Uber has been making some noise for a bit now about a fleet of self-driving cars. The idea has been fielded by Uber for places like New York, San Francisco. LA, Pittsburgh, you know the places where driving is just about impossible, now a days.
It sounds like a great concept, but not much different from many others with great ideas for such vehicles – just a different angle. And, it is highly unlikely unless everyone else is autonomous as well. Everybody is looking for a niche in this autonomous vehicle ecosystem.
There are two major problems with Uber’s concept. First of all, for autonomous vehicles to work, everybody has to play and follow the rules. When was the last time you were in a cab in New York and the driver followed the rules?
That has been a point of discussion within the industry since day one. There are environments where rule followers and rule breakers have a bit more leeway – the open road is one example — where it is much easier for an autonomous vehicle to navigate the rule breakers. But in a congested environment such as Manhattan, autonomous vehicle would always be the ones backing off and the journey would be painful.
One solution to that, at least until we have a fully functioning, integrated autonomous vehicle ecosystem, is to create special autonomous vehicle routes. The easiest way is to, simply, take some existing streets, roadways, etc., and make them autonomous vehicle only. New York is looking at that actually. They would take some of the Manhattan streets, and make them cross the borough – same with an avenue or two and create a grid, of sorts, that is restricted to autonomous vehicles – similar in concept to subway or light rail. There are a number of takes on this being discussed in various directions in other locations as well. That seems like a good early approach to implement some sort of autonomous vehicle system. But it will have to deal with the pedestrian factor.
The biggest challenge to autonomous vehicles is unpredictability – specifically pedestrians and bicycles. It can be managed to some degree with other vehicles but it is extremely difficult with pedestrian-type of entities (that is why vehicle to pedestrian or V2P is critical to fully autonomous vehicles).
Regardless of how many or how sophisticated the autonomous vehicle sensors are, they cannot predict what ped-type entities will do. It is similar with other vehicles, but with them, there is a longer activity time and reactions that are more predictable. In other words, if two vehicles are travelling at similar speeds behind one another, there is a limited number of actions each vehicle can take, based upon the vehicle’s characteristics and environmental circumstances. Many, if not all, of these actions can be logged in a database that the vehicles can access (road, car type, speed, weather, etc.). Similar circumstances exist at intersections, interchanges, parking lots, etc.
However, when it comes to pedestrians, the rules go out the window. Say a pedestrian is crossing the street and the light turns yellow. Their phone rings and they get distracted, stop, reverse direction, and look for something. I know, I have done that and almost was hit by a car. So how is an autonomous vehicle supposed to account for that without data being fed to it from the pedestrian? That is the million-dollar question. We will just have to see how these projects deal with this.
There will be many different deployments of autonomous vehicles, under a variety of scenarios. But as I always say at the end of my autonomous vehicle missives, everybody and everything has to be connected. Sensors are only a part of the solution.
Ernest Worthman is Executive Editor/Applied Wireless Technology. His 20-plus years of editorial experience includes being the Editorial Director of Wireless Design and Development and Fiber Optic Technology, the Editor of RF Design, the Technical Editor of Communications Magazine, Cellular Business, Global Communications and a Contributing Technical Editor to Mobile Radio Technology, Satellite Communications, as well as computer-related periodicals such as Windows NT. His technical writing practice client list includes RF Industries, GLOBALFOUNDRIES, Agilent Technologies, Advanced Linear Devices, Ceitec, SA, and others. Before becoming exclusive to publishing, he was a computer consultant and regularly taught courses and seminars in applications software, hardware technology, operating systems, and electronics. Ernest’s client list has included Lucent Technologies, Jones Intercable, Qwest, City and County of Denver, TCI, Sandia National Labs, Goldman Sachs, and other businesses. His credentials include a BS, Electronic Engineering Technology; A.A.S, Electronic Digital Technology. He has held a Colorado Post-Secondary/Adult teaching credential, member of IBM’s Software Developers Assistance Program and Independent Vendor League, a Microsoft Solutions Provider Partner, and a life member of the IEEE. He has been certified as an IBM Certified OS2 consultant and trainer; WordPerfect Corporation Developer/Consultant and Lotus Development Corporation Developer/Consultant. He was also a first-class FCC technician in the early days of radio. Ernest Worthman may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.