1. Talk to the hand
Edge cases continue to frustrate makers of self-driving vehicles because coding a database of basic scenarios and responses upon which a car’s software can call is far simpler than engineering artificial intelligence capable of autonomously navigating the unexpected.
At any moment there are countless complex, and often rare, variables that could confuse a self-driving car. But what about those altogether “ordinary extraordinary” situations, like when a police officer is manually directing traffic at an intersection where the signal has failed?
This week, the Law Commission for England and Wales, which is advising Parliament on its implementation of a new self-driving regulatory regime, received comments from the Association of British Insurers (ABI) recommending that carmakers be barred from referring to their products as “autonomous” unless and until they can safely navigate all emergency situations.Waymo said in 2016 its software was capable of reading hand signals from cyclists (e.g., “don’t run me over because I’m turning left now”), but it wasn’t until this week that the Google sister company was able to announce that its cars could now safely interepret real-time directional commands from law enforcement. The announcement marks a significant leap in AI, but still falls short of ABI’s all-emergencies threshold.
Waymo had already programmed its fleet to detect the flashing blues and reds of law enforcement and first responders, and to quickly yield, often faster than human-operated cars. And last year, the company was also the first in the industry to publish a police interaction guide.
- Exit question: How long until Waymo builds a self-driving police car?
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Amid whispers of a possible retrenchment from its self-driving ambitions, Apple submitted a program brief (PDF) this week to US regulators that outlined, among other things, exacting rules for its human safety drivers—and they are some of the industry’s most stringent to date.
To land a safety-driver gig with the consumer electronics giant, applicants must:
- Have a driving record clean of serious accidents, DUIs, and license suspensions or revocations;
- Pass a drug and background screening; and
- Satisfy rigorous defensive-driving training intended to hone reflexive responses and submit to ongoing vehicle-specific evaluations
Once on the job, drivers must take regular breaks, even if paired with an engineer at all times, and submit to surveys to determine the mental and physical toll exacted by their work.
3. The Auto(nomous) Bahn
- Beginning this week, students at Sacramento State will be able to catch a ride to class in a 3D-printed, self-driving minivan dubbed “Olli.”
- Speaking of Olli, Bloomberg has a timely behind-the-scenes look at AV minibus that can be 3D-printed to suit: think roaming soup kitchen, classroom, clinic or conventional transport.
- Chinese AV trucking startup Fabu says it has facilitated over 60,000 express deliveries as of this month.
- The elderly and people with disabilities remain chronically underserved by both public and private transportation options. Here’s how AVs could change that. Bonus: the Economist on why retirees are an ideal customer base for the AV sector.