Autonomous Driving Update

Back in April there was a run of stories about autonomous vehicles.

  1. Singapore was rolling out driverless taxis (one has since been involved in a minor fender-bender).
  2. Roborace, the first driverless race car event was announced (the kinks are still being worked out and Audi just reported that they dropped out of Le Mans to focus on Formula E.
  3. Europe held a driverless truck convoy contest.

The driverless truck has come to our shores and today, Otto, Über’s self-driving truck division, announced that they had successfully delivered a load of Budweiser beer in Colorado, driving 120 miles on Interstate 25 with the driver in the back seat.

Oh, and Tesla’s in the running too with self-driving their own demo filmed here in the Bay Area.

And just in case you were wondering, Hollywood is working on a reboot of Knight Rider.

Trikala’s Magic Bus

While driverless trucks, taxis, and race cars have been all the rage this past week, little ol’ Greece has been quietly running a trial for the past six months of their driverless bus system. The town of Trikala, Greece has been running the trial since November of last year and it seems to be serving this town of 130,000 just fine thank you very much.

The bus pokes along on a dedicated 2.4 km track at around 10 mph and doesn’t have too much in the way of smarts. If someone parks in it’s way, it doesn’t have algorithms that help it swerve around the obstacle, it just waits. This is the Mediterranean after all, you might as well sit back and enjoy the company.

via Boing Boing

Roboracers and Race Conditions

Driverless truck convoys, driverless taxi fleets, it’s only natural that we take the driver out of the racecar as well. Sometime in the next year or two the Formula E electric car racing series plans to have its first driverless Roborace.

Not only will speeds top 300mph, because there is no driver, it frees up lots of considerations when it comes to design. That head that sticks out of the top of an F-1 car always was always a trouble to design around. You had to protect it and put up a windscreen to make it aerodynamic. When you take that out, you are really are building a missile on wheels.

If this first car prototype looks like something out of the movie Tron that’s not a mistake. The designer of this NVida vehicle is Daniel Simon, the same one that designed the light cycles for the movie.

NVidia, the graphics card company, is using the Roborace as a platform for development of self-driving car technology. Each race will consist of identical cars that share the same spec.

  • Gross weight: 2,200 pounds
  • Length: 15 feet, 9 inches
  • Width: 6 feet, 7 inches
  • Wheelbase: 9 feet, 2 inches

The competitive edge will come from the software. These cars will drive themselves. They are not remotely controlled but will use an array of sensors to “see” the road ahead and cars around them.

“Many people from motorsports think it’s going to be a big remote-control car.” But while the Roborace car’s team will program the car to drive, he explained, the car itself will be in charge during actual driving. “All the decisions are happening within the car. Teams cannot manage the car anymore on the course.”

The specs and story behind the Roborace autonomous car and its Nvidia Drive PX 2 brains

This contest is as much about the spectacle of cool-looking cars racing themselves around a track and showing off the future of self-driving cars powered by NVidia hardware as it is stress-testing the software that can dynamically stream and process data for autonomous vehicles everywhere.

nvidia-drive-px-2-board-100654615-orig

Oh, and for those that just watch the races to see a spectacular crash, apparently there is going to be a “fight mode.”

Driving Thy Self

News about autonomous vehicles is coming thick and fast. Yesterday we learned about truck platoons that can drive themselves across Europe and today I bring you a fleet of self-driving taxis is launching in Singapore from a company called nuTonomy.

nuTonomy

According to a post from MIT (where nuTonomy started out three years ago) the company passed its first driving tests and is in the process of getting approval for road testing. It makes sense that driverless car technology would make its first appearance in the tiny city state, roads are notoriously congested and the government has tried everything from high taxation to even/odd driving days to keep the downtown streets free of traffic.

But to really make things work, you need to have sophisticated algorithms manage where to place the cars and which routes to drive.

One such innovation is advanced fleet management, derived from Frazzoli’s previous work writing algorithms to coordinate swarms of drones for the U.S. military. Using similar concepts, Frazzoli, Iagnemma, and nuTonomy’s engineers designed algorithms to allow the minimal number of cars to cart people around a city, alleviating traffic congestion and reducing emissions. In a 2014 paper published in Road Vehicle Automation, Frazzoli and colleagues estimated that 300,000 driverless taxis, in theory, could do the work of the 780,000 privately owned cars currently operating today in Singapore, while keeping waiting times below 15 minutes.

In addition to the algorithms, nuTonomy has built in rules which allow the cars to override traffic laws when prudent. We all know that when a truck is flashing its blinkers and double-parked that we can make an exception, when oncoming traffic is clear, to cross over a double-line and get around the truck. Teaching this to a self-driving car is more nuanced and difficult.

nutonomy-decisionmaking

“Robot Taxis” are being planned for 2020 Tokyo Olympics. I’m sure they will be watching the field tests in Singapore closely.

 

Autonomous Truck Platoons

Self-driving trucks took another step towards commercial reality as five different teams sent convoys of autonomously driven truck “convoys” from all over Europe to Rotterdam as part of the Truck Platoon Challenge.

Challengers such as Mercedes and Volvo sent their trucks from as far away as Germany and Sweden proving that these self-driven truck trains can navigate a variety of terrain across national borders.

Chaining multiple trucks together on the highway is safer and more efficient use of fuel and reducing carbon output. Here’s a demo video from Mercedes showing how the Highway Connect system would work.

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