AI On The Highway

A couple of announcements caught our attention last week regarding AI-controlled cars. South Korea’s Kakao Mobility and local startup Autonomous A2G launched a limited self-driving taxi service in Sejong City this month, made possible by enabling legislation passed in May. For now, the service is restricted to government employees, and the AI driver will be backed-up by an engineer who is there to monitor the systems and take over in an emergency. The companies plan to expand the fleet and service areas this year, although no details are given.

Another announcement comes from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport about the on-going successes of the semi-autonomous truck platooning program. This is a collaboration between the Korean Expressway Corporation, Kookmin University in Seoul, and Hyundai Motors. Previously restricted to a designated test road called the Yeoju Smart Highway, the program is now being tested on public roads at speeds up to 70 kph. This year the program will expand to platoons of 4 trucks running at 90 kph. We’ve always thought that long-haul trucking and freight industries would be an early adaptor AI technologies, and one which AI could offer significant benefits.

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Uber Traded Away Its In-House Self-Driving Effort

Perhaps the best-known ridesharing service, Uber has grown rapidly over the last decade. Since its founding in 2009, it has expanded into markets around the globe, and entered the world of food delivery and even helicopter transport.

One of the main headline research areas for the company was the development of autonomous cars, which would revolutionize the company’s business model by eliminating the need to pay human drivers. However, as of December, the company has announced that it it spinning off its driverless car division in a deal reportedly worth $4 billion, though that’s all on paper — Uber is trading its autonomous driving division, and a promise to invest a further $400 million, in return for a 26% share in the self-driving tech company Aurora Innovation.

Playing A Long Game

Uber’s self-driving efforts have been undertaken in close partnership with Volvo in recent years.

Uber’s driverless car research was handled by the internal Advanced Technologies Group, made up of 1,200 employees dedicated to working on the new technology. The push to eliminate human drivers from the ride-sharing business model was a major consideration for investors of Uber’s Initial Public Offering on the NYSE in 2019. The company is yet to post a profit, and reducing the amount of fares going to human drivers would make it much easier for the company to achieve that crucial goal.

However, Uber’s efforts have not been without incident. Tragically, in 2018, a development vehicle running in autonomous mode hit and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. This marked the first pedestrian fatality caused by an autonomous car, and led to the suspension of on-road testing by the company. The incident revealed shortcomings in the company’s technology and processes, and was a black mark on the company moving forward.

The Advanced Technology Group (ATG) has been purchased by a Mountain View startup by the name of Aurora Innovation, Inc. The company counts several self-driving luminaries amongst its cofounders. Chris Urmson, now CEO, was a technical leader during his time at Google’s self-driving research group. Drew Bagnell worked on autonomous driving at Uber, and Sterling Anderson came to the startup from Tesla’s Autopilot program. The company was founded in 2017, and counts Hyundai and Amazon among its venture capital investors.

Aurora could also have links with Toyota, which also invested in ATG under Uber’s ownership in 2019. Unlike Uber, which solely focused on building viable robotaxis for use in limited geographical locations, the Aurora Driver, the core of the company’s technology, aims to be adaptable to everything from “passenger sedans to class-8 trucks”.

Aurora has been developing self-driving technology to handle real-world situations since its founding in 2017. Being able to master the challenges of a crowded city will be key to succeeding in the marketplace.

Getting rid of ATG certainly spells the end of Uber’s in-house autonomous driving effort, but it doesn’t mean they’re getting out of the game. Holding a stake in Aurora, Uber still stands to profit from early investment, and will retain access to the technology as it develops. At the same time, trading ATG off to an outside firm puts daylight between the rideshare company and any negative press from future testing incidents.

Even if Aurora only retains 75% of ATG’s 1,200 employees, it’s doubling in size, and will be worth keeping an eye on in the future.

Go Big Or Go Home – This Arduino RC Car Can Take You There

Whether we like it or not, eventually the day will come where we have to admit that we outgrew our childhood toys — unless, of course, we tech them up in the name of science. And in some cases we might get away with simply scaling things up to be more fitting for an adult size. [kenmacken] demonstrates how to do both, by building himself a full-size 1:1 RC car. No, we didn’t forget a digit here, he remodeled an actual Honda Civic into a radio controlled car, and documented every step along the way, hoping to inspire and guide others to follow in his footsteps.

To control the Civic with a standard RC transmitter, [kenmacken] equipped it with a high torque servo, some linear actuators, and an electronic power steering module to handle all the mechanical aspects for acceleration, breaking, gear selection, and steering. At the center of it all is a regular, off-the-shelf Arduino Uno. His write-up features plenty of videos demonstrating each single component, and of course, him controlling the car — which you will also find after the break.

[kenmacken]’s ultimate goal is to eventually remove the radio control to build a fully autonomous self-driving car, and you can see some initial experimenting with GPS waypoint driving at the end of his tutorial. We have seen the same concept in a regular RC car before, and we have also seen it taken further using neural networks. Considering his background in computer vision, it will be interesting to find out which path [kenmacken] will go here in the future.

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Driverless Lorries To Be Tested On UK Roads By End Of 2018

The [BBC] is reporting that driverless semi-trailer trucks or as we call them in the UK driverless Lorries are to be tested on UK roads. A contract has been awarded to the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) for the trials. Initially the technology will be tested on closed tracks, but these trials are expected to move to major roads by the end of 2018.

All  of these Lorries will be manned and driven in formation of up to three lorries in single file. The lead vehicle will connect to the others wirelessly and control their braking and acceleration. Human drivers will still be present to steer the following lorries in the convoy.

This automation will allow the trucks to drive very close together, reducing drag for the following vehicles to improve fuel efficiency.”Platooning” as they call these convoys has been tested in a number of countries around the world, including the US, Germany, and Japan.

Are these actually autonomous vehicles? This question is folly when looking toward the future of “self-driving”. The transition to robot vehicles will not happen in the blink of an eye, even if the technological barriers were all suddenly solved. That’s because it’s untenable for human drivers to suddenly be on the road with vehicles that don’t have a human brain behind the wheel. These changes will happen incrementally. The lorry tests are akin to networked cruise control. But we can see a path that will add in lane drift warnings, steering correction, and more incremental automation until only the lead vehicle has a person behind the wheel.

There is a lot of interest in the self driving industry right now from the self driving potato to autonomous delivery. We’d love to hear your vision of how automated delivery will sneak its way into our everyday lives. Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Autonomous Delivery: Your Impulse Buys Will Still Be Safe

I heard a “Year in Review” program the other day on NPR with a BBC World Service panel discussion of what’s ahead for 2017. One prediction was that UAV delivery of packages would be commonplace this year, and as proof the commentator reported that Amazon had already had a successful test in the UK. But he expressed skepticism that it would ever be possible in the USA, where he said that “the first drone that goes over somebody’s property will be shot down and the goods will be taken.”

He seemed quite sincere about his comment, but we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that he was only joking to make a point, not actually grotesquely ignorant about the limitations of firearms or being snarky about gun owners in the US. Either way, he brings up a good point: when autonomous parcel delivery is commonplace, who will make sure goods get to the intended recipient?

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Self-Driving Acura, Built In A Garage

[George Hotz], better known by his hacker moniker [GeoHot], was the first person to successfully hack the iPhone — now he’s trying his hand at building his very own self-driving vehicle.

The 26-year-old already has an impressive rap sheet, being the first to hack the PS3 when it came out, and to be sued because of it.

According to Bloomberg reporter [Ashlee Vance], [George] built this self driving vehicle in around a month — which, if true, is pretty damn incredible. It’s a 2016 Acura ILX with a lidar array on its roof, as well as a few cameras. The glove box has been ripped out to house the electronics, including a mini-PC, GPS sensors, and network switches. A large 21.5″ LCD screen sits in the dash, not unlike the standard Tesla affair.

Oh, and it runs Linux. Continue reading “Self-Driving Acura, Built In A Garage”