Q&A: The Masterminds Behind Toyota’s Self-Driving Cars Say AI Still Has a Way to Go

Illustration: iStockphoto Getting a car to drive itself is undoubtedly the most ambitious commercial application of artificial intelligence (AI). The research project was kicked into life by the 2004 DARPA Urban Challenge and then taken up as a business proposition, first by Alphabet, and later by the big automakers. The industry-wide effort vacuumed up many of the world’s best roboticists and set rival companies on a multibillion-dollar acquisitions spree. It also launched a cycle of hype that paraded ever more ambitious deadlines—the most famous of which, made by Alphabet’s Sergei Brin in 2012, was that full self-driving technology would be ready by 2017. Those deadlines have all been missed. Much of the exhilaration was inspired by the seeming miracles that a new kind of AI—deep learning—was achieving in playing games, recognizing faces, and transliterating voices. Deep learning excels at tasks involving pattern recognition—a particular challenge for older, rule-based AI techniques. However, Continue reading Q&A: The Masterminds Behind Toyota’s Self-Driving Cars Say AI Still Has a Way to Go

Robot Vehicles Make Contactless Deliveries Amid Coronavirus Quarantine

For the past two months, the vegetables have arrived on the back of a robot. That’s how 16 communities in Zibo, in eastern China, have received fresh produce during the coronavirus pandemic. The robot is an autonomous van that uses lidars, cameras, and deep-learning algorithms to drive itself, carrying up to 1,000 kilograms on its cargo compartment. The unmanned vehicle provides a “contactless” alternative to regular deliveries, helping reduce the risk of person-to-person infection, says Professor Ming Liu, a computer scientist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) and cofounder of Unity Drive Innovation, or UDI, the Shenzhen-based startup that developed the self-driving van.

Gill Pratt on “Irrational Exuberance” in the Robocar World

A lot of people in the auto industry talked for way too long about the imminent advent of fully self-driving cars.  In 2013, Carlos Ghosn, now very much the ex-chairman of Nissan, said it would happen in seven years. In 2016, Elon Musk, then chairman of Tesla, implied  his cars could basically do it already. In 2017 and right through early 2019 GM Cruise talked 2019. And Waymo, the company with the most to show for its efforts so far, is speaking in more measured terms than it used just a year or two ago.  It’s all making Gill Pratt, CEO of the Toyota Research Institute in California, look rather prescient. A veteran roboticist who joined Toyota in 2015 with the task of developing robocars, Pratt from the beginning emphasized just how hard the task would be and how important it was to aim for intermediate goals—notably by making a car that could help drivers now, not merely replace them Continue reading Gill Pratt on “Irrational Exuberance” in the Robocar World

Apex.OS: An Open Source Operating System for Autonomous Cars

The facets of autonomous car development that automakers tend to get excited about are things like interpreting sensor data, decision making, and motion planning. Unfortunately, if you want to make self-driving cars, there’s all kinds of other stuff that you need to get figured out first, and much of it is really difficult but also absolutely critical. Things like, how do you set up a reliable network inside of your vehicle? How do you manage memory and data recording and logging? How do you get your sensors and computers to all talk to each other at the same time? And how do you make sure it’s all stable and safe? In robotics, the Robot Operating System (ROS) has offered an open-source solution for many of these challenges. ROS provides the groundwork for researchers and companies to build off of, so that they can focus on the specific problems that they’re interested Continue reading Apex.OS: An Open Source Operating System for Autonomous Cars

May Mobility’s Self-Driving Shuttles Hit the Streets of Ohio

Columbus is piloting a fleet of autonomous electric shuttles as part of a multimillion-dollar smart transportation initiative Visitors to Columbus, Ohio, have a new way to see the city’s downtown attractions. A fleet of electric, self-driving vehicles now shuttle passengers around a cluster of museums and parks, using sensors and software in lieu of engines and auto parts. The pilot project, which began in mid-December, belongs to a larger statewide effort to improve road safety and mobility in this car-dependent capital. “What we’re looking at is, how do we apply technology to improve people’s lives in a transportation context?” says Jordan Davis, director of Smart Columbus, which spearheads the fleet project. “We want to keep stretching the technology of self-driving vehicles to solve real use cases in our communities.” Smart Columbus, launched in 2016 after the city bested 77 mid-sized U.S. cities for a pool of “smart transportation” funding. The U.S. Department of Continue reading May Mobility’s Self-Driving Shuttles Hit the Streets of Ohio

Accurate Navigation Without GPS

Circuit keeps up to 5.5-meter accuracy after 3 kilometers Photo: Qingbo Guo The global positioning system can locate you within 5 to 10 meters anywhere on Earth—as long as your receiver is in the line of sight of multiple satellites. Getting location information indoors is tricky. A team at the University of Utah has now put the solution underfoot: A suite of sensors and circuits mounted to a boot can determine position with an accuracy of about 5 meters, indoors or out, without GPS. The navigation system, installed in a very hefty prototype boot, could help rescue workers navigate inside buildings, and show firefighters where their team members are. It might also be integrated with virtual or augmented reality games. The Utah researchers presented their GPS-free navigation system on Tuesday at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference in San Francisco. The Utah group’s navigation system is built on an inertial measurement Continue reading Accurate Navigation Without GPS

GM Demos Robocars in San Francisco

GM’s Cruise subsidiary is tackling a tougher road environment than Waymo faced, but it’s keeping a driver behind the wheel Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters Cruise Automation, the self-driving subsidiary of General Motors, has taken  observers on rides in a more challenging environment than rival Waymo chose for a similar demonstration a few weeks ago. On Tuesday, Cruise sent a few select journalists through the busy streets of San Francisco. Today, it sent investment analysts as well. Waymo, for its part, conducted its first public rides at a test facility and soon afterward, in the sedate suburban streets of Chandler, Ariz. Both companies deployed versions of GM’s Chevrolet Bolt, an all-electric car that can drive an impressively long way on a single charge. But though GM’s Cruise took on a big city, that doesn’t mean it’s in the lead. There’s also the question of safety: Cruise felt the need to plant safety drivers behind the wheel, whereas Waymo recently relegated them to the back seat. Continue reading GM Demos Robocars in San Francisco

Velodyne Unveils Monster Lidar With 128 Laser Beams

The company claims the resolution is high enough to identify objects without using other sensors Photo: VelodyneVelodyne has unveiled a new lidar sensor, shown here, with 128 laser beams. It’s designed to help self-driving cars navigate and avoid obstacles in the road. Velodyne re-asserted its dominance of the lidar market today by announcing a product with 128 laser beams, twice as many as its previous top-of-the-line model. “The VLS-128 is the best LiDAR sensor on the planet, delivering the most advanced real-time 3D vision for safe driving,” Mike Jellen, the president of Velodyne LiDAR, said in a statement. The announcement, which had been widely anticipated, leaves out the one detail that everyone most wants to know: the price. The company’s previous top-of-the-line product originally sold for more than US $70,000. Today, though, a host of rival companies are on the scene, some of them promising solid-state products that cost less because they Continue reading Velodyne Unveils Monster Lidar With 128 Laser Beams