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Everything self-driving cars calculate before changing lanes

Popular Science

Navigation--to make a left turn, for example--is one of the best reasons for a self-driving vehicle to risk changing lanes. Uber's Advanced Technologies Group programs a car to check that there's sufficient distance between it and other autos before the maneuver. Essentially, its computer performs a version of a driver's ed following- distance guideline called the "two-second rule." The calculations also consider the riders' comfort: Cars won't gun it and scare them. A tall vehicle can block the view for humans and robot roadsters alike, so an autonomous car squarely behind a semi might stay put unless a human intervenes.


Self-driving cars should earn people's trust with good communication

Popular Science

Cars today tend to have people driving them. "We are taking that human out," says Bijit Halder, vice president of product at Drive.ai. "But how do we substitute that same emotional connection and communication and comfort?" The signs are a way of addressing the no-human-inside problem, and the car's orange and blue design is meant to be distinctive, so that they stand out and are easily recognizable to other drivers and pedestrians. "We weren't optimizing for prettiness," says Andrew Ng, an artificial intelligence expert and part of Drive.ai's


The role of humans in self-driving cars is even more complicated after Uber's fatal crash

Popular Science

A typical Uber driver has clearly defined responsibilities. Arrive on time, know your route, keep your car clean, and, most importantly, safely deliver your passenger to their destination. Sitting behind the wheel of a self-driving Uber--or any autonomous vehicle, for that matter--is, paradoxically, more complicated. A recent, tragic incident in which a self-driving Uber struck and killed a 49-year-old pedestrian, while a safety driver sat behind the wheel, has stirred up many conversations about blame, regulations, and the overall readiness of autonomous tech. The lingering question, however, is how we humans fit into this picture.


Someday, you might subscribe to a self-driving taxi service, Netflix-style

Popular Science

Would you subscribe to a ride-hailing service like Lyft if you could, just as you might sign up for Netflix or Spotify? On Wednesday, Logan Green, the CEO of Lyft, said that was the future for his company. "We are going to move the entire [car] industry from one based on ownership, to one based on subscription," he said. For example, Green added that a subscription to Lyft could cost something along the lines of $200, which gets you 1,000 miles of traveling around. "You rely on the Lyft network for all your transportation needs," he said.


This car doesn't need a steering wheel or pedals

Popular Science

You can wind up in a self-driving Uber right now in cities like Pittsburgh and Phoenix. But those vehicles still have quaint automotive essentials like steering wheels, pedals, and chaperones (" drivers"). When General Motors rolls out its Cruise AV in 2019, though, the electric vehicle's computers will be in control--all the time--eliminating the need for manual controls. The sedan will join a fleet of app-hailed autonomous taxis. Once the ride shows up, you can space out in its decidedly different cockpit, which offers twice the chance to claim shotgun.


A motorcyclist is suing GM after crashing into its self-driving car

Popular Science

It was morning in San Francisco on December 7 of last year, and a self-driving car and a motorcyclist were both motoring down Oak Street. The autonomous car, a white 2016 Chevy Bolt, started to make a lane change to the left from the center lane, then aborted it--the gap it was moving into shrank. When it slid back into the center lane of the three-lane street, it collided with a motorcycle that had been passing on the right. The motorcycle and its rider fell to the ground.


The physics keeping Star Wars' Cloud City afloat

Popular Science

Star Wars provides us with a perfect example of a science fiction floating city: Cloud City. Cloud City has an atypical backstory. Floating above the surface of the planet Bespin, the city was specifically designed to harvest tibanna gas rather than to house a displaced population. Tibanna gas is used in all kinds of technology in the Star Wars galaxy, including, but not limited to, blasters and repulsorlifts. Being one of the few sources of the gas, Cloud City enjoys financial success from its mining operations.


Lyft's about to seriously change the race for self-driving cars

Popular Science

Lyft also described its vision for where its service is eventually headed: A hybrid fleet, in which some Lyft rides are driven by people and others driven by machine. When someone hails a Lyft, under the right circumstances (if both the route and the weather were favorable for a self-driving car, for example) the firm could dispatch an autonomous vehicle. They declined to share any details on the timeline for when this might happen. The service plans to create an open platform that will allow autonomous cars from partner firms, like GM, Waymo, nuTonomy, and others, to incorporate their own technology and vehicles into the Lyft ecosystem. That partnership-focused approach was reported by The New York Times in June, and a collaboration between Lyft and Waymo (the self-driving car outfit that's part of Google's parent company, Alphabet) was first made public in May.


What moral code should your self-driving car follow?

Popular Science

Imagine you are driving down the street when two people -- one child and one adult -- step onto the road. Hitting one of them is unavoidable. You have a terrible choice. Now imagine that the car is driverless. Until now, no one believed that autonomous cars -- robotic vehicles that operate without human control-- could make moral and ethical choices, an issue that has been central to the ongoing debate about their use.


Uber Freight goes after the trucking business

Popular Science

A truck is a means to get cargo from point A to point B. A truck is a home, a job, a frequent guest in small towns that straddle highways, a way of life, and the beating heart of several supporting industries, all designed to keep the truck and its human pilot running. A truck is expenses, a breakable machine controlled by a fallible human, subject to labor laws and rules about interstate commerce. A truck is all of those things, and it may soon be a robot, too. Uber, the technology company (which, because of its ride-hailing app, functions a lot like a transportation company) launched Uber Freight on Monday night. The minimalist website features a gentle clip, filmed from above, of an 18-wheeler driving on a green hillside.