Transportation


Self-driving Uber death should halt tech's race to the bottom

New Scientist

Around the world, vehicles kill more people than HIV/AIDS – about 1.3 million each year. In the vast majority of cases, it is the inattentive and error-prone humans operating those cars and lorries who are at fault. Pedestrian Elaine Herzberg died after being struck by an autonomous Uber car on Sunday as she crossed a road – the first time that a self-driving vehicle has claimed the life of another road user.


An Uber self-driving car has killed a pedestrian in Arizona

New Scientist

A self-driving Uber vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. Tempe police said the woman was walking outside the pedestrian crossing when she was struck by a self-driving car in autonomous mode. There was a vehicle operator in the car at the time of the crash, but no passengers. The 49-year-old woman was taken to a local hospital, where she died of her injuries. This is the first reported pedestrian fatality due to a self-driving vehicle.


Tiny robots crawl through mouse's stomach to heal ulcers

New Scientist

Tiny robotic drug deliveries could soon be treating diseases inside your body. For the first time, micromotors – autonomous vehicles the width of a human hair – have cured bacterial infections in the stomachs of mice, using bubbles to power the transport of antibiotics. "The movement itself improves the retention of antibiotics on the stomach lining where the bacteria are concentrated," says Joseph Wang at the University of California San Diego, who led the research with Liangfang Zhang. In mice with bacterial stomach infections, the team used the micromotors to administer a dose of antibiotics daily for five days. At the end of the treatment, they found their approach was more effective than regular doses of medicine.


Tiny robots crawl through mouse's stomach to release antibiotics

New Scientist

Tiny robotic drug deliveries could soon be treating diseases inside your body. For the first time, micromotors – autonomous vehicles the width of a human hair – have cured bacterial infections in the stomachs of mice, using bubbles to power the transport of antibiotics. "The movement itself improves the retention of antibiotics on the stomach lining where the bacteria are concentrated," says Joseph Wang at the University of California San Diego, who led the research with Liangfang Zhang. In mice with bacterial stomach infections, the team used the micromotors to administer a dose of antibiotics daily for five days. At the end of the treatment, they found their approach was more effective than regular doses of medicine.


UK's first public autonomous taxi trial to begin soon

New Scientist

STEP into a taxi in south London later this year and you might not have to think about paying a tip. The UK's first fully public trial of autonomous vehicles will soon be under way. For four weeks, a fleet of driverless shuttles will each ferry up to five passengers and a "safety warden" along a 2-kilometre route in Greenwich. Previous trials there and in the town of Milton Keynes required participants to register in advance. This time the vehicles will pick up anyone wanting a ride.


Dozy drivers pose big dilemma for next step in autonomous cars

New Scientist

As any commuter can tell you, everyday driving is often tedious, and being a passenger can be doubly so. Now imagine combining the worst of both worlds: a driver's need to focus on blisteringly dull traffic while simply being a passenger most of the time. That mix is the next step in autonomous vehicles, coming to a forecourt near you soon. The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) uses a six-level classification scheme for vehicle autonomy. Level 0 is no automation.


How a raised hand from a pedestrian could stop driverless cars

New Scientist

Should I stay or should I go? An LED display for driverless cars aims to give pedestrians at a crossing the power to communicate with vehicles, signalling for the vehicles to stop or drive on. Blink, created by researchers at the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London, turns the awkward dance of eye contact and hand gestures that happens when a car slows down while someone is waiting to cross the road into something driverless cars could understand. The Blink design integrates an organic light-emitting diode display into the windscreen and rear window of the car and uses light signals to show pedestrians when the car is aware of their presence. If the car's sensors detect a pedestrian nearby, a figure lights up that mirrors their movements, accompanied by a bleep.


Playing Grand Theft Auto can teach autonomous cars how to drive

New Scientist

GETTING computers to recognise other cars is surprisingly difficult. Earlier this year, the first fatal autonomous car crash happened when a Tesla Model S failed to distinguish a white truck against a brightly lit sky. Now a study has shown that self-driving cars can be taught the rules of the road by studying virtual traffic on video games such as Grand Theft Auto V (GTA V). Although firms like Google and Uber are teaching their software by physically driving millions of miles in the real world, they also train their algorithms using pre-recorded footage of traffic. But there's a catch: computers need hundreds of thousands of laboriously labelled images, showing where vehicles begin and end, to make them expert vehicle recognisers.


First UK trial of driverless pods paves way for autonomous taxis

New Scientist

Driverless car trials have finally reached the UK, in the form of two-seater "pods" zipping down pedestrianised streets in Milton Keynes. The purple and white vehicles, designed by automotive firm RDM, look like a cross between a golf cart and a bubble. The doors open vertically, but from the inside it just looks like a regular automatic car hooked up to an iPad. It's hard to tell that the car has been kitted out with the latest driverless control systems by Oxbotica, a spinout company from the Oxford Mobile Robotics Group. Tom Wilcox, a senior software engineer involved in the project, tells me he's there to grab the steering wheel if something goes wrong.


Uber and Google race against car firms to map the world's cities

New Scientist

You punch the destination into your phone and a driverless car soon swings to a stop next to you. You jump in and it whisks you north-west towards the I-80 on-ramp. But as you merge with the highway traffic, the car pipes up: "This car runs on the Uber network, which does not cover Detroit. You will be dropped at an appropriate interchange point." The way things are going, this could be the short-term prospect for driverless cars.