Welcome again to The Driverless Commute, presented by the global law firm Dentons, a weekly digest clocking the most important technical, legal and regulatory developments shaping the path to autonomy.
1. The cure for the common traffic jam
It makes sense that to reduce traffic, cities somehow need to reduce the number of drivers. But what if reducing drivers didn’t require reducing the number of cars?
You often hear that driverless cars will radically change the commute experience, as riders redirect time previously spent mumbling curses and braking excessively to flex-work pursuits. But new research suggests that a single connected autonomous vehicle could dramatically improve traffic conditions (and in turn the manual driving experience) for everyone on the road.
When the first in a stream of vehicles brakes, subsequent vehicles brake with increasing intensity to offset delayed reaction times. That cascading effect eventually creates standstills—what researchers call “phantom traffic jams.”
A new study by researchers at the University of Michigan published in the journal Transportation Research found that the presence of an autonomous connected car in a stream of connected-but-otherwise-conventional vehicles not only mitigated waves of braking but also reduced energy consumption of the whole stream.
“[The UMich] team took eight cars out onto the quiet roads of southeast Michigan. The vehicles were a mix of unremarkable sedans but with the ability to broadcast their position and velocity (meaning speed and direction). One car was picked to act as the autonomous car, and the onboard computer was wired into its brakes, with the ability to apply them just as much as necessary, as early as possible.
“Then the team drove around as a convoy, cruising at 55 mph until one driver braked, stomping the pedal harder each time. The humans behind that car hit the brakes hard enough to throw them against their seat belts. But the connected car in the pack got advanced notification that a car several ahead was slowing, and it started slowing more gently, not even hard enough to spill a cup of coffee. The human drivers behind that car were also able to brake more gently—and they didn’t get bunched up.
“Driving more smoothly saved energy too, by as much as 19 percent in the connected car, and 7 percent for the human-driven vehicles behind it.”
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2. Milk and honey and robocars
Mobileye, Intel’s Israel-based developer of advanced driver-assistance systems, is deploying its camera-based autonomous technology on the chaotic streets of Jerusalem, the company announced this week. Because, in their words, “If you can drive in Jerusalem, you can drive (almost) anywhere.”
The pilot will rely at launch on camera data alone but will expand over time to include both radar and lidar, said Amnon Shashua, CEO and CTO of Mobileye.
The goal is to create individually viable systems that “can support fully autonomous driving on its own,” but together would create a system of “true redundancy,” Shashua said.
While policymakers struggle to identify a minimum safety threshold for autonomous technology, Mobileye says it wants its driverless cars to be one thousand times safer than a human driver. Using a failure probability measure of mean time between failure, the company hopes to create a vehicle that can travel a billion hours before, on average, an error causes a death.
To validate that goal, Mobileye would need to process a billion hours’ worth of data. “True redundancy” with cameras, lidar and radar would lower that figure to just 30,000 hours of data, or the square root of a billion hours, because each system would operate as a failsafe for the others.
At the same time the company announced it had inked a deal to provide its self-driving technology for eight million cars to a “European automaker,” which it declined to identify. (Mobileye already works with BMW, Audi and Fiat Chrysler, if you were wondering.)
This time last year Apple had just three autonomous vehicles operating in California. Since then, the famously secretive company has expanded its fleet to more than 55 cars, according to the most recent state disclosures.
In fact, its fleet is now the second-largest operating in the Golden State, according to the Apple-obsessed website Mac Reports. (GM’s Cruise has 104 cars and Waymo has 51.)
4. See the world through a car’s eyes
Drive.ai released footage this week of its conspicuously bright orange Nissan NV200 taxi van navigating the streets of Frisco, TX. The company is set to open a public pilot later this summer.
The video, which shows a ghostly steering wheel negotiating a roundabout and a six-lane intersection, also includes an inset frame of the car’s perception system in real-time, allowing the viewer to see how the car sees its surroundings.
We should note that while the driver’s seat is empty, there is a “chaperone” in the passenger seat (not pictured in the video) who can assume control in the event of an emergency. As an added redundancy, the car is also remotely responsive to a teleoperator. Over time, the pilot will do away with the fallback chaperones.
5. AV War Room
Our best-in-industry intelligence service, the Console, marries machine learning algorithms with human analysis to create comprehensive, real-time advisories on everything autonomy.
It monitors, digests, and packages everything of consequence to your business: television and radio chatter, social media scoops, legislative and regulatory activity, legal filings, acquisitions, and white papers.
A service of Dentons’ 3D Global Affairs, which yokes traditional legal capabilities with government affairs, corporate competitive analysis, and strategic communications, the Console mines the public record to populate an easy-to-navigate platform.