Erich Manser finished his eighth Boston Marathon on Monday, but this race was different than any one before it: It was his first time completing the course with an assistive technology called Aira. Because Manser, 44, is legally blind due to a disease called retinitis pigmentosa, a sighted guide has run alongside him during past marathons. Yesterday, in addition to that guide, he also wore a pair of Google Glasses that sent a live video feed to Jessica Jakeway, who from over 600 miles away in Columbus, Ohio, coached him through the race via a Bluetooth headset.
Neon-colored flying machines paint streaks through the air as they dodge, weave, and drop from one glowing checkpoint to the next on a complex racecourse. The pilots are comfortably detached, steering the vehicles remotely using streamed video to VR headsets. They are spared all injury except the shame of defeat that stems from a race-ending crash. For the Drone Racing League, this is the heart and the joy of an infant sport: a skill test for humans, performed by robots.
For instance, if the system detects a minor problem like an issue with tire pressure, it might see that as a good opportunity for the human to take control. However, it would first use its analysis to make sure the driver was prepared and ready to take the wheel, using collected data to make its decision and recommendation. And if the system decides neither the car nor the human are fit to drive, it would attempt to automatically slow down and stop in a safe location. Beyond directly measurable factors, the system could also cross-check other self-driving vehicle traffic patterns and accident histories to learn more about its environment.