Anyone summoning a Ford self-driving taxi after the company's service launches in 2021 could be offered detours to sponsoring stores or wind up riding alongside packages out for delivery. At an event on Wednesday to showcase Ford's progress in developing autonomous vehicles, the carmaker said its driverless rides could be less than half the price of today's ride-share journeys,if the cars were used day and night and carried interactive adverts. The firm is also insistent that it is not lagging behind Waymo, which has promised a commercial self-driving taxi service by the end of this year, or GM, which says it will follow suit in 2019. "If we wanted to call a launch 100 vehicles [on the road] next year and go into some business, we could do that," said Sherif Marakby, CEO of Ford Autonomous Vehicles, a spin-off from the giant automaker tasked with developing autonomous technologies, vehicles, and services. "[But] we're an auto company and when we talk about launch at scale, we're talking tens of thousands vehicles, and [doing that] profitably. That's different from what others are thinking."
In a laboratory that overlooks a busy shopping street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a robot is attempting to create new materials. A robot arm dips a pipette into a dish and transfers a tiny amount of bright liquid into one of many receptacles sitting in front of another machine. When all the samples are ready, the second machine tests their optical properties, and the results are fed to a computer that controls the arm. Software analyzes the results of these experiments, formulates a few hypotheses, and then starts the process over again. The setup, developed by a startup called Kebotix, hints at how machine learning and robotic automation may be poised to revolutionize materials science in coming years.
In 2014 researchers at the MIT Media Lab designed an experiment called Moral Machine. The idea was to create a game-like platform that would crowdsource people's decisions on how self-driving cars should prioritize lives in different variations of the "trolley problem." In the process, the data generated would provide insight into the collective ethical priorities of different cultures. The researchers never predicted the experiment's viral reception. Four years after the platform went live, millions of people in 233 countries and territories have logged 40 million decisions, making it one of the largest studies ever done on global moral preferences.
Wherever artificial intelligence is deployed, you will find it has failed in some amusing way. Take the strange errors made by translation algorithms that confuse having someone for dinner with, well, having someone for dinner. But as AI is used in ever more critical situations, such as driving autonomous cars, making medical diagnoses, or drawing life-or-death conclusions from intelligence information, these failures will no longer be a laughing matter. That's why DARPA, the research arm of the US military, is addressing AI's most basic flaw: it has zero common sense. "Common sense is the dark matter of artificial intelligence," says Oren Etzioni, CEO of the Allen Institute for AI, a research nonprofit based in Seattle that is exploring the limits of the technology.
You could argue that Waymo, the self-driving subsidiary of Alphabet, has the safest autonomous cars around. It's certainly covered the most miles. But in recent years, serious accidents involving early systems from Uber and Tesla have eroded public trust in the nascent technology. To win it back, putting in the miles on real roads just isn't enough. So today Waymo not only announced that its vehicles have clocked more than 10 million miles since 2009.
This week, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency announced a challenge to push the limits of robotic design and control. DARPA's Subterranean Challenge will require teams to have robots maneuver objects through three different environments: a series of caves, a bunker-like "urban environment," and a labyrinth of confined tunnels. While the robots will be remote-controlled, they'll need some serious autonomous skills. They will need to rapidly map and explore unfamiliar environments even when communications are spotty and conditions are challenging for sensors. The teams will be allowed to use as many different types of robot as they like, but this will mean dealing with greater complexity in communications and coordination.
Once cars can finally drive themselves, we'll have more time to enjoy the journey and do other, much more interesting stuff instead. At least that's the concept behind some of the designs below, developed by retail giant IKEA's "future living lab," SPACE10, based in Copenhagen. SPACE10 was asked to come up with designs for autonomous vehicles that would be extensions of our homes, offices, and local institutions. Some of the agency's seven ideas, shown below, are almost practical. Who can't imagine autonomously driven cafés or pop-up stores?
Electric robo-taxis are a real possibility. Trends in transportation, energy, and demographics indicate that future vehicles will operate autonomously, run on electricity rather than fossil fuels, and be shared instead of privately owned. But before everyone can carpool in self-driving electric cars, we need places to charge them. Today, that's a challenge: there are only about 20,000 charging stations for electric vehicles in the US. McKinsey predicts that major economies (China, Europe, India, and the US) will need to invest $55 billion in charging infrastructure by 2031 to support the 140 million electric vehicles that will be on the road then.
Yamen Saraiji has four arms, and two of them are giving him a hug. The limbs embracing Saraiji are long, lanky, and robotic, and they're connected to a backpack he's wearing. The arms are actually controlled remotely by another person, who's wearing an Oculus Rift VR headset, with which they can see the world from Saraiji's perspective (cameras linked to the backpack ensure a good view), and wield handheld controllers to direct the non-human arms and connected hands. After the hug, the robotic arms release Saraiji. Then the right hand gives him a high five, and Saraiji smiles.
In deepest September, the thick of the pistachio harvest, the autumn sky was usually veiled with dust thrown high as the shakers and receivers vibrated through the trees. But for weeks now, the machines had stopped. This left the whole orchard--almost a hundred thousand acres--more vulnerable to aflatoxin than ever. It was nice to see the stars again. It was also time for the robots to come back to work. "You know, this kind of thing doesn't happen in Iran," Stephens said. Dash's client was the biggest farmer in North America. He wore snakeskin and sandalwood and a linen suit that glowed in the predawn shadow. "What's in Iran?" Dash asked. His gaze wandered over the rows of heavily laden trees. "You ever been to Iran?" Everything about him screamed sales rep: his acid-peel face, his giant watch, the snap of taurine gum between his smiling jaws. The blockchain they developed to track the uranium suddenly developed sentience, and your agency is the only thing keeping us meatsacks from being turned to glass." Brand reps tended to treat Dash as though her work with inorganic species had contaminated her humanity in some irreversible way. Brand reps for agri-bots were apparently no different from the others.