Before autonomous trucks and taxis hit the road, manufacturers will need to solve problems far more complex than collision avoidance and navigation (see "10 Breakthrough Technologies 2017: Self-Driving Trucks"). These vehicles will have to anticipate and defend against a full spectrum of malicious attackers wielding both traditional cyberattacks and a new generation of attacks based on so-called adversarial machine learning (see "AI Fight Club Could Help Save Us from a Future of Super-Smart Cyberattacks"). As consensus grows that autonomous vehicles are just a few years away from being deployed in cities as robotic taxis, and on highways to ease the mind-numbing boredom of long-haul trucking, this risk of attack has been largely missing from the breathless coverage. It reminds me of numerous articles promoting e-mail in the early 1990s, before the newfound world of electronic communications was awash in unwanted spam. Back then, the promise of machine learning was seen as a solution to the world's spam problems.
Autonomous vehicles (AVs) will likely change the way we get around forever, but the AI that controls them might not be able to tell other cars on the road when they're driving like assholes. Case in point: The City of Las Vegas and AAA's self-driving shuttle, one of the most advanced public autonomous trials in the U.S., was hit by a semi-truck within hours of its maiden trip last month. The Navya Arma bus was stuck between a car behind it and the slowly advancing truck, which backed its way into the the shuttle. The shuttle behaved exactly as it was designed to in the situation, according to a AAA rep -- but it didn't move or, more importantly for the truck driver who might not have seen the vehicle behind it, honk a horn to make its presence known. One of the most essential tools for interpersonal communication between drivers wasn't even in the AI's protocol, which made us wonder: Can self-driving cars even beep?
See how self-driving cars prepare for the real world inside a private testing facility owned by Google's autonomous car company, Waymo. The Navya passenger shuttle is among myriad autonomous vehicles worldwide in various stages of development. And at an event Nov. 17 and 18 on the University of Wisconsin Madison College of Engineering campus, visitors will have the opportunity to check it out. The Taiwan-based electronic manufacturer's plans to use driverless vehicles to move thousands of workers a day at its 22 million-square-foot campus about 30 miles south of Milwaukee could pave new ground for the technology, which promises to reshape transportation in this country. More than a dozen states are scrambling to get ready for self-driving cars, and while major companies from Google to General Motors are testing such cars, few are in use yet.
Ford is changing the focus its self-driving car platform as early as next year. The company says it now plans to focus on features beyond just enabling a computer system to drive from point A to B. SEE ALSO: Lyft's self-driving cars are now on the road in Boston The company's president of global markets Jim Farley wrote about the new developments in a Medium post, in which he emphasized Ford's devotion to the customer as the main concern for its autonomous plans. More specifically, Farley wrote that Ford is dedicated to establishing systems that will prioritize the movement of people and goods, hinting at plans for commercial fleets and ride-hailing services that align with the company's existing deals and partnerships. The automaker's plans include a brand new self-driving vehicle design that eschews the hockey puck-sized LiDAR units mounted near the side-view mirrors seen last December for a less obtrusive roof-mounted sensor unit. Ford will test the new design in an undisclosed city starting next year, according to a report from Reuters.
Volkswagen has unveiled the electric van that's a key part of its MOIA autonomous vehicle ride-sharing service. Shown yesterday at TechCrunch Disrupt, it'll carry up to six passengers with niceties like roomy individual seats, ambient LED lighting, WiFi and device power ports. The van-pooling MOIA service will launch in Hamburg in 2018 with 200 vans, letting passengers enter a departure point and destination in an app. "We've set ourselves the goal of taking more than a million cars off the roads in Europe and the USA by 2025," said MOIA CEO Ole Harms. MOIA's aim is to eventually put autonomous, purpose-built vehicles on the road without drivers.
The event, in which no one was injured and no property was seriously damaged, attracted media and public attention in part because one of the vehicles was driving itself – and because that shuttle had been operating for only less than an hour before the crash. It's not the first collision involving a self-driving vehicle. Other crashes have involved Ubers in Arizona, a Tesla in "autopilot" mode in Florida and several others in California. But in nearly every case, it was human error, not the self-driving car, that caused the problem. In Las Vegas, the self-driving shuttle noticed a truck up ahead was backing up, and stopped and waited for it to get out of the shuttle's way.
Autonomous driving systems are changing the way we think about the future of personal transportation. How soon will we have access to vehicles that don't require human control? Are driverless cars just around the corner? What will our travel be like if we're spending a lot less time behind the wheel? What technology actually makes autonomous driving possible?
Earlier this year at the SXSW Conference in Austin, Texas, Bill Ford said out loud what a lot of people in the auto industry were thinking–or, more precisely, worrying about more than they care to admit. The Ford CEO was talking about the advent of driverless vehicles, a topic that's getting a lot of ink these days as every automaker and some of the biggest players in Silicon Valley pour billions of dollars into the development of "naked" robotic cars (so-called Tier 5 autonomous vehicles, or AVs, without steering wheels or pedals). Engineering the autos will be the easy part, Ford said, because the technology is ramping up quickly. More daunting, though, will be deciding how to program autonomous cars to make life-and-death decisions. "If a vehicle has to choose who does it hit (if it is about to be in an accident), does it save the occupant or 10 pedestrians?
Uber and Volvo announced an agreement where Uber will buy, in time, up to 24,000 specially built Volvo XC90s which will run Uber's self-driving software and, presumably, offer rides to Uber customers. While the rides are some time away, people have made note of this for several reasons. I'm not clear who originally said it -- I first heard it from Marc Andreesen -- but "the truest form of a partnership is called a purchase order." In spite of the scores of announced partnerships and joint ventures announced to get PR in the robocar space, this is a big deal, but it's a sign of the sort of deal car makers have been afraid of. Volvo will be primarily a contract manufacturer here, and Uber will own the special sauce that makes the vehicle work, and it will own the customer.
Waymo's autonomous cars have steadily rolled through test routes in multiple states over the past few years, and now the company claims it has passed a new milestone: 4 million self-driven miles logged on public roads. That makes the Waymo fleet the most experienced autonomous car platform currently on the road, according to the company, which says the average American driver would take 300 years to hit the same mark. While the number is arbitrary to a degree, the progress it represents is essential to Waymo's mission to create truly driverless cars. The AI behind the platform needs to be trained in real-world situations to understand how to react to every potential condition it might face, so the more test miles it logs, the better. The Google spinoff says its fleet of test vehicles drove the last million miles in just six months, a rapid improvement from the 18 months it took to accumulate the first million (from the first public test).