Driverless river transport: the roboat

We profiled various “other driverless vehicles” in our recent bikes, trucks, bots and planes article, well here’s another one… and it has a great name: the roboat.

So far, only small prototypes have been deployed but a bigger model with a 6x13ft hull is in development, featuring GPS, water quality testers, cameras and LIDAR.

The robotic boat is the result of a five-year research project – a collaboration between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS).

Carlo Ratti, of MIT’s senseable city lab, envisages a new kind of on-demand infrastructure – autonomous platforms joining together to form floating bridges or stages, as well as individual roboats being able to deliver goods, transport people or collect waste.

This 1min 43sec video gives an overview of the project to date:

Looking ahead, the team will concentrate on finding ways to account for waves, currents, more passengers and heavier cargos.

The driverless dilemma: who to save in no-win crash situations

Addressing the vital question of what driverless cars should do in no-win crash situations, an AA survey of 21,000 UK drivers found that 59% would rather put themselves in harm’s way than risk more lives.

That seems highly magnanimous, but other results were far from clear-cut. 40% of respondents “preferred not to say” when faced with unpalatable options like running over children or the elderly.

AA president, Edmund King, said: “Of those who could make a choice, a clear majority decided to put themselves in danger, perhaps indicating they accept the risks and potential fallibilities of the technology.

“The driverless dilemma is a common question for programmers of autonomous vehicles, but the number of people who avoided giving a definitive answer shows this is a difficult ‘live or let die’ dilemma.”

The AA survey broadly backs up the findings outlined in Reasons to fear driverless cars – namely that most people agree:

1) Humans should be saved over animals.
2) The lives of many should outweigh the few.
3) The young should have priority over the old.

But it isn’t that simple. The waters get murky when people are asked if they would rather purchase a car programmed to protect them.

Azim Shariff, of the University of Oregon, asks: “Would you really want to be among the minority shouldering the duties of safety, when everyone else is free-riding, so to speak, on your equitability?”

Will all manufacturers apply the same default settings? Should owners be able to change them?

It is a huge concern that driverless cars could be on sale by 2021 when we’re not even close to answering such fundamental questions.

Drink driverless

Being able to have a beverage and leave the car in charge of the journey home is often cited (mainly by people in the pub) as one of the key benefits of driverless tech.

However, according to a report in the Standard, Huawei – the Chinese company best known for its phones – is designing cabin software which can spot if the owner is drunk and call the police.

The reason? Being drunk in charge of a vehicle, even if not driving, is an offence. There’s also a concern about override functions.

The system will compare the driver’s expressions, gestures and speech with archive footage, as well as checking for suspicious items such as open bottles.

Opinion will presumably be divided as to whether this is a clever safety innovation or an unnecessary invasion of privacy.

In another alcohol-related development, Makr Shakr – the company famous for using robotic arms to make cocktails – has combined this concept with an autonomous driving pod.

Digital Trends describes the result as a self-driving robot bartender, basically a mobile bar which you could summon via a smartphone app. Mojitos all round!

Driverless cars, bikes, trucks, bots and planes

Here at Cars of the Future we focus mainly on, er, cars… but when predicting how mobility might look by mid-century there are other driverless vehicles to consider.

Driverless bikes

Sky News reported last year on what it billed as the first self-driving motorbike, developed by British engineer Torquil Ross-Martin of AutoRd.

“A computer can do a better job than a human can because it is always concentrating,” he said. “When commuting you’re not necessarily completely focussed on what you are doing. You’re thinking about what you are going to do when you get to the office or whether you’re running late. That’s where the bike will improve the safety for commuters.”

Then, at CES 2019, Tech 360 posted this incredible video of BMW’s self-driving R1200GS:

Motor Cycle News (MCN) quoted BMW’s safety expert, Stefan Hans, as saying: “We can shift gears, we can steer the bike, but the fully automatic motorcycle is not our goal.

“Safety is one of the main things that stops people riding motorcycles. If we look at the last 20 years, deaths in cars have gone down by 73%, while deaths on bikes only gone down by 38%. Cars now can intervene before something dangerous happens and we need to learn more about motorcycles to help riders avoid getting in a critical situation.”

So, self-driving bikes are getting there, but many still tip the commercial vehicle (CV) sector to lead the way in driverless motoring.

Driverless trucks

For example, Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) recently introduced the new Freightliner Cascadia with level 2 automation.

“Automating acceleration, deceleration, and steering reduces the chance for human error, mitigates collisions, and can potentially save lives,” said a Daimler statement.

Driverless delivery bots

Perhaps surprisingly, given the attention lavished on driverless cars and platooning trucks, they could all get beaten to the punch by self-driving delivery robots.

These are already pootling about in the real-world. For instance, in collaboration with Robby Technologies, PepsiCo’s Hello Goodness ‘snackbots’ serve hungry college students in Stockton, California.

Amazon is also getting in on the act, using a compact self-driving vehicle called the Scout to make deliveries in Washington’s Snohomish County. The retail giant created this video to show its new walking-pace ‘delivery solution’ in action:

Driverless planes

With the ground getting crowded it might be quicker to take to the sky, so Boeing is working on an on-demand autonomous flying taxi.

Its test plane recently completed a controlled takeoff, hover and landing in Manassas, Virginia.

“In one year, we have progressed from a conceptual design to a flying prototype,” said Boeing’s chief technology officer, Greg Hyslop.

Must-see video: driverless from San Francisco to New York

Self-driving tech company, Pronto.ai, has posted a timelapse video of what is believed to be the longest journey yet for a driverless car, set to poetry by Charles Bukowski.

The vehicle in question, a Toyota Prius kitted out with digital maps and cameras, travelled 3,099 miles from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco to George Washington Bridge in New York in October 2018.

According to The News Wheel, Pronto’s Anthony Levandowski – formerly an engineer for Waymo – was in the driver’s seat for the whole trip, but didn’t use the pedals or steering wheel except to stop for fuel and rest.

Personal space: inside cars of the future

While navigation tech and crash ethics grab a lot of future car column inches, the implications for interiors deserve more attention.

As Marek Reichman, Aston Martin’s chief creative officer, noted at the launch of the Lagonda Vision Concept last year: “The electrification revolution means there is no longer any need for ‘horse and carriage’ design. The batteries occupy the floor of the car. Everything above that line belongs to us.”

Combine that with driverless and the options become mindboggling. From self-driving emergency clinics to mobile restaurants or red light districts on wheels, solutions will doubtless be designed for a wide range of activities.

Beyond the ‘real’ world, of course, there are further possibilities. Two former Audi employees, Nils Wollny and Marcus Kühne, set up Holoride to “develop the future of in-vehicle media”.

One innovation involves using live vehicle data (e.g. on acceleration or steering) to prompt real-time feedback in a virtual reality environment. They say this provides a more immersive experience and can also help to reduce motion sickness.

Can you love driving and driverless cars?

In an interview with Autocar last year, Jaguar Land Rover’s head of product strategy Hanno Kirner asserted that, in the age of driverless motoring, many keen drivers will still want to get behind the wheel.

“Whether it is SVO (JLR’s performance arm) recreating classics to modern standards or creating track-day specials, I think it will grow as autonomous driving becomes a regular part of lives,” he said.

The suggestion seems to be that driving will live on largely as a leisure pursuit, similarly to the way people enjoy horse riding.

The more exhilarating end of this pastime will be motorsport, but driverless vehicles are already edging into even this hallowed territory.

The radio controlled car racing scene has had a loyal following for years and esports – video game competitions – are huge these days. It isn’t the same the purists will scream. Maybe not, but it is getting closer.

Just a few days ago, 23-year-old Enzo Bonito set the internet alight by beating Formula E champion (and ex-Formula 1 driver) Lucas di Grassi on a winding track in Mexico.

Race of Champions Mexico  tweet January 2019
Race of Champions Mexico tweet January 2019

What made this performance exceptional is that Bonito is a professional gamer. He trained on racing simulators but successfully transferred those skills to tarmac to beat a big-name star.

Coincidentally, di Grassi is also CEO of the Roborace autonomous racing series, which is due to run alongside some Formula E races this season.

Is this an early example of passionate drivers and driverless cars living in harmony?

From high tech to highly debatable: self-driving at CES 2019

Here’s our round-up of some of the more interesting and lesser reported self-driving stories from this month’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas:

First, there was the hoo-ha over a Promobot being run over by a Tesla Model S. While the Washington Post described the incident as “a bit of embarrassment for Tesla”, Electrek suggested it was a PR stunt – they published a video of it here so you can make up your own minds.

Another one at the quirky end of the spectrum was the photographer claiming damage to his Sony camera after taking a shot of a lidar system. The BBC carried the story under the headline “Driverless car laser ruined camera”.

In more positive news, Aptiv offered enjoyable trips along the strip in its autonomous BMWs. The Inquirer’s journalist described the experience as “delightfully boring”.

Two of the most futuristic vehicles on show were Bosch’s IoT Shuttle and Rinspeed’s MicroSNAP (pictured above). The latter features a “skateboard” chassis and “pod” bodies that can be swapped at an automated robot station.

In terms of notable new partnerships, Ordnance Survey announced that its datasets will be combined with Mobileye’s car-mounted camera-based mapping to identify the locations of things like lampposts and manhole covers.

Elsewhere, German supplier ZF announced close collaboration with chip supplier NVIDIA, while GPS provider TomTom announced a link-up with Japanese components manufacturer, Denso.

Perhaps the most important news concerned the announcement of PAVE – Partners for Automated Vehicle Education – a group of interested parties including vehicle manufacturers (Daimler, GM, Toyota and VW), tech companies (Waymo, Intel and NVIDIA) and other big hitters like SAE International, the National Federation of the Blind and the National Council on Aging.

Their mission is to “inform the public about automated vehicles and their potential so everyone can fully participate in shaping the future of transportation.”

That all sounds great but it surely raises the possibility of confusion with the UK’s PAVE – People in Autonomous Vehicles in Urban Environments – a consortium including Race, Siemens, Amey, Oxbotica and Westbourne which is in receipt of government funding via the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV).

New driverless car UK road trials

Since 2014, the UK government has invested over £120 million supporting over 70 connected and autonomous vehicle (CAV) projects, with a further £68 million coming from industry contributions.

The most recent road trials to be announced include self-driving vehicles running on single-track roads in the Highlands and islands of Scotland.

Other new initiatives include an autonomous bus service from Fife to Edinburgh (across the Forth Bridge) and a self-driving taxi trial in London.

The ServCity pilot, led by Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), has won £11.15m from Innovate UK towards its £19.8m project to develop a bookable autonomous taxi service in the capital.

The consortium also includes the University of Nottingham and Professor Gary Burnett, Chair of Transport Human Factors, said: “ServCity is an ideal opportunity for us to conduct world-leading research to understand the complex factors that will contribute to the public’s acceptance of connected and automated vehicles.”

Elsewhere, the government has recently backed four other projects which form part of the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) and Meridian’s £100m infrastructure programme:

1) The Connected Vehicle Data Exchange (ConVEx), led by Bosch, to help position the UK as a leader in CAV research and development.

2) Highway Intersections, which will see 6km of track added to Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground in Leicestershire to mimic a variety of road junctions.

3) Rural and Highway, a project adding 265km of roads to UK public, controlled and virtual testing facilities via the Midlands Future Mobility consortium.

4) Self-parking Cars, a consortium including Japanese-owned HORIBA MIRA and Coventry University to create realistic parking scenarios on Warwickshire’s MIRA technology park.

On a visit to driverless vehicle software company Oxbotica, Business and Energy Secretary, Greg Clark, said: “The UK is building on its automotive heritage and strengths to develop the new vehicles and technologies and from 2021 the public will get to experience the future for themselves.”

For further details on CCAV projects, see the 80-page report UK Connected & Autonomous Vehicle Research & Development Projects 2018.

Reasons to fear driverless cars: job losses, personal data and who to save

Despite recent surveys showing a growing appetite for driverless technology, reports of rocks being thrown at self-driving test cars in Arizona demonstrate that public support is far from universal.

The Ford Trends Report for 2019 found that 67% of adults globally would rather have their children ride in a self-driving vehicle than ride with a stranger.

However, Arizona Central has highlighted at least 21 incidents involving autonomous vehicles, including, in the most extreme example, a handgun being pulled on a Waymo safety driver.

Job losses

According to Phil Simon, information technologies lecturer at Arizona State University, the discontent stems from a belief that Waymo will put them out of a job.

“There are always winners and losers, and these are probably people who are afraid and this is a way for them to fight back in some small, futile way,” he said.

In the UK, research by MoneySuperMarket found that over a million jobs could be replaced by driverless vehicles , including those of delivery, forklift, bus and taxi drivers.

Personal data

Another common objection to self-driving cars relates to data access.

According to a survey by insurer AXA and law firm Burges Salmon, just 5% of motorists said vehicle manufacturers should control driverless car personal data.

20% said the government should be the data controller, while 16% said a new driverless car regulatory body should be created.

David Williams, technical director at AXA UK, said: “Connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) will only become a reality if users trust us with their personal data. This data is integral for driverless vehicles to provide reduced congestion, fewer accidents and better mobility for all.”

Civil liberty advocates will have read with interest the Associated Press finding that major automakers are providing live data to Chinese authorities.

Those listed include Tesla, Volkswagen, BMW, Daimler, Ford, General Motors, Nissan and Mitsubishi.

Chinese officials say it is for analytical purposes to improve public safety and infrastructure planning, but this is a country where things like internet censorship and facial recognition are commonplace.

Who to save

Another thorny issue is the question of who to save in a crash situation – see the section on The Trolley Problem in Autonomous now: the shift to self-driving.

According to The Moral Machine, an experiment involving two million users in more than 200 countries, most people agree that:

1) Humans should be saved over animals.
2) The lives of the many should be prioritised over the few.
3) The young should have priority over the old.

Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple. The World Economic Forum reported some peculiar preferences e.g. dogs should be prioritised over criminals and cats.

Will all manufacturers apply the same default settings? Should owners be able to change them? Many would surely be tempted to protect themselves over all others.

The debate looks set to run and run.