Not anytime soon? Driverless cars are already here

There’s a story doing the rounds this week that autonomous cars “aren’t coming anytime soon”.

Well, here in the UK the government is planning public road trials without safety drivers.

In the US, Waymo already has 10 million self-driving miles on public roads under its belt.

Serious issues like who to save in no-win crash situations and reasons to fear driverless: personal data remain, but the autonomous vehicle revolution has started.

Must-see video: VR world enables billions of driverless test miles

Having made its name in gaming graphics, it should come as no surprise that Nvidia has created an autonomous vehicle (AV) simulator – a computer platform which enables developers to design a near-infinite variety of conditions and scenarios for driverless cars.

The US tech giant (which already has links with manufacturers including Audi, Mercedes, Tesla, Toyota, Volvo and VW) says its new Drive Constellation will help the global automotive industry to drive billions of test miles safely in virtual reality.

In another notable move, Nvidia recently announced a joint initiative with the government of Luxembourg to create a national artificial intelligence (AI) laboratory.

“Luxembourg is nurturing a pan-European innovation ecosystem,” said Prime Minister Xavier Bettel. “This cooperation is big news for our local innovators, and our country is proud to be the first European country to create an AI partnership with Nvidia.”

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.

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).