That driverless car revolution we were talking about at last week's picnic might not come as fast as some people have been predicting. MIT Technology Review reports that Google has its hands full getting its new-model autonomous cars to safely navigate the "urban jungle":
Academic experts at the conference say Google is taking on some of the hardest problems in artificial intelligence and robotics, essentially trying to replicate the ability of humans to effortlessly make sense of their environment. That’s because driving safely relies on much more than just knowing to avoid big objects, such as people or other cars, or being able to recognize symbols such as a stop sign. Humans make use of myriad “social cues” while on the road, such as establishing eye contact or making inferences about how a driver will behave based on the car’s make and model . . . . Even if a computer system can recognize something, understanding the context that gives it meaning is much more difficult . . . .
John Leonard, an MIT expert in autonomous driving who attended the conference, says that he and other academics find themselves constantly battling the assumption that all of the technology challenges associated with robotic cars have been solved, with only regulatory and legal issues remaining. “It’s hard to convey to the public how hard this is,” he says. Leonard stands by a comment that earned him some online criticism in an MIT Technology Review story last year, when he predicted that he wouldn’t see a self-driving Manhattan taxi in his lifetime , , , ,
It may take decades to "teach" computers all the things you need to know to drive safely in a complex environment. What I expect we will see more of in the short term is automated driver-assistance systems such as adaptive cruise control, lane-change warning and collision avoidance, and maybe even semi-automatic "platooning" for highway driving. When we do get fully-robotic road vehicles in general service, I would expect the first to be long-haul robo-trucks that operate on the Interstates only.
This is the place to talk about robot cars, or any other car topic.
--Cookie the Dog's Owner
(The illustration is a Google Cars project promotional image.)