Friday, 17 June 2016

Part 16 - A fork in the road

A bit of light reading has prompted me to think of the possible "big picture" scenario in the evolution of autonomous vehicles.

It strikes me that there are really a couple of basic ways of doing this.
I hadn't even really considered this until today but reading between the lines there appears to be a fundamental difference in the way that China and the west are approaching things.

The common school of thought is that the manufacturers build cars that basically do all the things drivers do, (hopefully not the bad things  that tend to kill people) and will effectively be a plug in replacement for the driver. Add to that some communications where cars can talk to each other to know about traffic density, road works and other impediments and the car decides which way to go.
The vehicle programs the route and away it goes.

For the sake of argument and my less than perfect interpretation of how I think China could be heading, lets turn that on its head....

China is already installing devices in manually driven vehicles to allow them to communicate between themselves and  infrastructure as a pilot program and to spread across all of China.

Once that's in place, imagine a possible scenario where a state sanctioned vehicle is built. The state has implemented an integrated, centralised transport infrastructure system including a control centre.
The drivers gets into the car and punches in the destination. The car connects to the centralised control centre that knows the position of every vehicle on the road, the location of every road work, every emergency vehicle and its destination and traffic densities at every intersection.

Based on this information it can calculate the optimal route and send it back to the vehicle which then takes off in autonomous mode. Any changes to traffic conditions can generate a new route, long before the vehicle reaches a congestion point.

Now for the good and the bad.

The good.
With this in place before the vehicles actually hit the road means that the real life integration of manually driven vehicles and autonomous vehicles can be made much simpler. Think adaptive traffic lights from a centralised system to even out traffic flow, diversion from collision scenes, optimisation of routes for emergency vehicles including advance avoidance by the autonomous vehicles and possible in car warning to manual cars as part of the infrastructure build. By optimising the entire system as an entity, rather than individual units, the system can be coordinated as a whole making it extremely efficient.

Now for the downside.
Big brother knows exactly where you are, always. It can also hijack you if it wants to. If you wanted to be really paranoid and go the full conspiracy route, it could also direct you to a drive off a cliff and no one would be any the wiser. Unfortunately history has proven that governments are capable of these kind of acts in both the East and the West.

Anyone who is driving manually won't be able to get away with anything. Run a red light, you're done, because the system knows where your car is and what the light status is. This could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on how far they enforce the rules. It could also supply a lever as automation becomes more common to shift drivers away from manual control.

 The middle ground. 
If a system like this was to be contemplated, at least in the west, it would have to be heavily wrapped in safeguards to make it work without being exploited, hacked or otherwise turned into a weapon of mass destruction.

I can't really see the west evolving anytime soon to a system like this, but in China, given the social and political structure, anything is possible.

New news

At opposite ends of the spectrum both Mini and Rolls Royce are both preparing for the future with not only autonomous but electric cars.

Rolls Royce has built what I think is the best concept car ever, surpassing even the  Australian FJ holden concept.
This has to be the best looking car ever, kind of like Art Deco mating with Futurama.
It will probably never see the light of day as a production vehicle but does show the way the thinking is going - and I really really like it...

Mini, on the other hand is looking at merging two worlds.
Where Rolls Royce is, and always will be, looking at private ownership. Mini, on the other hand, is looking at an alternate world where private ownership is optional.
But customising a shared vehicle to reflect the current drivers personality is a really radical and quite inovative concept. the car colour can be changed by the driver.

Who knows, you may even be able to have an account and the car reconfigures itself on the way to you and you see it as "your car" when it arrives.

More news

New technologies have combined and created a new electric autonomous shuttle bus using 3D printing and it's called Ollie.

Built through crowd sourcing it exemplifies many technologies and processes not even dreamed of ten years ago.

Ollie will be giving autonomous rides at the companies introductory event on the new National Harbour Campus today.16/6/2016.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Part 15 - A changing world

In the past for long periods of time life was fairly simple, you were born, lived in a local community, did the same thing most of your life, had a family and died, generally quite young.

Technology came along and changed all that. Today most people, at least in cities, live a much longer life and adapt with constant change to their work and private life as technological change accelerates .

This blog is an example of that. Twenty years ago who had heard of a blog? most people hadn't even heard of the Internet and streaming services were a pipe dream.

This blog is about autonomous vehicles and so far I have covered most of the basics about the subject so it becomes more difficult to write a decent length piece on a particular subject that can hold peoples interest.

I am now going to change the format of this blog so it will become more of a news update with the odd longer piece when I find something of interest that I consider worth expanding on.

So lets kick it off...  Driverless cars are not the full story of automated vehicles.

In one of my first blogs I had a story about the  EHANG 184 personal single seat autonomous quad copter.
 At the time this was seen as a concept design that probably wouldn't go anywhere, but as I said earlier things today change quickly.

May 26th 2016 saw the signing of an historic agreement between the state of Nevada and the Chinese EHANG corporation. This agreement will provide the foundation for collaboration between the Nevada Institute for Autonomous Systems (NIAS) and EHANG Inc in the areas of flight testing, training and development of autonomous aerial devices at Nevadas FAA test site.
The full story is here.

The blade runner future of flying cars may be replace by electric quad copters but the video below is eerily reminiscent of coming into Bangcock by bus with the huge electronic billboards on many of the buildings. I can just visualise it from a quad copter.
On a similar note, autonomous trucks are becoming more and more in the news recently with automated road trains being tested in real world conditions.

In April 6 conveys of trucks from different European countries converged at Rotterdam in Holland after driving in "platooning"mode from as far as Sweden and Southern Germany.
The Platooning method means that the lead truck, with a driver controls all the following trucks. this gives a consistent highway speed and better fuel utilisation. In this test all the trucks were semi autonomous and had drivers on board, but this gives a pretty good idea of what's to come.

Analysts are now saying that 21 Million self driving cars will be on the road by 2035. Many thousands will be on the road in the US by 2020 and that US will lead in this market.

These numbers have been upgraded seriously from the last report as the whole autonomous vehicle scenario is accelerating. As I said in a previous blog, the new space race is well and truly on and I don't think the news for the US in this is as rosy as the article indicates.

I think these estimates are still extremely conservative as China is pushing hard to get the lead in this market. Singapore is wanting thousands of automated taxis on the road in the next few years....

I personally don't think the US has a chance of beating Asia in a race like this, given their legal system and their peoples inert resistance and fear of anything promoted by the government.

If China wants to do it sooner, they will because they can, the US will have to convince their people to try it, the Chinese can just say you will do it.... end of story

In concluding for today I just want to put it out there that robots should look obviously like robots. It creeps me out when they look like people, have a look at these as an example and see if you agree with me.