Autonomous vehicles really don't know how to switch lanes as well as people do. They tend to rely on either relatively static data models that are difficult to study in the thick of traffic, or are basic enough that the car might only change lanes when it's absolutely necessary -- that is, hardly at all. MIT's CSAIL has a better way. The school has developed an algorithm that changes lanes more like humans do while respecting road safety. The new technique is a modification of a familiar concept of "buffer zones" that determine where other cars are going and how likely the driverless vehicle is to avoid a collision.
As the car approaches a sharp bend on a back road in Northern California, the $155,000 (starting at $99,900) Mercedes-Benz S560 slows down of its own accord. I guide it through the corner with a bit of help from lane keep assist. Then, as the vehicle exits to a straightaway it accelerates back to the adaptive cruise control speed setting until it encounters another switchback. The latest S-Class luxury line of cars from Mercedes ships with an updated version of Active Intelligent Drive (the automaker's semi-autonomous suite) which uses data from Here maps to determine just how fast the car should take a corner. That means if you're doing 65 miles per hour using adaptive cruise control and the upcoming bend in the road is too sharp for that speed (according to Mercedes and Here at least), the car will automatically slow down to an appropriate pace.
In a decade or so, law enforcement could already be used to dealing with incidents and accidents involving self-driving vehicles. For now, Waymo wants to make sure cops, firefighters, paramedics and other first responders know how to handle their driverless vehicles, so the company put together a 41-page law enforcement interaction protocol. According to IEEE Spectrum, the Alphabet-owned company has submitted the protocol to the California DMV as part of its application to test fully driverless vehicles -- ones with no human tester behind the wheel -- on its roads. And to summarize the booklet's contents (PDF), Waymo wants authorities to prioritize calling the company, immobilizing the vehicle and protecting its autonomous tech in case of emergencies. Back on April 2nd, the Golden State's new DMV regulations took effect, allowing it to issue permits to companies that want to conduct fully driverless tests.
Apple has more than doubled the number of its self-driving cars, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has confirmed. Since obtaining a permit to test autonomous vehicles, Apple's fleet size has steadily risen -- from a scant three test cars, to 27 in January, and now, 55 intelligent machines. Should the program remain on course, consumers could be chilling out in the driver's seat by 2019. The intake is accompanied by 83 drivers who will be testing the vehicles. At this stage, Apple hasn't been authorized to test self-driving cars independent of human supervision; for that, the company will need to submit a separate permit to the DMV -- something Waymo did last month.
You might not hail a ride from China's Didi Chuxing unless you visit Mexico, but there's still a real chance you'll see its vehicles on the road. California's Department of Motor Vehicles has issued an autonomous vehicle testing permit to Didi's American research wing, clearing it to operate self-driving cars as long as there's a safety driver. The move comes slightly over a year after Didi opened its US research lab, suggesting the company isn't wasting much time putting its technology on the road. Didi is getting its permit just weeks after California introduced new rules around self-driving permits, the brunt of which focused on completely driverless vehicles. A total of 53 companies were part of this new permit batch, though many of them are no strangers to the technology.
Automakers are trying to figure out where they fit in the autonomous-driving future. With sales falling, some of these companies are exploring the idea of becoming ride-hailing services too. BMW is one of them and during the opening of its autonomous Driving Campus in Germany, it offered rides in an autonomous 7 Series that gave us a glimpse of its plans. The ride itself was short. A quick circle on a closed course peppered with stationary BMWs in a parking lot -- but it was autonomous.
Expect to see driverless cars roaming around the Buckeye State in the near future. Ohio Governor John Kasich has issued an executive order permitting self-driving car tests on public roads, adding to a small but growing list of autonomous-friendly states that includes Arizona, California and Michigan. There are conditions, of course, although they're not extremely strict at first glance. Every vehicle will need a human operator from the company performing the tests and reporting any accidents. Every hopeful firm will also have to register with DriveOhio, a central hub for mobility initiatives (conveniently established by Kasich in January) that will collect information on both the cars and their testing locations.
Android Auto and CarPlay are both pretty great. You plug your smartphone into your car and you're greeted with a familiar set of icons. Why wade through a confusing interface, when two of the biggest tech companies in the world have made it easy for you to use the map and media apps you already know. But in the tech world, if you're not constantly improving, something else will appear and automakers, they're not sitting around. At Google I/O, the search and data-collection giant announced a modest, yet important update is coming to Android Auto.
Ask people in chillier climates if they're looking forward to self-driving cars and they'll probably just laugh. The technology has an easy time in ever-pleasant locales like California, but snow is a nightmare that obscures lanes, cars and entire roads. Waymo knows how to tackle that problem, though. In a presentation at the Google I/O keynote, the company visualized how its vehicles safely navigate a winter wonderland. Snowfall (and rainfall, for that matter) ultimately amounts to sensor noise -- that's the sea of purple in the image above.
If you're in Las Vegas, you can now experience what it feels like to ride in a self-driving car: Lyft has announced that it's unleashing 30 autonomous vehicles in the city. The ride-hailing company piloted its autonomous ride-sharing vehicles late last year in Boston and gave rides to people attending the Computer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas back in January. Unlike its trial at CES, though, the 30 vehicles part of this expansion is open to the public -- and yes, you can hail them like you would any other car through its app. You'll have to opt in to get the chance to ride one, though, so don't worry if you don't quite trust the technology yet. The vehicles Lyft used during CES were BMWs powered by autonomous technology developed by Pittsburgh-based connected car solutions company Aptiv.