One day in late April or early May, Google removed the phrase "don't be evil" from its code of conduct. After 18 years as the company's motto, those three words and chunks of their accompanying corporate clauses were unceremoniously deleted from the record, save for a solitary, uncontextualized mention in the document's final sentence. Google didn't advertise this change. In fact, the code of conduct states it was last updated on April 5th. The "don't be evil" exorcism clearly took place well after that date.
Today, the NTSB released preliminary findings for an accident back in March, in which a self-driving Uber vehicle collided with a pedestrian. "At 1.3 seconds before impact, the self-driving system determined that emergency braking was needed to mitigate a collision," the release says. "According to Uber emergency braking maneuvers are not enabled while the vehicle is under computer control to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior. The vehicle operator is relied on to intervene and take action. The system is not designed to alert the operator."
This week, Uber announced that it will cease operations in Arizona and revive its self-driving tests in Pittsburgh. This, apparently, was news to the mayor of Pittsburgh, who issued a press release stating that he hadn't been informed of that announcement. "I made it clear to Uber officials after the Arizona crash that a full federal investigation had to be completed, with strong rules for keeping streets safe, before I would agree with the company to begin testing on Pittsburgh streets again," he said in the release. But, considering the NTSB released its preliminary report on that fatal Arizona crash today, it makes sense that Uber would want to continue its self-driving tests, which have been on hold since the accident. Mayor William Peduto had two conditions before he would agree to allowing Uber to test on Pittsburgh streets again: the computer-operated vehicles would never exceed a speed of 25 mph in the city, regardless of what posted speed limits were, and the company would use its app to alert drivers when they are exceeding speed limits when humans are in control.
Detroit: Become Human begins with a warning: "This is not a story, this is our future." Writer-director David Cage's follow-up to Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls weaves a tale about robots attempting to transcend their programming. But rather being a thoughtful, philosophical examination of consciousness, Detroit, instead, is a tone-deaf look at race. In Cage's fictional future, the golden age of leisure that androids were supposed to unlock for humanity didn't happen. Instead, it's 2038, and a third of the US is out of work because robots took over the jobs typically done by blue-collar humans.
Thanks to 3D printing, the fabrication of prosthetic arms, lightweight EV parts and even space travel have benefited from lower costs of production. Eager to build on that is a team of researchers from MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). They've built a fleet of self-driving boats that could provide a tantalizing glimpse into the future of autonomous transportation. Unlike the curvature of a regular boat, these 3D-printed boats adopt a rectangular structure -- a deliberate design feature which allows them to move sideways, attach to other objects, and potentially, reassemble into floating bridges or platforms for floating music events and mobile food markets. To bring them to life, researchers printed a rectangular hull, and connected 16 different sections together.
Apple's Project Titan efforts to develop self-driving car technology apparently have found a partner in Volkswagen, according to a report by the New York Times. While the paper said the tech company has pursued deals with BMW and Mercedes, it will apparently turn VW T6 Transporter vans into self-driving shuttles for employees moving between its Silicon Valley offices. We've seen some test SUVs out and about before, but Apple has had bigger plans for the project and a reported 2019 target date, so getting more vehicles on the road will be important. Now the Times says the project is behind schedule, and there's no mention of angles like electric propulsion or spherical tires. As for the competition, Waymo has continued to expand with new partners and plans to roll out an autonomous service in the near future, while Uber has suspended its efforts in Arizona after a fatal crash and Elon Musk is busy arguing with reporters over what is or isn't news.
After one of Uber's autonomous cars in Arizona collided with and killed a pedestrian back in March, the state's governor temporarily suspended the program pending investigation. But now the company is shutting down operations in Arizona entirely. An internal email obtained by Ars Technica, Uber executive Eric Meyhofer gave the news to its self-driving division, noting that the company hoped to start its autonomous testing in Pittsburgh this summer. The shutdown will take several weeks and cost 200 local workers their jobs, reported the Arizona Republic. When the program resumes, it will operate in a more limited way: "When we get back on the road, we intend to drive in a much more limited way to test specific use cases in concert with our Software and Hardware development teams," Meyhofer wrote.
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.
Humans have mastered acrobatics for centuries, but robots? They've barely learned how to jump, and Disney Research wants to fix that. It recently developed a human-scale robot, Stickman, that can perform aerial stunts with a grace closer to that of its fleshy counterparts. Much like a person, it tucks into a ball in mid-flight to perform backflips and other stunts. A combination of inertial motion sensing and a trio of laser rangefinders give the robot motion and height data that help it decide when to untuck and land safely.
We all love Westworld, but its main premise -- that we'll be able to build robots identical to human in the near future -- still seems impossibly far-fetched. That said, a company called Engineered Arts is definitely exploring the edges of the uncanny valley. It has built a number of life-sized, humanoid robots that look incredibly realistic and move smoothly, quietly and relatively naturally. The company's robots have been sold for research, education and entertainment purposes. However, it recently unveiled its top-of-the line "Mesmer" series, realistic down to the pores and individual hairs.