Self-Driving Robotic Cars Incredibly Hard to Make But Necessary

November 18 2008 / by John Heylin
Category: Gadgets   Year: 2019   Rating: 6 Hot

Dr. Sebastian Thrun, Professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at Stanford University where he directs the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, went over the steps his team has made in developing a self-driving vehicle at RoboDev in Santa Clara today. He showed some incredible video of cars smashing into obstacles (sometimes even seeking other cars out to smash into) but ended with videos of their latest vehicle successfully navigating slowly around other moving cars.

The great thing about his presentation was his appeal not to the side that wants self-driving cars, but to a side we can all agree with — saving energy, lives, and time.

Saving Energy

In saving energy, Dr. Thrun explained that 22% of the Nation’s energy consumption is used by cars. You also only use your car on average during about 10% of your day, making it useless the other 90%. If self-driving cars could be developed, one car could be used by multiple people. “You could be dropped off at work and then send the car back home to pick up your wife.” Added safety will also increase gas mileage since removing the extra weight of safety features (airbag, reinforced steel) would increase fuel efficiency by 30%. (It should also be noted that convoys reduce energy consumption by 11%-17%)

Saving Lives

In making cars automated, we could potentially save millions of lives. In the US alone, 42,000 people die in car accidents every year while 2.7 million are injured. Cars are, in fact, the leading cause of death of people between the ages of 3 to 33. In order to protect people from these accidents, we decrease fuel efficiency by piling safety features onto our cars (see above). Dr Thrun said “it blows my mind that the only response is to build bigger vehicles, the SUV.” Automated cars could save the lives of over a million worldwide each year.

Saving Time

The last point Dr. Thrun made was how much automated cars could save us time. Highway congestion, growing at a 3% increase each year, would be much smoother due to lack of accidents and better traffic control (constant speeds, lack of stop and go or people cutting across lanes of traffic). The average person in the US spends an average of 1.25 hours a day in a car. With automated driving this time could be spent checking email, making phone calls, even writing. Elderly and the blind could be driven anywhere they needed without having to worry about their own driving skills. (And imagine being dropped off in front of a restaurant and having the car go park itself).

Overall, Dr. Thrun has turned me into a self-driving car fanatic, and according to him we can expect to see them within the next ten years (see vid below).

Comment Thread (4 Responses)

  1. While I am excited to see automated cars, I would still want the “freedom” to drive it manually once in awhile. Maybe most people loathe the experience of driving, but I don’t.

    Posted by: Covus   November 18, 2008
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  2. John: Nice post. I’m of the opinion that the Defense Department and Army will be the first to employ robotic vehicles. (Why should our soldiers risk their lives driving trucks on dangerous roads in Iraq and Afghanistan?). Next, the FedEx’s and UPS’ of the world will look to employ the technology in limited settings (perhaps in remote, rural areas), and then as the technology is improved and society becomes comfortable with it, it’ll takeoff.

    Posted by: juldrich   November 18, 2008
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  3. Don’t expect it to take off too fast – cars that do more, good, cars that don’t let the driver do anything, not good. One car used 20% is as polluting as 2 cars used 10%, and people are still going to be the primary cargo, so safety features will remain, and fuel usage could possibly increase due to all this running around this car-bot is up to. Automated public transit will be a lot more probable, since right now it seems like the subway driver is really only there to apply the brake or call the cops if there is a problem.

    Posted by: Adam Cutsinger   November 19, 2008
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  4. Corvus, initially you will have the “freedom” to drive. Eventually it will cost you additional insurance money to drive and you’ll be limited to time/place because human driving will slow things down (trains of cars in rush hour could follow a foot behind one another for aerodynamic drag and traffic-prevention, one human driver could ruin that). Adam, are you making assumptions based on how we currently use cars? Automated cars would eventually be taxis, owning a car would be a waste (instead you’d pick up your cell phone and call for a car, it would follow your cell gps and pick you up in seconds). What would happen if a car were shared and had 70% usage (200,000 mi/yr with a 7 year lifespan). The fuel consumption of that car would be important enough to spend a lot of extra money upfront on (1.4 million mi) because TCO would really be reduced(a hybrid-diesel is currently not cost effective, but it would be with this system, PNGV was able to get 70-80mpg with taurus sized cars using decade old technology). The upholstery of a car could be replaced every few months. Instead of cars being owned, you would connect into a transportation network, it might work with airport and high speed rail systems so you would seamlessly move between transportation modalities.

    Posted by: commandersprocket   November 20, 2008
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