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The Future of Autonomous Vehicles

Imagine having a personal chauffeur that drives you everywhere. Imagine decreasing your transportation time by half because you don’t need to wait at stop lights anymore. The future with autonomous vehicles seems promising and optimistic. In the present time, autonomous vehicles have become the next big thing. Companies and VC’s are pouring billions and billions of dollars into this industry. The topic of autonomous vehicles involves both technical and ethical discussions. Currently, is our AI technology advanced and trustworthy enough to implement these robots into society? There has been frequent reporting of traffic accidents due to autonomous vehicles. For the advancement of such a technology, is it worth it to place human lives at stake? This article will briefly focus on the introduction of autonomous vehicles in our society today, how far it has developed, and the companies currently in competition for development.


A self-driving car project (note the large sensor array on the top of the vehicle).

Why Autonomous Vehicles?

  • For a more efficient future

  • No more traffic

  • This cuts transportation time

  • Fewer accidents

  • As accidents are human errors, by introducing robots and taking humans out of the equation, and assuming that these robots work, there will be fewer accidents

Summary:

  • Companies are in competition with each other to see who can build the most practical & functional autonomous vehicle

  • Billions and billions of dollars are completely invested in this sector

  • However, it is also super expensive to develop (cars are expensive in general)

  • It has been argued that more money should be put into the development of AI software

  • Currently it is 80% mechanical/20% software

  • More and more new cars have cruise-control as an added mode

  • It is taking quite a long time to develop: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/17/business/self-driving-autonomous-cars.html

  • Fully autonomous-vehicle-ified communities were predicted to exist by 2021

  • Currently there are no national nor industrial standards for autonomous vehicles

  • Transport car service companies (Uber, Lyft, Waymo) are losing money: https://www.theverge.com/2018/8/15/17693834/uber-revenue-loss-earnings-q2-2018

  • Uber lost $891 million the second quarter of 2018

Engineering Advancements in the Field

  • Deep learning techniques

  • Computer vision algorithms

  • SLAM and other mapping techniques

  • Identifying objects, roads

  • LIDAR & other sensors

  • Auto-pilot/self-parking mode in vehicles

Obstacles

  • How can we fully integrate autonomous vehicles into the modern world?

  • Bureaucratic challenges: revolutionizing current traffic, pushback from car companies and other possible competitors

  • How will this technology deploy across the world? Should it vary by country or should it be unified?

  • Economic challenges: possible job loss across numerous industries (trucking, freight, rideshare, etc.)

  • Is the process of development justified?

  • To test autonomous vehicles, we must put them in the real world, which means real people and real lives at stake. There also might be structural damage.

  • The cars must be on actual roads with unexpected obstacles in order to “learn” and gather data

  • Public disapproval: https://www.caranddriver.com/features/a29587219/autonomous-vehicle-enemies/

  • Technical barriers: requirement for massive amounts of data, low latency decision-making, increased need for cybersecurity


An autonomous minivan from California-based Waymo.

Companies/Startups in the Field (in no order)

  1. BMW has an Autonomous Driving Campus that specifically tests self-driving cars, developed in 2018.

  2. Hyundai has invested 4 billion dollars into self-driving cars.

  3. Amazon has two relevant projects: an autonomous package delivery service, and Amazon Web Services, a software service that permits one to run difficult computations on an Amazon computer.

  4. General Motors plans to expand into San Francisco for self-driving cars.

  5. Uber has raised 1 billion dollars for development in this field.

  6. Lyft is expanding its test sites globally.

  7. Waymo, a spin-off of Google, has cars in American cities for testing and development.

  8. Faraday Future, a California-based company with most operations in China, is reimagining the "typical" automotive experience, from user interface to algorithmic routines.

  9. Tesla is well-known for its autopilot feature, which allows the driver to take control at any time.

My thoughts:

  • A future with autonomous vehicles is not impossible, but there are so many more obstacles than the public actually predicts

  • In order for the development of this technology to proceed, the vast majority of the nation has to be on board

  • People will disagree, and that is completely normal, but even if the public is disagreeing with the technology, how can it advance? The autonomous vehicles impacts their daily lives the most

  • AI is still at its initial stages

  • In order for AV to work smoothly, they must act like humans and think like humans

  • Requires the cars to make inferences (top-down thinking)

Cool Links, Projects - Miscellaneous Finds

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