bill would allow car manufacturers to put up to 25,000 autonomous vehicles on the roads in the first year of deployment. Over three years, that number would increase to a 100,000 annual cap. These vehicles would not be required to meet existing car safety standards.

Officially called the ‘‘Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research In Vehicle Evolution Act’’ (the “SELF DRIVE Act,” for short), the bipartisan bill demonstrates an understanding of what autonomous vehicles could contribute to society. In the United States, road deaths increased by 7.7 percent from 2014 to 2015, and almost 40,000 people every year die in car accidents. Autonomous cars would help avoid these deaths by removing their primary cause: human error.

The House of Representatives plans to tackle the bill when it reconvenes in September. Auto and tech companies in support of the SELF DRIVE bill are hopeful Congress will pass legislation before the year ends, and plans to introduce a similar measure in the U.S. Senate are already in the works.

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Consumer Reports Upgrades Tesla’s Newest Model to Top Safety Rating

Consumer Reports and Tesla have been at odds quite a bit in the past few years. In October of 2015, Tesla stocks fell when Consumer Reports called the cars unreliable. Then again this year, Tesla’s stock fell after Consumer Reports downgraded the Model S because the second generation Autopilot hardware’s Automatic Emergency Braking wasn’t enabled at highway speeds.

Image Credit: Tesla
Image Credit: Tesla
However, Tesla updated the feature, and Consumer Reports has now returned the Model S to the top safety rating category. Consumer Reports writes: “CR’s engineers then verified at our test track that the AEB operated at higher speeds by driving the electric Model S at a target that mimics the back of a car. We also verified that Tesla had sent the software update to its other cars by checking online forums and inspecting cars at Tesla dealerships.”Meanwhile, it remains a fact of life that various studies on autonomous vehicles and car fatalities all indicate that self-driving cars will save lives. In the US alone, around 30,000 to 40,000 people die in auto accidents annually, about 94 percent of which are caused by human error. Bizarrely, around six million drivers admitted they hit other cars intentionally, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA). It seems obvious that self-driving cars are the safest option and, when integrated into everyday life, will save lives.

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First Ever US Legislation on Self-Driving Cars Comes to the House

A U.S. House panel will vote this Wednesday, July 19 on a proposal to allow automakers to release up to 100,000 self-driving vehicles onto the road. The measure would allow automakers to sell self-driving cars that have been proven to “function as intended and contain fail safe features” without being burdened by either additional driverless car rules at the state level or a duty to meet existing auto safety standards.

The move, if it is successful, will be the first major federal legislation designed to hasten self-driving cars to market. It would not require pre-market approval of self-driving technologies, although it would require automakers to submit safety assessment reports to federal regulators.

Image Credit: Grendelkhan/Wiki Commons
Image Credit: Grendelkhan/Wiki Commons

In other words, the technology would need to be proven safe initially through safety reports, but self-driving cars would not be lost in a thicket of state regulations. States could also still set rules on insurance, liability, licensing, registration, and safety inspections, but could not individually set performance standards for self-driving cars.This proposal is a recognition of the urgency of getting self-driving cars on our roads. US road deaths rose to 35,200 in 2015, a whopping 7.7 percent higher than the previous year, the biggest jump in a single year since 1966. Self-driving cars will save lives, as experts acknowledge, and this is the underlying motivation of the measure.

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Elon Musk Compares Driving a Non-Autonomous Vehicle in 2037 to Riding a Horse Today

“In 10 years, I think, almost all cars produced would be autonomous,” Tesla CEO and founder Elon Musk told his audience of more than 30 U.S. governors in Rhode Island on Saturday. The innovative entrepreneur was the guest in a keynote conversation during the National Governors Association Summer Meeting, and he spoke about — among other things — the future ubiquity of autonomous vehicles in automakers’ production lines.

“It will be rare to find one that is not, in ten years. That’s going to be a huge transformation,” Musk asserted.

While he believes autonomous systems will comprise the vast majority of newly produced cars by then, however, the shift to self-driving cars outnumbering traditional ones on the roads will take about five to ten more years. That doesn’t mean all human-driven cars will be gone 20 years from now, however.

Musk expects the shift to autonomous systems will be similar to the one that took place following the introduction of the first mass-produced automobiles about a century ago, which displaced the previous mode of transportation: horses.

“It will be like having a horse. People have horses, which is cool. There will be people who have non-autonomous cars, like people have horses,” he explained. “It would just be unusual to use that as a mode of transport.”

With autonomous vehicles predicted to be safer and more efficient than their traditional counterparts, hopefully these owners of the next-generation of “classic” cars will choose to keep them in the garage more often than they take them on the road.

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Tesla Brings on a Leading Computer Vision Expert to Give “Sight” to AI

Tesla’s line of vehicles is changing our concept of personal vehicles forever. The unique combination of electric engines, self-driving ability, and even integration with home energy systems are allowing them to carve out a significant portion of existing and future markets. Neither Elon Musk or Tesla show any signs of slowing down.

In hopes of bringing their artificial intelligence (AI) powered self-driving capabilities to new heights, Musk has brought on a deep learning and computer vision expert. Andrej Karpathy has been a researcher at OpenAI and holds a PhD from Stanford, where he created and taught the university’s first deep learning course. Karpathy has been designated Tesla’s Director of AI and Autopilot Vision.

The Tesla Revolution [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

Karpathy’s expertise makes it plain that Tesla is looking to ramp up its self-driving features. His previous work has focused on image recognition and understanding. His work could give the autonomous driving systems something closer to actual sensory vision. According to a statement from Tesla given to TechCrunch, “For example, identifying not simply that there is a cat in a given picture, but that it is an orange, spotted cat, riding on a skateboard with red wheels on brown hardwood flooring.”

This could allow for better decision making for Tesla’s AI. Instead of just noticing that there is an object in the road, the car can notice that it is a squirrel, and perhaps it can be taught that squirrels (generally) run away before the car approaches, leaving both passenger and furry woodland creature completely safe.

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Neil deGrasse Tyson: Self-Driving Cars Will Save Lives

Leading Cause of Death

At the most basic level, the leading cause of death amongst humans is our frailty. We get sick. We age. Inevitably, we die. While that sounds grim, it’s simply the nature of our biology right now, but it may not be for long.

Right now, scientists worldwide are working tireless to keep death at bay. They’re developing treatments that could potentially cure all diseases and even stop aging itself, which many now consider a disease itself and not an inevitable fact of life.

So what happens when we accomplish all that we’ve set out to do? American astrophysicist and famous science personality Neil deGrasse Tyson thinks we’ll still have one more hurdle to overcome, and he shared it via a recent tweet.

Tyson’s point is backed up by a number of studies on car fatalities and the development of autonomous vehicles. In the United States alone,  roughtly 30,000 to 40,000 people die from car crashes every year, and an estimated 94 percent of those are due to human error. Additionally, some six million drivers admitted to bumping other cars on purpose, according to a report by the American Automobile Association (AAA).

The Best Driver Isn’t Human

Autonomous vehicle manufacturers agree that self-driving systems would make the roads safer by eliminating human error. While these manufacturers have yet to achieve true Level 5 autonomy, recent developments in driverless vehicle systems aren’t too far off the mark.

Most notable among these is, of course, Tesla. At a time when the rest of the world wasn’t too keen on investing in autonomous technology, Tesla and CEO Elon Musk vigorously pursued the tech. Now, the company has developed its own Autopilot self-driving software, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports has already reduced Tesla accidents by 40 percent.

Ride-hailing company Uber, in partnership with Volvo, has also been busy testing and rolling out its own autonomous vehicles. The company was the first to introduce self-driving taxis, it was responsible for test driving the world’s first autonomous truck, and it has plans for an autonomous flying car.

Autonomous Public Transport: The Future of the Urban Commute [INFOGRAPHIC]
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Other industry giants from both the tech and car manufacturing sectors are also developing autonomous technology. Most recently, Apple confirmed that they’ve been working on an autonomous system that could improve self-driving vehicles, possibly for use in their own line of cars.

General Motors recently delivered the world’s first mass-produced self-driving cars, while others, such as Volkswagen and Ford, are moving from the concept stages to production. And then there’s the ever-growing number of startups also in the self-driving game.

Given all these efforts, autonomous vehicles are poised to be a major part of transportation in the near future. Public adoption may be slow at first, but once the tech is embraced, we’ll be able to check another threat to humanity off the list.

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Driverless Autonomous Cars Will Be on U.S. Roads in the Next 2 Months

Eliminating the Problem

How difficult is it to test autonomous vehicles (AVs) on public roads? Uber can probably tell you all about it. Much of the difficulty in obtaining the permits necessary for such tests comes from fear. Because self-driving technology is new, because the systems have been involved in incidents in the past, and so on, people aren’t quite ready to trust the tech.

The governor of Washington state, however, has a different perspective. Governor Jay Inslee signed an order on Wednesday that would allow for autonomous vehicle tests without a human driver behind the wheel. According to the governor’s official blog, the order could allow these tests to begin within the next two months. Self-driving system developers can already apply for permits for pilot program tests through the state’s Department of Licensing.


Clearly, for Inslee, human drivers are far more dangerous than self-driving technology. “One thing I know about radar, it doesn’t drive drunk, it doesn’t drive distracted,” he said, according to The Seattle Times. “We humans are really good at a lot of things, driving cars isn’t necessarily one of them compared to the automated processes that are digital and foolproof.”

Executive Order 17-02, a copy which was obtained by The Seattle Times, quantifies the governor’s assertions: “[R]oughly 94 percent of automobile accidents are caused by human error, and autonomous vehicle technology may reduce injuries and save countless lives.”

Fast-Tracking Tech

Many people believe autonomous driving technology is still in the very early stages of development, and no company has yet achieved true Level 5 autonomy. However, developments have clearly shown that these driverless vehicles are already capable of so much, including actually saving the lives of passengers.

The Technologies That Power Self-Driving Cars [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

Washington doesn’t want to be left behind in adopting such a game-changing technology. “Washington state is already a leader in autonomous vehicle technology. We are an early-adopter that welcomes innovation and the safe testing and operation of AVs,” Inslee said in the blog post.

Indeed, self-driving cars could potentially save the lives of as many as 300,000 to 400,000 people annually by eliminating human error, which is the cause of an estimated 94 percent of crashes. And that’s just one benefit of the tech. As Inslee added,  “AVs could help save countless lives, reclaim time spent in traffic, improve mobility, and be an important tool in our efforts to combat climate change.” As tests move forward in Washington, the rest of the world will soon find out just how valuable this technology can be.

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This Is What the World Looks Like to Synthetic Intelligences

If you’ve ever wondered what the road looks like through the eyes of an autonomous vehicle, now you can find out, thanks to this video from Civil Maps. The video depicts what a self-driving car perceives using its sensors and the information it processes through its on-board computer. Civil Maps, Ford’s HD map technology company, created the video, which also shows how detailed 3D maps is combined with sensor data from radar, optical cameras, and other on-board vehicle hardware to help an autonomous vehicle understand what’s going on in the world around it.

The video shows how the car responds in use, taking things like a pedestrian crossing into account without slowing down too much, and processing messages from signs without “overthinking.” (For more on this from Anuj Gupta, the product manager for Civil Maps, see his post on Medium.)

The video also shows the car using the mapping and localization tech at higher speeds of up to 113 kph (70 mph) on a freeway, providing a fairly convincing case for the tech. As early data suggests that self-driving cars are safer than those driven by humans, this kind of autonomous driving tech could be used to make commuters safer.

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A New Approach to Testing Autonomous Cars is 99.9% Faster and Cheaper

Four Thorough but Fast Steps

Some are already embracing the seeming inevitability of autonomous vehicles. And why not? Self-driving cars are expected to make our daily commutes safer and more comfortable. However, in order to ensure that these driverless vehicles actually deliver on their promise, car manufacturers need to evaluate their performance and decide whether or not each system is road-worthy.

Autonomous Car Forecasts: When Will They Actually Be on Our Roads?
Click to View Full Infographic

Unfortunately, such tests can take an absurd amount of time. “Even the most advanced and largest-scale efforts to test automated vehicles today fall woefully short of what is needed to thoroughly test these robotic cars,” according to Huei Peng, a researcher from the University of Michigan (U-M). To that end, he and his colleague Ding Zhao have developed a four-step accelerated approach to evaluate autonomous vehicles.

Peng and Zhao outlined their approach in a white-paper published by a U-M-led public-private partnership called Mcity. Developed using more than 25 million miles of real-world driving data collected over two years from about 3,000 vehicles and volunteers, their testing system could potentially reduce the time needed to evaluate how driverless cars handle dangerous situations by 300 to 100,000 times, reducing testing time and costs by 99.9 percent.

Making a Life-Saving Technology Safer

Fear of something new is a normal human reaction, and autonomous vehicles are no exception. According to the U-M research, tests for self-driving cars would have to demonstrate with 80 percent confidence that the systems are 90 percent safer than human drivers. That would require about 300,000 to 100 million miles of real-world driving tests. Their approach cuts that to just 1,000 miles of testing by breaking down difficult real-world driving situations into a condensed set of repeatable simulations.

Image credit: Mcity
Image credit: Mcity

Previous studies have shown that self-driving cars can save lives by eliminating the number one cause of car crashes: human error. Even if a car is autonomous, however, the other cars on the road may not be. To that end, human drivers were one of the threats to safety considered by the U-M researchers’ system, with a focus on the two most common “meaningful interactions” between man and machine that could result in car crashes: an autonomous vehicle following a human driver and a human driver merging in front of a self-driving car.

Though still in development, the U-M researchers’ approach could get autonomous vehicles on the roads sooner, thereby allowing us to benefit from their life-saving potential faster. The researchers themselves clearly see the remarkable potential of their work: “While more research and development needs to be done to perfect this technique, the accelerated evaluation procedure offers a ground-breaking solution for safe and efficient testing that is crucial to deploying automated vehicles.”

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Tesla’s Next Update Could Include In-Car WiFi and a 360-Degree View

Update Possibilities

Today on Twitter, Elon Musk got into an interesting conversation with some Tesla fans. First, he was asked about the possibility of adding a wireless hotspot:

The idea was popular, and led to an additional request for a 360-degree view:

This function, which is already in development, could allow for a complete 360-degree view while driving. And, as Electrek reports, the idea of the hotspot is not new, but fan popularity might give it more traction.

Image Credit: Tesla Motors
Image Credit: Tesla Motors

Next For Tesla

Musk has also been talking about Tesla updates to the Autopilot system that are coming soon.

Originally, Musk’s plan was to have every Tesla fully autonomous by sometime in 2017. Tesla will be conducting a coast to coast test drive this year, during which the human driver is expected not to take over control at all. At TED 2017, Musk confirmed that future Teslas on the road may be as autonomous as the coast to coast test car.


According to Inverse, Musk has already stated that if autonomous driving demands upgrades to the computers in any of the Tesla models, the design should make the process simple. The updates are going to make Teslas even safer, so it’s easy to see why fans are so excited.

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Apple Is About to Take a Leap into the World of Self-Driving Cars

Apple recently obtained a permit to begin testing autonomous vehicles. For some, this will confirm long suspected beliefs that Apple has been getting into the transportation game. While nothing is yet confirmed, this can only support the idea that autonomous vehicles are here and here to stay.

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Elon Musk: People Skeptical of Autonomous Cars Are Essentially “Killing People”

Swaying Public Opinion

Since Autopilot was first added to each Tesla vehicle in September 2014, Elon Musk’s company has continued to improve the already impressive autonomous driving system. Step by step, Autopilot’s software and hardware have been incrementally advanced. It has learned from human driver behavior, leading to the creation and improvement of its Auto Lane Change, Autopark, Autosteer, Summon, and Traffic-Aware Cruise Control features. The ultimate goal? Level 5 autonomy, the ability to navigate the roads with zero interaction from a human driver.

The Technologies That Power Self-Driving Cars [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

More than one million people die in traffic accidents every single year due to human error, and in March, a Morgan Stanley analyst stated that Tesla’s Model 3 and its Autopilot system may be an order of magnitude safer than every other car on the road. However, many of us humans remain unconvinced when it comes to self-driving cars. Some people fear new technologies generally, while others just see autonomous cars as a potential threat, even when the data stating otherwise is staring them in the face.

According to Musk, human-driven cars are the obvious threat to safe transportation, and every time a critical voice speaks out against the technology, they impede the inevitably safer roads that will follow the widespread adoption of autonomous systems. In 2016, he didn’t mince words when he told the press that vocal self-driving vehicle skeptics and members of the press who unfairly focus on the flaws of such systems are essentially “killing people.”

A Safer Future

In 2015, the United States saw a 50-year record high in roadway deaths and injuries — 38,300 fatalities and 4.4 million injuries, to be exact. Yet a single U.S. crash in a Tesla Model S — one being operated improperly, with the human driver watching a movie — led to intense scrutiny and an investigation into the system.

Human error causes about 95 percent of all traffic fatalities, and 41 percent of all human error fatalities are caused by “recognition errors.” According to the Department of Transportation (DOT), those include inattention, distraction, or inadequate surveillance on the part of the driver. Barring outright failure or computational aberration, self-driving vehicles just don’t have these problems, and usage of autonomous systems in lieu of human drivers takes these potentially fatal driving flaws out of the equation.

Musk believes that humanity’s future includes self-driving cars. How we feel about those autonomous systems won’t stop that future from arriving. A continued stubborn preference for a far more dangerous system that we already know without any doubt results in accidents, injuries, and deaths means pain, suffering, and lost money, time, and lives. Maybe it’s time to listen to Musk and let our best drivers take the wheel for us.

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Watch an Autonomous Car Prevent a Traffic Jam From Forming

From Seeing Red to Seeing Green

Each year, American drivers lose $160 billion, 7 billion hours, and countless cheery dispositions to traffic congestion. That averages out to $960 and 42 hours for every rush-hour commuter. Advocates for are hopeful that removing human drivers from the equation will help alleviate the problem, but some are concerned that a real impact won’t be felt until the majority of cars on the road are self-driving. Now, a new study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (U of I) suggests that might not be the case at all.

Some traffic jams have obvious causes — an accident, a motorcade, construction — but some seem to happen for no reason at all. These “phantom traffic jams” — caused by a single driver slowing down, setting off a chain reaction of slowing vehicles behind them — are the kind the researchers at U of I focused on in their study. They learned that injecting a single autonomous car into a group of 20 that were manned by human drivers could have a profound effect on the formation of phantom traffic jams.

“Our experiments show that with as few as 5 percent of vehicles being automated and carefully controlled, we can eliminate stop-and-go waves caused by human driving behavior,” said Daniel B. Work, assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a lead researcher in the study, in a university news release.

During the experiment, the autonomous vehicle controlled its braking in a way that reduced the number of times a human driver behind it had to hit their brakes: from nine to a maximum of 2.5 times for every kilometer (.62 miles) driven. The total fuel consumed by the vehicles was also reduced by up to 40 percent.

Beyond the Traffic

According to the research team, not only do we not have to wait until all the cars on the road are autonomous to feel the impact they can have on our transportation system — we don’t even need to wait for any to be fully autonomous. Some technology that’s currently available can automatically adjust speed to maintain a safe distance from other vehicles — which can have a major impact on safety.

“Fully autonomous vehicles in common traffic may be still far away in the future due to many technological, market and policy constraints,” explained researcher Benedetto Piccoli, the Joseph and Loretta Lopez Chair Professor of Mathematics at Rutgers University. “However, increased communication among vehicles and increased levels of autonomy in human-driven vehicles is in the near future.”

While this is great news for anyone who loathes wasting time and money on their daily commute, the benefits of autonomous cars extend far beyond the fuel gauge. Each year, 32,000 lives are lost due to traffic accidents, and 94 percent of all accidents are attributed to driver error. Christopher A. Hart, chairman of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, has said he expects driverless cars will be able to “save many, if not most” of those lives.

With lives, time, money, and your good mood hanging in the balance, we truly don’t have a minute to waste in our journey to get autonomous vehicles on the road.

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You Can Now Apply to Get Free Rides in Self-Driving Cars

Getting Road Ready

If you’re waiting for your chance to own a self-driving car, you’re going to have to keep waiting. However, if you live in the Phoenix area, you might at least get the chance to try one out.

Waymo, the self-driving car branch of Alphabet, is coming to Phoenix for trials, and it’s looking for hundreds of riders. The company has already logged millions of miles in autonomous car testing in different cities, but now it wants to hit the road with ordinary people on board.

Interested residents of Phoenix, Tempe, Chandler, Gilbert, and Mesa can apply via a simple form on the Waymo website. If they’re accepted, they’ll be able to call a car using an app any time of day or night — the hours aren’t limited in an effort to make the trial more realistic. Trips will be limited to the Phoenix area, though, so an autonomous cross-country jaunt isn’t happening.

Accepted applicants won’t be charged for their rides, and Waymo tells The New York Times it is looking to find a wide range of people with different lifestyles so they can get a fuller picture of how their autonomous cars would be used in practice.

Safety First

This critical next step in getting autonomous cars on the road puts us closer to safer rides for everyone.

The Technologies That Power Self-Driving Cars [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

Human error causes 95 percent of all traffic fatalities, and of those, 41 percent are the result of “recognition errors” — that’s Department of Transportation code for failing to pay enough attention or getting distracted. Those are problems self-driving cars just don’t have.

We’re probably still 15 or so years away from a time when self-driving cars comprise the majority of the vehicles on the road, but when they do, we can expect to see 32,000 lives saved each year and a drastic reduction in the number of motorcycle fatalities.

If you’ve ever driven in Phoenix traffic, you’re probably already on the Waymo site right now. Maybe you’ll be one of the lucky ones who gets chosen to participate in this potentially life-saving trial.

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Mercedes-Benz Will Launch Its Self-Driving Rideshare Service in 2020

Joining the Fray

The number of potential movers and shakers in the field of autonomous taxiing seems to be ever growing. But the stiff competition may benefit the consumer and force the competitors to create the best product possible. Not only will they be competing among themselves, but also with traditional taxis and personally owned vehicles. The latest company to join in on the fun is also one of the biggest and fanciest in the world.

Image: DaimlerImage Credit: Daimler

Mercedes-Benz is teaming up with vehicle component manufacturer Bosch to fast-track a self-driving taxi service. The company is expecting to launch the service as soon as 2020, a year earlier than other companies’ plans. Ford, BMW, General Motors, and Google’s Waymo all plan to launch their services in or around 2021. Uber has already deployed self-driving cars in Pittsburgh to test their service. The vehicles are monitored by a live person and they have the ability to take over control if the need arises. The other offerings will likely roll out the same way initially.

Life-Saving Tech

Studies have shown that between 90 and 93 percent of all vehicular accidents are caused by human error. By removing the human from the equation, we could significantly reduce these incidents — theoretically, at least. There is always a lot of press surrounding any collisions or other incidents involving self-driving tech, whether they involve Tesla’s offerings or Uber’s taxis. So it is clear that self-driving vehicles will not end all accidents, but they could still potentially save thousands of lives.

The Technologies That Power Self-Driving Cars [INFOGRAPHIC]
Click to View Full Infographic

Reducing driving-related deaths would be a fantastic attribute of self-driving vehicles, but that’s not the only potential benefit. These vehicles are all run on electric power, so they are much cleaner than fossil fuel-burning, traditional vehicles. With one-third of all air pollution coming from operating gasoline-powered vehicles, mitigating their role in daily transportation will help keep us from further damaging the environment.

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Elon Musk: The Model 3 Will Have an Entirely Unique Display System

Designed for Autonomy

When a car is intended to function autonomously, it doesn’t need a heads-up display. That’s what Elon Musk thinks, anyway.

When asked by James Locke on Twitter how the highly anticipated Tesla Model 3 will handle the instrument cluster information such as vehicle speed, Musk replied with an analogy:


While Musk makes a solid point, removing the heads-up display only makes sense on the premise that the car will be used exclusively in self-driving mode. However, even if the Model 3 is actually capable of Level 3, 4, or 5 driving, the car is scheduled to hit the market in the second half of 2017. It’s doubtful that the regulatory boards responsible for granting approval for high-level, fully autonomous driving will be ready to do so by that time.

In short, some sort of display of the car’s metrics is still necessary, and Musk assured the Twitterverse that it will have one.


Betting on Self-Driving

This information about the Model 3’s display isn’t the only sign that Tesla is betting big on self-driving tech, regardless of where regulations currently stand. The company has been continuously pushing out updates of its Autopilot software and has announced plans to make a fully autonomous drive from Los Angeles to New York City by the end of the year.

Laws and Ethics for Autonomous Cars
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Autonomous driving isn’t simply a matter of convenience, however. Experts have asserted that Tesla’s Autopilot system makes its cars 10 times safer than the average vehicle on the road, with the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives.

At this point, Tesla appears to be right on track when it comes to delivery and production targets for its vehicles. It already delivered more than 25,000 in the first quarter of 2017, bringing its goal of 50,000 vehicle deliveries for the first half of 2017 well within reach.

With a 69 percent increase over the same period last year, Q1 of 2017 was the best quarter on record for the company, and its numbers are expected to continue rising as the Model 3 release approaches. 2017 really is shaping up to be the year of Tesla.

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Autopilot 2.0: Tesla’s Long-Awaited 8.1 Update Is Officially Out

As Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced over Twitter last week, the long-awaited 8.1 update for Tesla Autopilot 2.0 is now out. For now, the update is available only for Tesla vehicles in North America, but it’s expected to roll out worldwide in the next couple of days.

The 8.1 software update comes as part of Tesla’s goal to develop fully autonomous, (SAE Level 5) vehicles. In general, the update will enable and improve driver-assistance features in Autopilot 2.0 vehicles.

Autonomous Car Forecasts: When Will They Actually Be on Our Roads?
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Autosteer, which Tesla says uses “Traffic-Aware Cruise Control to maintain the car’s speed in relation to surrounding traffic,” is getting a boost in speed. Previously limited to 88 km/h (55 mph), it can now work at speeds up to 128 km/h (80 mph).

Other updates in 8.1 are features previously available only to Autopilot 1.0 vehicles, such as Auto Lane Change, Autopark, and Summon. The first works with Autosteer and prompts Tesla vehicles to change lanes following a simple engagement of the turn signal. The latter two features maneuver the vehicle into a parking spot and let a driver retrieve their Tesla within a radius of 39 feet using just a mobile app or the vehicle’s key, respectively.

Update 8.1 also has a host of other minor enhancements for both 1.0 and 2.0 cars. In total, it’s a package that puts Tesla’s self-driving cars another step ahead of everybody else.

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Expert Says Tesla Will Make All Other Cars Obsolete

The Road to a Driverless Future

A car that could drive itself used to be solely the stuff of science fiction. Now, it’s become a reality thanks to companies like Tesla.

Elon Musk’s company is continuously improving its autonomous driving systemAutopilot, which it describes as “an increasingly capable suite of safety and convenience features that make personal transportation safer and more enjoyable.”

Autonomous Car Forecasts: When Will They Actually Be on Our Roads?
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Since September 2014, when it was first added to every Tesla vehicle, Autopilot’s hardware and software have been inching closer and closer to Level 5 autonomy, a level that requires zero interaction from a human driver. The system’s features, which now include Autosteer, Traffic-Aware Cruise Control, Auto Lane Change, Autopark, and Summon (that one lets you call your Tesla car via a mobile app), are products of Tesla’s Autopilot software learning from the behavior of human drivers.

The company rolled out enhanced Autopilot features earlier this year, and the highly anticipated 8.1 software update for its hardware 2 platform is expected to arrived this week. Clearly, Tesla’s Autopilot is increasingly becoming a more advanced, more capable, and safer alternative to human drivers. So what does that mean for the rest of the auto industry?

Is Tesla the Future of Cars?

In a recent interview on CNBC’s Power LunchAdam Jonas, the resident Tesla analyst from Morgan Stanley, explained just how much of an impact the autonomous cars of Tesla will have in the near future. One point he made was that Tesla’s autonomous cars will lead to a faster rate of technological obsolescence for the other vehicles available today.

“Our work on used car value is focused on the technological obsolescence of the 250 million cars on US roads today – $2 trillion worth of cars. Tesla’s cars can get better because they can learn,” Jonas said. “They put in that equipment so that the vehicle five years from now is much more superhuman and much better than the one that is just learning and watching right now. Our used car thesis is that in a five-year period, we are running scenarios of used car value being off by as much as 50 percent.”

Tesla is also changing the economics of electric cars, or, as Jonas put it, the “economics of electrification.” He explained that, while the electric car market in the United States still has plenty of room for expansion, ridesharing will be a game changer for the tech.

“We think the electric cars for private use really are for human driving pleasure for wealthier individuals. That’s why it’s so important that in the shared model where you’re not driving 10,000 miles a year, but 50,000 or 100,000 miles in a fleet operation, then the economics of electrification you can get that payback period under three years,” Jonas said. “That’s the game changer — shared.”

Vehicle safety is also a factor, as car accidents in the U.S. surged to 40,000 in 2016. “It seems like the only thing progressing faster than the pace of machine learning is the pace human unlearning,” Jonas said. “We’re getting dumber faster than the cars are getting smarter.” Tesla’s quickly advancing self-driving car tech could be the perfect way to stop that trend from leading to any more deaths on the road.

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Uber’s Latest Autonomous Car Mishap Isn’t a Mark Against Self-Driving Cars

Not Uber’s Fault

Last week was a rough one for Uber. Multiple issues currently plague the company, and it didn’t help that one of its autonomous SUVs was involved in a high-impact vehicular crash in Tempe, Arizona, on the evening of March 25. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured in the accident.

Laws and Ethics for Autonomous Cars
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“There was a person behind the wheel. It is uncertain at this time if they were controlling the vehicle at the time of the collision,” Tempe police spokeswoman Josie Montenegro told Bloomberg News.

“We are continuing to look into this incident and can confirm we had no backseat passengers in the vehicle,” Uber spokesperson Chelsea Kohler said to Wired. As a precaution, Uber has since suspended the operations of its autonomous vehicles in Arizona and Pittsburgh.

A Case for Driverless Vehicles

According to police, the fault for this accident wasn’t with Uber nor the Volvo XC90 SUV that the ride-hailing service uses for its autonomous vehicle operations. The Volvo may or may not have been driving itself when the accident happened, but it had the right of way and was not blamed for the crash. Police report that the other car involved did not yield to the approaching autonomous Uber, causing the self-driving car to flip on its side and smash the other car’s windows.

Image credit: Fresco News/Mark Beach
Image credit: Fresco News/Mark Beach

Instead of becoming a blotch on the record of self-driving cars, the latest accident may actually prove to be the opposite — it’s another reminder of just how many vehicular crashes are caused by human error. More than 30,000 people become victims of car crashes in the United States every year. This number increased to 40,000 in 2016, and more than 90 percent of these crashes were due to human error. Plus, there’s road rage to consider. In a recent report by AAA, almost six million drivers admitted to bumping other cars on purpose.

The safety promised by autonomous vehicles would actually save lives, so the future of the tech shouldn’t be placed in jeopardy by incidents like the one in Tempe.

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Expert Says Tesla Cars Give Users “Superhuman” Abilities

The future of driving is autonomous, and companies like Tesla have been pushing hard to get us to that future. The goal is to build a car with Level 5 autonomy — one that requires zero interaction from a human driver — as outlined in the SAE International’s J3016.

Autonomous Car Forecasts: When Will They Actually Be on Our Roads?
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For Tesla, efforts to reach this goal include refinements and updates to their Autopilot software. Recently, the company has been aggressively pushing these updates, which include improvements in navigation capabilities and road-safety features. The 8.1 update for Tesla’s hardware 2 platform is expected to roll out this coming week.

These improvements to the autonomous systems of Tesla vehicles are timely, as the Model 3 moves closer to production. In a note sent to Tesla clients on March 23, Morgan Stanley’s Tesla analyst Adam Jonas lauded the capabilities of Tesla’s autonomous driving systems.

Superhuman Assist

Among other things, Jonas had this to say about it:

We think the Model 3 will feature hardware and software that provide a level of active safety that could significantly lead all other cars on sale today and could, if the company achieves its goal, be an order of magnitude (i.e. 10x) safer than the average car on the road. According to nearly every OEM we talk to, safety is the number 1 determinant of car purchases. Look for safety to be the “ah-hah!” moment for this car due to launch this year.

Indeed, autonomous cars are expected to save lives in the future, as previous reports have indicated. In the United States alone, the adoption of self-driving vehicles could translate into more than 300,000 saved lives per decade. In the case of Tesla’s vehicles, a recent report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) showed that improvements in the Autopilot system have reduced car crashes by 40 percent.

Car manufacturers still have some ways to go, of course, before actual Level 5 autonomy is achieved. Jonas made that clear in his note: “We are talking about automated driving (not fully autonomous driving) where the driver has a legal obligation to keep hands on the wheel at all times. The driver is still human…but with a ‘superhuman’ assist.”

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MIT Wants Your Help Navigating the Moral Dilemmas of Self-Driving Tech

The Trolley Problem

MIT associate professor Iyad Rahwan is educating the public about the ethical issues facing self-driving cars using “MIT’s Moral Machine” — a website that crowdsources responses from people by posing ethical conundrums. With this tool, Rahwan has asked more than 3 million people to consider “The Trolley Problem,” one of several sticky moral dilemmas facing creators of self-driving cars and policymakers alike.

The Trolley problem is this — five people are trapped on a track and cannot move. A runaway trolley is barreling toward them. You can pull a lever and send the trolley to a side track where only one person will be killed. What should you do?

For Rahwan, an expert in the intersection of the computer and social sciences, the social aspects of artificial intelligence (AI) are the perfect place to focus collective intelligence. He believes the Trolley problem in the context of self-driving cars is more complicated, because the ethical burden in this lose-lose situation which includes loss of life is no longer placed on a person. We are taking ethics to a new level by giving a robot permission to make that choice.

“The idea of a robot having an algorithm programmed by some faceless human in a manufacturing plant somewhere making decisions that has life-and-death consequence is very new to us as humans,” Rahwan told Business Insider.

Crowdsourcing Ethical Choices

While it is true that this is a new wrinkle to consider, since any self-driving car making such a choice would be responding to programming, it would still be carrying out the instructions provided to it by humans. In other words, it would be executing a human’s decision about what to do in that situation.

And while different people might make different choices depending on the finer details of each situation, the parsing out of these scenarios can at least lend something that is both new and positive to this debate: predictability. As humans debate and choose outcomes based on these kinds of ethical questions, they will program favored responses into robots — and we will know what those are and what to expect on the road.

7 Benefits of Driverless Cars

Rahwan has worked to highlight the challenges of determining what should happen when self-driving cars get into accidents. Since the Moral Machine site launched in August 2016, more than 3 million people around the world have contributed 26 million decisions. Rahwan doesn’t argue in favor of programming for specific outcomes, but does believe that more specific ethical guidelines must be developed to maintain public trust.

The ethics for self-driving cars will eventually have to be considered, because the technology is coming — and for good reason. Human error is the cause of 95 percent of all traffic fatalities, and “recognition errors” cause 41 percent of all human error fatalities. These recognition errors are what the DOT calls “driver’s inattention, internal and external distractions, and inadequate surveillance.”

While self-driving cars are forcing us to ask ourselves uncomfortable moral questions, they are poised to correct the vast majority of traffic accidents. At least one expert thinks they will also eliminate traffic jams by 2030. For many, these benefits outweigh the cost of breaking the taboo against outlining concrete answers to controversial ethical conundrums.

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Experts Predict the Timeline for Self-Driving Cars

The idea of traveling around town in a self-driving car has captured the world’s imagination. In addition to promising a more relaxed commute, autonomous driving is regarded as a solution to everything from traffic congestion and lack of parking spaces to accident prevention and reduced carbon emissions.

But how realistic is our vision of the car of the future?

Step-By-Step Toward Autonomous Driving

Modern cars already have a lot of assistance systems which anticipate the kinds of features self-driving vehicles will have: dashboard cameras, lane departure warning, blind spot detection, collision prevention, rain sensors, automated parking and real-time routing.

The US Department of Transport has recently announced plans to require cars to stream movement data and monitor other vehicles to avoid crashes. To achieve this, vehicle-to-vehicle communication systems will interact with other driver assistance systems such as automatic braking. They could become mandatory within four years and help reduce the 35,000 deaths a year in road traffic accidents throughout the US.

Google and Uber are among the companies which have sought a high profile for their self-driving vehicles tests, but have hit safety issues in the process. Uber recently found itself at loggerheads with cyclists in California. It emerged that Uber’s autonomous test vehicles could not deal with turning safely across bike lanes, potentially endangering cyclists. Uber spokeswoman Chelsea Kohler told the Guardian in an email that “engineers are continuing to work on the problem”, and said that the company has instructed drivers to take control when approaching right turns on a street with a bike lane.

In spite of the setbacks experienced by these pioneers, most of the world’s biggest car makers – Ford, Nissan, Honda, Daimler, Peugeot, and Hyundai, to name a few – are working on autonomous vehicles that they expect to hit our roads over the next few years. In China, Baidu also has plans for autonomous vehicles.

Tesla is among the most advanced. Tesla cars already in production come with an array of cameras, sensors, and software enabling them to operate in ‘Autopilot’ mode. However, to date, you can only do so in the right conditions – clearly marked lanes, a relatively constant speed and a map of the area you’re traveling through. That said, Tesla has announced plans to have a car self-drive from Los Angeles to New York by the end of 2017.

Supercomputers on Wheels

Business Insider estimates that by 2020, 10 million self-driving cars will be on the road. However, a lot of development still needs to happen.

Maps are key to the success of automated driving. A report in Popular Mechanics recently quoted an expert saying that while you could base self-driving entirely on visual and sensor cues, this approach would become difficult when rain or snow reduced the visibility of curbs and road markings. Therefore, the magazine concluded, there was industry consensus “that maps will make or break the age of self-driving cars.”

Compared to maps for existing satellite navigation systems, autonomous driving requires a much deeper level of information about the road network. Mapping experts at TomTom are working on highly detailed maps to address this. They will reflect a complete, three-dimensional model of the road, including the road profile, curvature, and terrain.

Self-driving cars will use Artificial Intelligence (AI) to combine data from different sources – built-in sensors, cameras, road signs, traffic and weather information – to assess their environment, learn and make decisions on what to do next. To achieve this, large amounts of data will need to be processed on board, in real time, so the car can adapt to the driving situation as needed. Chip makers including NVIDIA and Intel are focusing their research and development on providing the required processing ‘horsepower,’ which has been compared to creating a moving supercomputer.

Regulators are Stepping in

Then there is the design of these cars. When Google started its self-driving initiative – one of the first companies to do so – its proposed ‘pod’ vehicles were not going to have a steering wheel or pedals and were going to have space for just two passengers. Having recently entered into partnership with Fiat Chrysler, Google is now putting its faith into a minivan – equipped with both pedals and steering wheels.

This may also have been, at least in part, a response to new laws on the use of driverless cars. The state of California – where Google is based – has stipulated that self-driving cars must have steering wheels and brake pedals. In Michigan, regulators are working on new laws which would legalize the testing of vehicles without steering wheels and pedals – allowing for no human intervention. It is thought that Michigan wants to gain an advantage on California, which has so far been at the forefront of driverless car development.

The driverless future is within our reach. What’s not clear is to what extent autonomous vehicles will replace traditional ones. Will individuals still own cars – and hence need parking spaces in their neighborhoods and near local amenities? Or will you be able to simply hail or get on a driverless vehicle as you would do with a taxi or bus right now. The latter scenario would make a major difference to cities’ traffic management and town planning. Gauging these developments will be important not only for the companies involved in building the vehicles but also for road authorities and city planners.

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By 2020, You Could Own This Futuristic Self-Driving Car


This week at SXSW, a Chinese-backed car manufacturer unveiled the NIO EVE—an electric vehicle with level 4 autonomy that they hope to release in the US market by 2020.

According to US CEO for NIO Padmasree Warrior:

We’re excited about having autonomous electric cars for U.S. consumers in 2020. […] In 2015, commuters in the U.S. spent over 8 billion hours in their cars commuting. NIO’s autonomous electric cars will make your journey safe, productive and enjoyable. Our cars will be your companion and will know your needs, they will be a welcoming living space that moves you.

In terms of aesthetics and functionality, the concept car is certainly impressive. Instead of the traditional four doors, the vehicle opens through a wide forward-sliding door. Inside, the NIO Eve will have lounge-like seating in the back, complete with a folding table that can be used as a work or play space. It features a panoramic roof as well as interior glass that can double as smart displays. An artificial intelligence (AI) engine, NOMI, will control the vehicle in autonomous mode and is capable of learning user preferences. Seats can be fully reclined — should passengers want to rest during long journeys — with the forward seats able to the access a steering wheel and a pedal, if they opt to take over from the AI.

Perhaps the most impressive feature of the NIO Eve is how its self-driving driving features will seamlessly integrate with the manufacturers’ concept of the future of autonomous vehicles. Given the design of its interiors, it’s clear that the brand is seeing a shift from active driving towards entertainment and leisure.

The company is planning to bring the car to the US market by 2020.

*4* Your First Look at the NIO EVE Autonomous EV

Safer Driving?

In a future where humans will literally be putting their lives in the hands of machines, it’s vital that we are able to confidently put our trust in them.

Numerous studies are already spotlighting the the key advantage of self-driving cars: given that 95 percent of all traffic fatalities are the result of human error, taking humans out of the equation—at least when it comes to driving — will ultimately save lives.

Of course, exactly when autonomous driving will hit the streets and be ready for mass adoption isn’t solely dependent on the number of car manufacturers willing to develop the technology. Regulatory bodies and governments will also play a significant part in ensuring the safety and establishing public confidence in the vehicles, as well as the infrastructure supporting. But there’s a lot of reason to be optimistic, especially given the rate of innovation that we continue to see in this field.

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Volkswagen’s Futuristic ‘Lounge on Wheels’ Drives Itself

Admit it. Whenever a new self-driving vehicle rolls out, you secretly wish it would look like it’s from one of those sci-fi shows you watch. Well, Volkswagen (VW) may be making your dreams come true with Sedric (for self-driving car), its new concept for an autonomous van.

At the Geneva Motor Show today, VW parent company Volkswagen Group AG officially revealed Sedric, “the first self-driving car of the Volkswagen Group,” according to CEO Matthias Müller. “It’s all-electric, fully connected, and fully autonomous. Sedric is our foretaste of automated vehicles at their highest level of automation, also referred to as Level 5.”

*3* Meet Sedric: Volkswagen’s Very Futuristic-Looking Autonomous Van

The German car manufacturer claims that Sedric is the first vehicle designed “from scratch” for fully autonomous driving. The vehicle has neither a steering wheel nor pedals. In fact, Sedric’s most notable feature may be the fancy button with which users can summon it. The button vibrates and changes colors when the van arrives, a feature meant to assist those with impaired vision.

While it may still be a concept car, Sedric embodies what VW sees as the beginning of a future of autonomous vehicles. “Sedric is the pioneer, the ideas platform for autonomous driving in the Volkswagen Group,” the company said in a press release.

Autonomous vehicles are increasingly being accepted as a safer alternative to their human-driven counterparts. According to reports, autonomous cars could eliminate up to 95 percent of road accidents as that’s the percentage caused by human error. Indeed, self-driving vehicles that lack any human intervention are the safest kind. In that respect, Sedric and its offspring could prove to be humanity’s best friends in the future.

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Tesla Is Bringing Autonomous Cars to Dubai

Tesla is now in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The electric vehicle manufacturer and sustainable technology innovator has brought its charging, service, and support infrastructures, as well as autonomous models to Dubai. The country’s Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) ordered 200 Model S sedans and Model X SUVs with ‘fully-self-driving-capability’ from Tesla.

The deal was formalized Monday between Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Mattar Al Tayer, the UAE’s Director General and Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors of the RTA.

In a statement, Al Tayer said:

This agreement is in implementation of the directives His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, to transform Dubai into the world’s smartest city, and the Green Economy for Sustainable Development initiative. It is also part of the Dubai Smart Autonomous Mobility Strategy aimed at transforming 25 [percent] of total journeys in Dubai into autonomous journeys by 2030. The agreement also reflects RTA’s efforts towards providing driverless transportation solutions through undertaking technological tests of autonomous transit means.

Image credits: RTA
Image Credit: RTA

Tesla expects to begin delivery of the vehicles by July of this year.

The RTA will be the one oversee regulation of the vehicles in Dubai. The self-driving capable vehicles will be added to the Dubai Taxi Corporation’s limousine fleet. Studies have shown that autonomous vehicles can actually save lives, so far reducing Tesla crashes by up to 40 percent. Some suggest that driverless cars could save an estimated 32,000 lives per year. And as soon as Tesla rolls out its improved autopilot self-driving software, Dubai expects the usual regulatory approvals to come with ease. Perhaps this wave of autonomous vehicles in Dubai will lead to safer future roadways.

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A Company Just Open-Sourced All of Its Self-Driving Software

Last year, we reported that online educational tech company Udacity was working on a self-driving car concept. Now, the company is starting to make good on its promise to open source the complete design, announcing that they’ve released their self-driving car simulator via open source license. All users need is a working knowledge of the Unity engine to be able to create their own tracks to test out their autonomous car software.


Most testing of self-driving vehicle software is done in virtual environments for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it is much cheaper to run computer simulations than it is to build an entire prototype vehicle. Also, it would be very difficult for a company to be able to guarantee safety for such testing, even if they were able to find a jurisdiction that would allow them to put their prototype on the road.

Having a free simulator will help spur innovation in the field, hopefully putting self-driving cars on an even faster track toward widespread viability. Ninety-four percent of automobile crashes are caused by human error, so taking people out of the equation could reduce that death toll considerably. With nearly 30,000 fatalities caused by auto collisions in the United States alone, there is no better time than now to speed along the process.

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Autonomous Cars Are Safer When Humans Don’t Help

Performance Report

Earlier this month, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) released a report detailing the performance of autonomous cars on public roads. This is the second time the DMV has published this report, thus providing a point of comparison between the first time these various car models were tested and the advances they have achieved since.

The report focused on 11 companies that have been testing more than one hundred self-driving vehicles on public roads – mostly in the Silicon Valley area. Data includes safety-related incidents and tracked disengagement events. Disengagement refers to how many times a human has to take back control of the vehicle while it’s on the road for safety reasons.

Among the notable statistics the report showed were Google’s self-driving vehicle, Waymo. The vehicle recorded an average of two incidents per 16,093 km (10,000 mi)—mostly due to construction, emergency vehicles or debris on the roads, and weather conditions. It’s a significant drop from last year’s statistics, where they saw eight disengagements covering the same distance.


Nissan reports 28 disengagements across 6,597 km (4,099 mi), averaging 68 incidents per 16,093 km —a significant improvement from the previous year’s 713. Cruise Automation, who received its testing permit this year, reports 185 disengagements per 16,093 km.

BMW drove the least miles versus the other companies, reaching a total of 1,027 km (638 mi), but only reported one incidence of disengagement due to unclear lane markings. Mercedes Benz recorded the highest number of disengagements, with a rate of 499 times per 1,609 km (1,000 mi). But it should be noted it was testing on urban streets, not highways, which means the car was navigating through more complicated road systems and had to factor in traffic signals as well as pedestrian movement.

A Truly Autonomous Future

The different models tested were all in various stages of self-driving development, making an apples-to-apples comparison of their reported statistics difficult to assess. However, all prototypes demonstrated significant improvement in terms of navigating roads and highways, even with limited human intervention.

Exactly when autonomous cars will be ready for mass adoption isn’t just dependent on technology alone. Regulatory bodies will play a huge role in determining safety and establishing public confidence in the vehicles.

This small glimpse into the progress of self-driving technology shows how close we are to actually putting fully autonomous driving technology on public roads. And it couldn’t come at a better time — more than 30 thousand people die from traffic accidents in the US alone. Ninety-four percent of collisions are due to driver error. And when thousands of lives are at stake, advancements designed to prevent these deaths are certainly welcome.

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Elon Musk: We Will Have “Full Self-Driving Capabilities” in 3 to 6 Months

Many can’t wait for the day they can just sit back and enjoy a car ride without the hassle of driving, and if Tesla CEO and founder Elon Musk has anything to say about it, they won’t have to wait much longer. In a tweeted reply to a question about when Tesla’s enhanced Autopilot system would transition into truly self-driving technology, Musk asserted that cars with full self-driving capabilities are coming in the next three to six months.

Of course, Tesla has already made considerable improvements to its Autopilot software over the last couple of months, addressing the problems that lead to the several crash incidents it suffered last year. According to a report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as part of its investigation on the May 2016 fatal crash involving a Tesla Model S on Autopilot, these improvements on the software are effective and have already decreased Tesla’s car crash rate by 40 percent.

With 94 percent of crashes attributed to human error, if Tesla can get their system perfected, it could save thousands of lives each year. Given all the improvements the electric car company has already made to its system, six months tops to get to full Level 4 autonomy seems doable. Plus, Musk announced earlier that hardware improvements on Tesla’s car models will also come at a more aggressive rate.

It’s this full-on hardware/software integration that will lead to the self-driving cars Tesla has promised, so get ready for the day when your car will handle the morning commute for you.

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Self-Driving Cars Could Give Over 2 Million People Access to Jobs

The Promise of Self-Driving Tech

The list of the potential benefits of self-driving technology is long. Most of that list highlights the level of convenience the tech will bring and the fact that it will ultimately save lives by reducing (if not completely eliminating) human error from the task of driving. But as experts and the public continue to focus on these types of benefits, people with disabilities are pointing out the many new opportunities they’ll have thanks to their increased mobility.

According to research commissioned by the Ruderman Family Foundation and Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE), access to basic transportation via autonomous vehicles would have a huge impact on the United States’ disabled community as well at the country’s healthcare budget: “Approximately 2 million individuals with disabilities would have new employment opportunities, while $19 billion could be saved annually in healthcare expenditures.”

A surprisingly high number of disabled persons end up missing their medical appointments annually simply because they don’t have reliable transportation. Some of those people suffer from chronic disabilities that require consistent care and monitoring. By missing appointments, they can cause logistical problems for healthcare practitioners abd aggravate their current conditions. The patients often end up needing more expensive medical interventions to address their now-worse problems.

Google’s self-driving minivan. Image Credit: Waymo

Understanding Diversity of Needs

In the most practical terms, making self-driving technology available to people with disabilities could amount to a total saving of $1.3 trillion per year when you factor in improved productivity, fuel-efficiency, and a reduction of auto accidents. However, certain policies specific to addressing the needs of the disabled community will need to be adopted first.

To arrive at savings as close as possible to the above, lawmakers will need to ensure that people with all manner of disabilities — from the visually impaired, to individuals who use wheelchairs, to the deaf community, as well as those with intellectual and developmental disabilities — are accommodated by this technology. To that end, the report details several areas that will help guide the planning and development of automated technology and regulation. These include:

  • Recommending that governments loosen license requirements when operating level 4 autonomous vehicles (those capable of operating with no human intervention)
  • Suggesting that regulatory boards introduce autonomous vehicles to provide mobility for underserved communities, including the disabled community and the elderly
  • Encouraging the disabled community to make a concerted effort to focus on developing a common policy and advocacy agenda
  • Drawing manufacturers’ and developers’ attention to the need to make the technology as accessible as possible for those with disabilities

Admittedly, making the technology available to everyone will be a challenging task for manufacturers and policy-makers, but it’s not impossible, and a thorough understanding of how autonomy will impact the lives of everyone, including the disabled community, will ensure that we can all benefit from this new era in mobility.

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Report: Tesla Crashes Dropped by 40% After Autopilot was Installed


The Fatal Accident

Tesla has had its share of ups and downs, including a string of car crashes, one of the most tragic being an incident from May 2016 when a Tesla Model S on Autopilot slammed into an 18-wheeler truck and trailer at a highway intersection, which killed driver Joshua Brown. But, the electric vehicle company and its Autopilot autonomous driving system have largely been exonerated in the report released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) which investigated the accident for more than six months.

“NHTSA’s examination did not identify any defects in the design or performance of the AEB or Autopilot systems of the subject vehicles nor any incidents in which the systems did not perform as designed,” the report’s summary reads. It also clarifies that the Autopilot system that was installed “is an Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) that requires the continual and full attention of the driver to monitor the traffic environment and be prepared to take action to avoid crashes.”

The driver, supposedly, had seven seconds to spot the truck and take some appropriate action. The NHTSA, however, says that “the driver took no braking, steering or other actions to avoid the collision.”

Autopilot Saves Lives

The NHTSA report discusses the accident but also notes “…that the Tesla vehicles crash rate dropped by almost 40 percent after Autosteer installation.”

Credits: NHTSA Tesla Incident Report
Photo Credit: NHTSA Tesla Incident Report

And so, despite the initial crashes, Tesla’s autonomous driving system could actually save lives. The graph above was generated from NHTSA’s analysis of all mileage and airbag deployment data from Tesla for all 2014 to 2016 Model S and 2016 Model X vehicles that had Autopilot installed.

These numbers are bound to improve in the next few months, with Tesla rolling out an even more improved version of Autopilot. This new version includes features —such as traffic aware cruise control, a forward collision warning system, and an autosteer beta version enabled only at “low speed”— all intended to improve the safety of Tesla’s autonomous vehicles. In fact, it’s already saved the life of one Tesla driver when Autopilot predicted a collision two vehicles ahead seconds before it occurred. The autosteer beta is designed to prevent drivers from speeding, as well.

This is all leading up to the development of a Level 4 autonomous vehicle. Studies also show that self-driving cars will save more lives in the future —at a rate of 300,000 lives per decade in the case of the United States.

Of course, the NHTSA notes that, until we get to that point, driver vigilance is still needed. “While ADAS technologies are continually improving in performance in larger percentages of crash types, a driver should never wait for automatic braking to occur when a collision threat is perceived.” And so, while a future of safe, autonomous vehicles is close, there is still a long road of trial and error ahead.


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Self-Driving Cars Are Hitting the Roads in London

Nissan has been one of the United Kingdom’s top car producers for a while. As a response to the British government’s supportive regulatory environment for autonomous vehicle testing and development, Nissan will start testing its all-electric, self-piloted Leaf in London, with trials on public roads set to begin in February.

Credit: Nissan

This isn’t the first of Nissan’s self-driving trials. The company began testing their first vehicle equipped with Piloted Drive capabilities last October. Their hope is to have this technology in their production vehicles and on the road by 2020, a bold goal considering the strict government regulations worldwide.

As of now, Piloted Drive has a single-lane, highway-only mode that will be included on vehicles Nissan will release next year in Europe. Starting in 2018, Nissan plans to introduce a multi-lane highway autonomous mode, and the company is striving for complete autonomy in both city and highway conditions by 2020.

With an estimated 95 percent of traffic accidents caused by human error, self-driving cars could save countless lives. In fact, according to Tesla, the company’s fatal autopilot crash in 2016 was “the first known fatality in just over 130 million miles where autopilot was activated.” Compared to the more than a million traffic casualties each year worldwide, self-driving cars could save millions of lives and prevent countless other injuries.

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Ford to Release a Car Without a Steering Wheel or Pedals

No Steering Wheel, No Pedals

Experts say that we’re far from truly autonomous vehicles — meaning those that fall under the Society of Automotive Engineers’ (SAE) Level 5 category. But many companies, including Ford Motors, want to bring us a step closer to this ideal. Ford is aiming to launch a Level 4 autonomous car by 2021.

Ford CEO Mark Fields explained in CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” last Monday that the company hopes to make an autonomous car with “no gas pedal” and “no steering wheel.” It’s a vehicle that excuses the driver-turned-passenger from taking control “in a predefined area.”

“In our industry, the word autonomous is being used very, very liberally. There’s different levels of autonomy,” Fields explained. “The question that should be asked when a company says they’re going to have an autonomous vehicle […] is at what level.”

This refers to SAE’s levels of driving autonomy. The SAE actually identifies six levels of driving autonomy — from Level 0, meaning no automation at all, to Level 5 which is full automation. A Level 4 self-driving vehicle, according the SEA, employs an automated system that covers “all aspects of the dynamic driving task, even if a human driver does not respond appropriately to a request to intervene.”

Driving Autonomous Vehicle Leadership

Fields’ pronouncements in the CNBC interview, which actually covered a wide range of topics, aren’t just whimsical thoughts. In fact, “Ford has been developing and testing autonomous vehicles for more than 10 years,” according to Ford EVP for Global Product Development and chief technical officer Raj Nair. “We have a strategic advantage because of our ability to combine the software and sensing technology with the sophisticated engineering necessary to manufacture high-quality vehicles. That is what it takes to make autonomous vehicles a reality for millions of people around the world.”

“The next decade will be defined by automation of the automobile, and we see autonomous vehicles as having as significant an impact on society as Ford’s moving assembly line did 100 years ago,” Fields said in the August 2016 press release. “We’re dedicated to putting on the road an autonomous vehicle that can improve safety and solve social and environmental challenges for millions of people – not just those who can afford luxury vehicles.”

The plan includes investing in technologies by collaborating with companies involved in strong research in the fields of advanced algorithms, 3D mapping, LiDAR, and radar and camera sensors. And now it seems it includes removing the steering wheel and the gas and break pedals too.

Is Ford’s vision of a pedal-less and steering wheel-free car the future? More importantly, are we ready for such a vehicle? Well, stick around for 2021 to find out.

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CES Day One: The Weirdest, Coolest, and Most Futuristic Tech

It’s the first week in January, and that can only mean two things — painful hangovers from New Year’s revelries and the international Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas!  Forget Christmas…for tech nerds, the CES is like dying and going to heaven — a heaven full of shiny new technology, self-driving cars, flying cars, vibrating pants, robots, smart beds, and loads of other neat stuff.

There’s a lot of new tech to get through, so let’s take a look at some of the coolest (and weirdest) offerings at the CES 2017:

NVIDIA’s SPOT and Shield

NVIDIA founder and CEO Jen-Hsun Huang was the keynote speaker on Wednesday night, and he revealed some of the company’s big plans for the coming year.  Among the most notable was the “Shield,” a 4K HDR streaming media player, but it’s NVIDIA’s new AI platforms that are really turning heads. NVIDIA’s SPOT device, which can be simply plugged into any outlet and linked with the Shield, is capable of natural language processing and voice recognition, and it even knows where you are in your house. Big Huang is watching you!

Bosch Concept Car

Bosch’s new concept car gives us a preview of a world in which cars are personalized and, frankly, little more than big, expensive smart devices that can move you from place to place. Bosch’s futuristic vehicle concept includes facial recognition technology to customize the driving experience to an individual driver’s tastes, and the car’s haptic touch display, gesture control, and eye-tracking systems seem awfully “sci-fi” to us.

Credit: Bosch
Credit: Bosch

The FF91

Faraday Future, meanwhile, launched its FF91 — a fully electric, fully connected self-driving car with a 1,050-hp engine that can take it from 0 to 60 mph in 2.39 seconds. And it even includes a smartphone-operated “driverless valet” that parks the car for you. Eat your heart out, Tesla!

Driverless AI

In other news, the German automotive company ZF has partnered with NVIDIA to create the ProAI, a deep-learning artificial intelligence (AI) program that represents a huge step toward “intellectualizing” our vehicles. According to an NVIDIA press release, the ZF ProAI “will be able to process inputs from multiple cameras, plus lidar, radar and ultrasonic sensors, in a process we call sensor fusion,” generating a 360-degree sensory sphere for the vehicle.

Looks like our vehicles are finally getting the futuristic smarts they’ll need to survive in the 21st century.

Wallpaper TV

In the world of television (a perennial favorite), LG debuted the Signature OLED TV W — known on the street as “The Wallpaper TV.”  It’s got a flexible screen with a depth of just 4 millimeters (.15 inches). You can hang it on the wall with magnets, and it comes in 65- and 77-inch versions. It’s slim, sleek, and futuristic, and you can have it in April for the low, low price of only $8,000.

Vibrating Pants

Easily the most anticipated product at the CES 2017 — and without question 2017’s most promising transformative technology — is Spinali Design’s vibrating short-shorts, which sync with your phone and translate directions from your favorite navigation app into goading twitches to your left or right cheeks. For the time being, however, the technology is limited to women who habitually go braless and have an unhealthy denim fixation.

Credit: Spinali Design
Credit: Spinali Design

We’ll continue to keep you updated on the weird and wonderful technology being showcased at the CES 2017.

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Soccer Parents, Rejoice! This New Minivan Drives Itself

Google has been working on a self-driving car project for the past seven years, and just last week, it set up a separate company under the Alphabet umbrella to move the project forward. That company, now called Waymo, takes its mission of providing safe, fully autonomous vehicles to a new level with the addition of 100 Chrysler Pacifica hybrid minivans to its test fleet.

The minivans were produced by Fiat Chrysler specifically for Waymo in close tandem with the Alphabet company. This means that the self-driving technologies in these Pacifica minivans were not add ons — Waymo’s onboard computer power, sensors, and telematics are as much part of the Pacifica as its own electrical, powertrain, and structural systems (including the chassis), all modified and optimized for Waymo’s autonomous driving tech.

Credit: Waymo
Credit: Waymo

Everything took only six months to design and build, according to Chrysler, with engineering teams from both companies working hand in hand in the vehicle’s development. The Pacifica will join Waymo’s fleet of self-driving cars by early next year for more testing on public roads.

Although Google’s self-driving car project had its share of bumps along the road, Waymo presents its autonomous vehicle tech as “a safer driver that is always alert and never distracted.” Indeed, with 95 percent of all traffic fatalities the result of human error, self-driving cars are expected to save millions of lives, so the more variety we get in the types of self-driving vehicles available, the more likely we are to eventually have every car on the road be capable of autonomy.

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Uber’s Self Driving Cars Are Running Red Lights, Uber’s Blaming “Human Error”

Uber’s San Francisco trial run of its self-driving service last Tuesday is catching people’s attention. Unfortunately, it might not exactly be the kind of hype that Uber hoped for. As previously noted, the ride-hailing service company’s autonomous vehicle test drive in its hometown was given a red light by the California’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

To make things even more interesting, Uber’s self-driving cars were caught beating non-metaphorical red lights on two separate occasions — and in both instances, the vehicles seemed to be the Volvo XC90, launched the same day as Uber’s test run.

Here’s the video of the erring Uber captured by Charles Rotter, operations manager at traditional cab company Luxor.

According to an Uber spokesperson, “These incidents were due to human error. This is why we believe so much in making the roads safer by building self-driving Ubers. The drivers involved have been suspended while we continue to investigate.”

The incident was also witnessed by San Fransico writer and producer Annie Guas as she was travelling by a (human piloted) Lyft. She sounded off on Twitter:

As there are no current laws governing self-driving cars in the San Fransisco area, there is little consensus on what could or would be done. When a police officer was asked about the incident she stated, “First comes technology, then comes policy. It’s going to be a matter of setting some precedents,” said officer Giselle Talkoff, adding, “The companies that are putting these vehicles on the road should have their vehicles operate with due regard to the rules of the road.”


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U.S. Could Soon Require All Cars to “Talk” to Each Other to Avoid Crashes

A new rule from US auto-safety regulators, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), may speed along the arrival of mass adoption of self-driving consumer vehicles. The rule requires vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) connectivity, which uses short-range radio signals to allow cars to communicate information such as “each other’s speed, location, direction, and acceleration or braking, within a radius of about 300 meters.”

Image credit: US DOT
Image credit: US DOT

There are also plans in the works to allow vehicles to communicate with stationary objects such as stoplights or even physical barriers. These upgrades would not only benefit autonomous vehicles, but also serve to warn traditional drivers of dangers they may not notice, possibly even taking some control to prevent dangerous conditions.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx stated, “Once deployed, V2V will provide 360-degree situational awareness on the road and will help us enhance vehicle safety.” The agency is optimistic that the integration of these technologies can help to reduce the severity of up to 80 percent of collisions not involving an impaired driver.

Should the incoming administration proceed, the rule could take up to a year to implement. Half of all cars manufactured would be required to comply within two years, and then meet full compliance within four.

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Michigan’s New Laws Put Self-Driving Cars on Road Without Human Drivers

Last month, Michigan passed a bill that would allow trucks to travel in electronically synchronized groups or “platooning.” This bill has now been signed by Michigan Governor Rick Snyder at the Automotive Hall of Fame last Friday. The bill also includes legalization of testing self-driving cars without a supervising human in the driver’s seat, and without human driving interfaces such as a steering wheel and brake pedal. Ride-sharing services are also allowed to deploy self-driving cars to their customers once they are tested and certified.

This makes Michigan the first state to welcome self-driving cars onto their streets with laws that enable their testing, use, and eventual sale upon certification.

Michigan has taken upon itself to cradle the advancement of the self-driving vehicle industry. The state is currently developing a 335-acre self-driving vehicle research and testing site. There is already a 32-acre site, called Mcity, in the North Campus of the University of Michigan that has been dedicated as a test facility for running automated vehicles. Unsurprisingly, several automated car makers have chosen to set camp in the state.

However, although this is a big win for the self-driving car industry, manufacturers are still advocating for a unified set of regulations to be drafted by the federal government, rather than inconsistent and varying laws per state.

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Ready, Set, Go: Audi’s Cars Can Let You Know When a Stoplight Will Turn Green

Smart cars are getting smarter, and in one of the latest developments, Audi is making its cars more responsive to their surroundings through its Traffic Light Information feature.

The car manufacturer’s A4 and Q7 models can now tell drivers in Las Vegas how many seconds they have until a stoplight switches color. A countdown appears on the car’s dashboard or heads-up display, and right before the light switches from red to green, the countdown shuts off so the user can focus on driving.

The vehicle’s operating system gets the information by communicating with the Las Vegas traffic light management system through 4G LTE mobile data using a tech developed by Audi’s partner company Traffic Technology Services (TTS).


According to Audi, this is the first commercial example of vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) technology in the U.S. Simply put, this is the first car that can communicate with surrounding systems. Studies from road traffic research startup Surtrac have shown in pilot tests that intelligent traffic management systems can cut travel time by 25 percent and idling time by over 40 percent, so the system could help people get where they want to go more quickly without compromising safety.

This tech is expected to lead to vehicle-to-vehicle interactions, as well, and the implications for self-driving cars is staggering. Autonomous vehicles aim to be safer than cars driven by humans, with the ultimate goal of perfecting road safety. Enabling these cars to talk to each other and their surrounding infrastructures in real time would lead to the safest traffic network imaginable.

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White House AI Report: Everything You Need to Know [INFOGRAPHIC]


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