Skip to main content

They Promised Us Self-Driving Cars, We Got?

A Ford/Argo AI driverless test vehicle.

image: Ford

Rewind a few years back and the self-driving razzmatazz was on full force. "From 2020 you will become a permanent backseat driver", proclaimed a Guardian article. "10 Million Self-Driving Cars Will Hit The Road By 2020", proclaimed another from Forbes. The message was clear, if you (an automaker in this case) weren't investing in this imminent hot-new thing, you were sort of doomed. It was the year 2016 and self-driving startups were emerging here and there. Several launched out of stealth with millions. Likewise, there were big acquisitions. General Motors acquired Cruise, then a 40-person self-driving startup, for a cool $581 million. Uber entered a deal to acquire Otto for $680 million just six months after it emerged from stealth.

Now, fast-forward a few years later, it seems the only fully functional self-driving car we got is this;

image: Courtesy of Ford

Wow, have a closer look, no driver!.

Actually, have a closer look;

image: Courtesy of Ford

There's one.

image: Courtesy of Ford

He just dressed up as a car seat.

That was the result of a partnership between automaker Ford and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute to go "undercover" and test pedestrian reaction to a moving vehicle that seemed to do so without any human driver. It was a nice one indeed.

Now, this isn't to make jest of the self-driving industry as there exists much evidence of a great deal of progress that has been achieved in the field. However, the question still stands. It's 2020, where are our self-driving vehicles?. The honest answer? still being worked on.

Now, the automotive field is one that's really crucial. It powers a huge slice of the global economy. Think of how our lives would get distorted, either for good or the opposite, if a sweeping sudden change took effect in our transportation systems. You might be able to get to work way earlier or way slower than you normally do. Congestion may greatly decrease or on the opposite end greatly rise. The cost of transportation infrastructure may greatly decrease, freeing up budgets for other sectors, or on the opposite end, greatly increase, leading to squeezes from other sectors. The hypotheses are far too many.

Safety is paramount in the automotive world. A car accident can be fatal to both drivers, passengers, and pedestrians, and something no one desires is to experience the distress that usually accompanies a vehicle accident both in regards to a victim or relatives of a victim. It's then no surprise that safety is a principal requisite to the deployment of driverless vehicles, and likewise a principal hurdle to its deployment.

There are far too many cases, both edge and routine, in a driving environment. Deploying a fully driverless vehicle would require that a computer is familiar with many (in this case millions) of them and is able to compute and effect decisions when it encounters similar but not exactly familiar cases. This is indeed a laborious feat to pull off, and it's no surprise that we currently don't have fully driverless cars on our roads even after series of promises backed by billions of dollars in investments and millions of testing miles driven by equipped autonomous vehicles.

Merely two years ago, we encountered what was the first reported fatal crash involving a driverless vehicle when an autonomous vehicle operated by ride-hailing giant Uber hit a pedestrian, Elaine Herzberg, in the state of Arizona. That event stirred backlash for Uber and led to a halt of its self-driving operations in that state. "Uber should be shut down", friends of the victim proclaimed.

Uber's self-driving car happened to have recognized the victim 6 seconds before impact while traveling at 43 miles-per-hour (mph), according to an ensuing report from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). As the vehicle and her path converged, its self-driving software classified her as first an unknown object, as a vehicle, and then as a bicycle (she happened to be pushing one while on foot as at the time of the incident). At 1.3 seconds before impact, the vehicle's computer vision system determined that an emergency braking maneuver was necessary to mitigate a collision but couldn't initiate one as emergency braking maneuvers were not enabled by Uber for vehicles under computer control in order to "reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior", the report said.

Also, the present vehicle operator didn't act on time (a police report said she had been streaming a television show on her phone up until about the time of impact), leading to a fatal situation for Elaine Herzberg, the victim. Uber was later cleared of any criminal liability regarding the incident but did settle with the family of the victim on undisclosed terms.

That incident drew both ire and crucial inquiries regarding cases of accidents by driverless vehicles. Who is to be held responsible? the company? in Uber's case, it seemed not. In a hypothetical case where a fully driverless vehicle collides with a pedestrian or let's say, other vehicles on the road, would the company be held responsible as there's no driver to blame?. If not, what's then the incentive to not just unleash incompletely vetted vehicles on the road to meet targets (don't assume this is far-fetched, there have been several cases of negligence and ineptitude by companies even in crucial situations). After all, it's startup land. Want to launch a checking account without regulatory requisites? check. Scrape billions of photos from all over the web even without due permission to create an identification network? check. Pay off hackers for silence and not inform millions of affected users of a cyber breach? check. Heck, that was even Uber or to be precise, pre-Khosrowshahi's Uber. Things may have gotten better now.

Now, this isn't to judge, we're just stating mere examples of what has been previously witnessed and they sure don't look good. We can only hope similar cases don't occur in a field that entails life-or-death for many, or that strict regulatory codes are enacted to ensure we don't witness such cases.

An Uber self-driving vehicle (a modified Volvo XC90). This is the exact model that was involved in a fatal crash. Uber entered a deal to acquire $1 billion worth of Volvo XC90s in 2017. That deal still stands currently.


image: Uber

Left - An illustration of the crash by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the path of Uber's test vehicle in green and that of the pedestrian in orange. Right - the post-crash view of the exact vehicle involved in the collision, indicating damage to the right front side.
image: National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)

Safety isn't the only major hurdle to the deployment of self-driving vehicles. Others such as infrastructure, security (please, my car should in no situation be hacked and tampered with), police and emergency compliance, efficiency (you don't want your driverless car sometimes shutting down unaware like the machines around us), liability insurance, regulatory difficulties (not just setting laws but knowing the appropriate laws to set), affordability and so on still present tough barriers to be broken before deployment. We could have made an endless list if we wanted.

However, as earlier stated, this is not to disregard the sizeable progress that's been made in the field of driverless vehicles. It's just that the present hurdles still present major difficulties that could take lots or whole lots of time to break-through. Who knows? machines may one day be able to think intelligently and be able to make safe decisions in the numerous possible instances that can be encountered during vehicular transportation. May be vehicles will one day be able to communicate seamlessly with each other, giving off simultaneous signals to guide safe driving. In theory, driverless vehicles will drive many benefits if achieved. But the keyword remains "if", "if", "if". If it will, then "when", if when then "where?", the US?, other countries? how about developing and underdeveloped nations, will they participate or be left behind in the adoption of a crucial technological development? we really long to see.

But for now, we can deduce that they promised us self-driving vehicles this year, and we got? more promises.





Comments

  1. nice information thanks for sharing valuable content with us we also provide great information related to your blog feel free to visit our Sensex.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Unique cash for cars is one of the top companies in Gold Coast who pays top cash for cars up to $9,999 | Address: 135 Bradman St, Acacia Ridge QLD 4110, Australia | Email: info@uniquecashforcars.com | Phone: 0732 196 670 | Cash For Cars Gold Coast | Car Removal Gold Coast

    ReplyDelete

Post a comment

Most Read Posts

Velodyne Aims For Reverse Public Listing

Velodyne, the lidar manufacturer backed by among others Ford and Chinese search giant Baidu, is in talks for a reverse listing with Graf Industrial Corp in order to debut on the public markets, according to a source familiar with the matter. Graf is working with an adviser on a possible merger with Velodyne, according to our source. Last year, Velodyne was reported to have hired bankers to spearhead a possible public listing but it seems the company has decided to take the "backdoor" method of going public by merging with a Special Purpose Acquisition Corporation (SPAC). SPACs, in this case, are corporate entities taken public for the sole purpose of merging with another private company.

As a private company, Velodyne has raised some $225 million in funding. The company's last-known private funding gave it a valuation of $1.8 billion, a valuation Velodyne may be seeking to surpass on the public markets. Graf Industrial, the intended SPAC for Velodyne, held an initial pu…

Xpeng Begins P7 Deliveries

Just a short while after unveiling a new electric sports sedan named the P7, Chinese electric vehicle upstart Xpeng has begun making deliveries, notably a few weeks after the company formally opened a new factory to produce the new vehicle. Production has apparently begun at the newly opened plant and Xpeng says it aims to produce 100,000 P7 sedans annually. Xpeng surely moves fast, being a company founded only six years ago. The China-based company launched and begun making deliveries of its first vehicle, the G3 SUV, in 2018, four years after its launch. The P7 sports sedan is the company's second-ever vehicle. A picture below gives an encouraging look of a large number of P7 sedans awaiting delivery into customers' hands;


The Xpeng P7 costs anywhere between $32,000-$49,000 "post-subsidies", quoting Xpeng. It's available in 3 versions and 8 configurations. The vehicle's best feature happens to be its range, which Xpeng pegs at up to 706km on full-charge. T…

Tesla Now World's Most Valuable Carmaker

Electric car maker Tesla has been on a tear as of late, with its share price having shot past $1,100 a pop and given the company status as the world's most valuable automaker. Currently (as of writing), Tesla has a market capitalization hovering around $208 billion, beating the likes of Ford, GM, and Toyota which actually manufacture way more cars and mint much more revenue. Before now, Toyota had been the automaker with the largest public market capitalization. Toyota (as of writing) has a market capitalization hovering around $203 billion, a bit lower than Tesla's.

Investors seem to be drooling for Tesla shares given its valuation despite minting lesser revenue than other traditional automakers. For a quick comparison, Tesla delivered 367,500 vehicles last year while Toyota delivered 10 million, about 27 times Tesla's. Investors seem to have much courage in Tesla's future potential, given it's a company that only debuted on the public markets 10 years ago. The l…

DoJ Indicts VC Michael Rothenberg

The U.S. Department of Justice has announced an indictment of investor Michael Rothenberg, a once high-flying venture capitalist whose wings seemingly got clipped after the U.S. Securities and Exchanges Commission (SEC) accused him of misappropriating $19 million of investors' funds. Rothenberg was slapped with more than $31 million in fines from the SEC as a result, but it appears authorities are still pushing for more, as the Justice Department has filed charges of fraud against him. The DoJ alleges Mike Rothenberg "orchestrated multiple schemes to defraud his victims", victims, in this case, being investors in Rothenberg Ventures, the eponymous venture capital firm Rothenberg founded.

The Justice Department accuses Rothenberg of bank fraud and defrauding investors. As for bank fraud, it's alleged that Rothenberg made false statements about his wealth to his bank while refinancing his home mortgage and obtaining a personal loan. As to allegedly defrauding investor…

Peloton Launches On Roku

Fitness sensation Peloton has formally launched its app on the Roku streaming platform, entailing its live fitness classes can now be streamed by Roku users in the comfort of their homes. The Peloton channel has been made available on the Roku Channel Store, enabling users to stream live fitness sessions for a fee. Payments will be processed on the Roku Pay platform, making signing up much easier for users. Existing Peloton subscribers can also automatically log-in using their credentials and gain access to live fitness sessions.

The coronavirus pandemic has largely driven people away from public gyms towards home fitness activities, and such, online fitness streaming activity has seemingly shot through the roof. According to Roku, streaming on its Health & Fitness category grew more than 130% in May alone. Peloton happens to be a benefit of the large pivot towards home fitness, thanks to its stationary bikes and treadmills with live-streamed fitness sessions that have garnered a…

Uber Reaches To Buy Postmates: Report

Uber is in talks to acquire food-delivery competitor Postmates in a $2.6 billion deal, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal, which notes that a deal could be announced by next week or even sooner. Postmates has been said to be targeting an initial public offering but while also shopping itself around to potential buyers. Uber is notably fresh off an attempt to acquire Grubhub, another food delivery competitor which was, however, sold to British food delivery company Just Eat Takeaway.com.

Postmates has raised about $900 million in funding so far, valued at $2.4 billion as of its last funding round. The company had confidentially filed for a public listing in February of last year but didn't follow up with a public filing. In the past, Postmates is said to have shopped itself to companies including Walmart and food-delivery competitor DoorDash. Postmates is known to be unprofitable, so the public markets may not favor the company as much as a private sale and it seem…

TuSimple Seeks New Funding

Self-driving truck startup TuSimple is seeking up to $250 million in new funding and has hired investment bank Morgan Stanley to help it raise that amount, as first reported by TechCrunch. Morgan Stanley is said to have sent out informational packets to potential investors in a bid to seek funding for TuSimple. Already, TuSimple has raised about $300 million in total funding but happens to be seeking more. The San Diego-based company last raised funding in September of last year.

TuSimple was founded in 2015, at a time when most of the self-driving industry was focused on passenger cars rather than big trucks. The company has managed to secure significant funding and attention since then, with backers including UPS, CDH Investments, and China's Sina Corp. Although based out of San Diego, TuSimple currently tests on public roads in the state of Arizona and also in Shanghai, China. The company is aiming to make a dent in the $800 billion U.S. trucking industry.

As of its last fundi…

Amazon Hands Bonuses To Frontline Workers

The coronavirus pandemic largely boosted the need for e-commerce and, in turn, the fortunes of Seattle-based e-commerce giant Amazon. It's such that Amazon hired 175,000 additional people to keep up with increased demand. Now, Amazon has announced it's doling out $500 million in combined bonuses to its frontline workers, who were employed at the company throughout the month of June. The bonus is divided into various grades, including $500 for full-time warehouse workers, $250 for part-time warehouse workers, $1,000 for warehouse leads, $3,000 for delivery service partners, and $150 for each Amazon Flex driver who drove more than 10 hours in June. The bonuses for warehouse workers also covers Whole Foods employees.

The bonus dole-out was announced by Dave Clark, Amazon's famed logistics chief, who has been instrumental in setting up and overseeing the company's mammoth logistics operations. Amazon dubs the bonus as a "Thank You" bonus for its workers, many of…

Volvo Teams Up With Waymo

Swedish automaker Volvo has teamed up with Alphabet's Waymo for the development of self-driving technology. Waymo is now the exclusive L4 partner for Volvo, with both companies working together to implement Waymo's self-driving tech on Volvo cars. Both companies made the partnership known via a recent press release. The press statement didn't actually divulge many details about the partnership, primarily noting that Waymo is now the exclusive Level 4 self-driving tech partner for Volvo.

Volvo intends to use self-driving tech from Waymo to power an all-electric fleet of robotaxis. The Swedish automaker aims to debut an autonomous ride-hailing service in future time and has apparently seen Waymo as its best partner for that. Volvo isn't the first automaker to see Waymo as a viable partner, with the Alphabet subsidiary having already partnered with other automakers such as Jaguar Land Rover and Fiat Chrysler. Waymo is known to be the global leader in self-driving technol…

Personal Capital Sells For $1 Billion

Personal Capital, a Redwood City, California-based wealth management startup, has been sold to retirement plan provider Empower Retirement in a deal that adds up to $1 billion. Empower Retirement has reached a deal to acquire Personal Capital for an upfront payment of $825 million in cash plus $175 million in potential "planned growth" incentives. The acquisition seems like a win for Personal Capital, which has raised $265 million in funding as a private company. According to PitchBook data, Personal Capital was valued at $950 million as of its last fundraising in February of last year.

Personal Capital was founded in 2008. The company provides digital-based money management services, similar to the likes of Wealthfront, Betterment, and Acorns. Currently, Personal Capital manages a cumulative $12 billion in assets for some 2.5 million users. Personal Capital has offices in the cities of San Francisco, Atlanta, Denver, and Dallas. The company employs more than 400 people.

In…