Sitting in New York City, looking up at the clear June skies, I wonder if I am staring at an endangered phenomena. According to many in the Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) industry, skylines across the country soon will be filled with flying cars, quadcopter deliveries, emergency drones, and other robo-flyers. Moving one step closer to this mechanically-induced hazy future, General Electric (GE) announced last week the launch of AiRXOS, a "next generation unmanned traffic" management system. Managing the National Airspace is already a political football with the Trump Administration proposing privatizing the air-control division of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), taking its controller workforce of 15,000 off the government's books. The White House argues that this would enable the FAA to modernize and adopt "NextGen" technologies to speed commercial air travel.
The NHTSA/SAE "levels" of robocars are not just incorrect. I now believe they are contributing to an attitude towards their "level 2" autopilots that plays a small, but real role in the recent Tesla fatalities. Readers of this blog will know I have been critical of the NHTSA/SAE "levels" taxonomy for robocars since it was announced. My criticisms have ranged to simply viewing them as incorrect or misleading, and you might have enjoyed my satire of the levels which questions the wisdom of defining the robocar based on the role the human being plays in driving it. Recent events lead me to go further. I believe a case can be made that this levels are holding the industry back, and have a possible minor role in the traffic fatalities we have seen with Tesla autopilot.
I recently chaired a UJA Tech Talk on "The Future Of Autonomous Cars" with former General Motors Vice-Chairman Steve Girsky. The auto executive enthusiastically shared his vision for the next 15-25 years of driving – a congestion-free world of automated wheeled capsules zipping commuters to and from work. Girsky stated that connected cars with safety assist (autonomy-lite) features are moving much faster toward mass adoption than fully autonomous vehicles (sans steering wheels and pedals). In his opinion, the largest roadblocks toward a consumer-ready robocar are the current technical inefficiencies of prototypes on the road today, which burn huge amounts of energy supporting enhanced computing and arrays of sensors. This makes the sticker price closer to a 1972 Ferrari than a 2018 Prius.
As close to a quarter million people descended on a city of six hundred thousand, CES 2018 became the perfect metaphor for the current state of modern society. Walking the floor last week at the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), the hum of the crowd buzzed celebrating the long awaited arrival of the age of social robots, autonomous vehicles, and artificial intelligence.
Deep neural networks (DNNs) have enabled great progress in a variety of application areas, including image processing, text analysis, and speech recognition. DNNs are also being incorporated as an important component in many cyber-physical systems. However, recent research has shown that DNNs are vulnerable to adversarial examples: Adding carefully crafted adversarial perturbations to the inputs can mislead the target DNN into mislabeling them during run time. There have been several techniques proposed to generate adversarial examples and to defend against them. In this blog post we will briefly introduce state-of-the-art algorithms to generate digital adversarial examples, and discuss our algorithm to generate physical adversarial examples on real objects under varying environmental conditions.
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.
Governor Andrew Cuomo of the State of New York declared last month that New York City will join 13 other states in testing self-driving cars: "Autonomous vehicles have the potential to save time and save lives, and we are proud to be working with GM and Cruise on the future of this exciting new technology." For General Motors, this represents a major milestone in the development of its Cruise software, since the the knowledge gained on Manhattan's busy streets will be invaluable in accelerating its deep learning technology. In the spirit of one-upmanship, Waymo went one step further by declaring this week that it will be the first car company in the world to ferry passengers completely autonomously (without human engineers safeguarding the wheel).
But under the plain meaning of this provision (and a related definition of "interstate commerce"), a developer could operate a fleet of vehicles equipped with its own automated driving system within a state without certifying that those vehicles comply with the FMVSS. This is the background law against which Congress might legislate--and against which its bills should be evaluated. Both bills would dramatically expand the number of exemptions that NHTSA could grant to each manufacturer, eventually reaching 100,000 per year in the House version. Some critics of the bills have suggested that this would give free rein to manufactures to deploy tens of thousands of automated vehicles without any prior approval. But considering this provision in context provides two key insights. First, automated driving developers may already be able to lawfully deploy tens of thousands of their vehicles without any prior approval--by designing them to comply with the FMVSS, by claiming testing or evaluation, or by deploying an in-state service. Second, the exemption process gives NHTSA far more power than it otherwise has: The applicant must convince the agency to affirmatively permit it to market its system.