Home News Driverless cars: Autonomous shuttle involved in accident on its first day

Driverless cars: Autonomous shuttle involved in accident on its first day

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Autonomous cars have been a staple of science fiction for years, appearing in films like I, Robot, Demolition Man and Minority Report. Thanks to the brightest minds in Silicon Valley, however, they’re rapidly becoming science fact.

Google is nearing the final stages of testing for its autonomous car programme, Tesla drivers can enjoy an ‘Autopilot’ feature for hassle-free motorway driving, and Pittsburgh residents can hail an Uber that drives itself.

But how do driverless cars work? Are they safe? When can we expect to try one out for ourselves? We answer all these questions, and more, below.

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09/11/2017: Autonomous shuttle involved in accident on its first day

A self-driving shuttle was involved in a crash on it’s launch day in Las Vegas yesterday.

The shuttle, launched by the American Automobile Association (AAA) in partnership with Keolis and manufactured by NAVYA, had begun its first day of a 12-month pilot scheme

The City of Las Vegas stated that the shuttle was “grazed” by a delivery truck in downtown Las Vegas.

“The shuttle did what it was supposed to do, in that it’s sensors registered the truck and the shuttle stopped to avoid the accident.

“Unfortunately the delivery truck did not stop and grazed the front fender of the shuttle. Had the truck had the same sensing equipment that the shuttle has the accident would have been avoided,” the City wrote.

It added that the shuttle will continue with its 12-month pilot scheme but remained out of service for the rest of the day yesterday.

The driver of the truck was cited by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police.

Mike Blasky, PR at AAA, wrote on Twitter: “Truck making delivery backed into shuttle, which was stopped. Human error causes most traffic collisions and this was no different. Driver of truck was cited. No one hurt except a bruised bumper!”

The shuttle aims to provide a quarter of a million visitors and residents of Las Vegas with the chance to ride a self driving vehicle. The pilot also wants to survey riders to see if they are wary of driverless technology and whether taking part in the scheme changes their mind. The AAA wants to explore how other people on the street react to the autonomous vehicle too.

The shuttle has LiDAR technology, GPS, cameras and can seat up to 8 passengers with seatbelts. It covers a 0.6 mile loop in the Fremont East district and can be board at any of its three stops.

Image source: NAVYA

08/11/2017: Waymo launches fully-autonomous cars

The race to deploy truly driverless cars has hotted up, with Waymo announcing that its fleet of autonomous vehicles in Phoenix, Arizona will now operate with no ‘safety driver’.

Waymo, the self-driving car arm of Google’s parent company Alphabet, has had a number of Chrysler Pacifica minivans operating in the Phoenix area since April 2017, offering free rides to residents. Until now, however, they have had a human driver behind the wheel who can take action in case of emergency – a stipulation in most locations where autonomous vehicles are being tested on public roads.

At Web Summit in Lisbon, however, John Krafcik, CEO of Waymo, revealed that these vehicles will now start operating without a driver.

“What you’re seeing now marks the start of a new phase for Waymo and the history of this technology, Krafcik said, according to USA Today.

“Our ultimate goal is to bring our fully self-driving technology to more cities in the US and around the world,” he added.

Waymo’s testing had largely taken place in California until recently, but it ran into several regulatory barriers and subsequently moved to Arizona, where there’s no need for a special permit in order to operate an autonomous vehicle on public roads.

The state offers other benefits too, notably its steady, warm climate; it’s easier for driverless cars to operate in reliably dry conditions than in rain, snow, high winds and so on. It also doesn’t have the high variability of daylight hours that states and, indeed, countries further north do.

Arizonan passengers who successfully applied to a programme to use one of Waymo’s fully-autonomous vehicles won’t be totally alone at first, with a member of Waymo’s staff present in the vehicle until the novelty wears off. After that time, however, there will be no human intermediary between the car and those who choose to be taken for a spin.

08/09/2017: Former Android developer Cyanogen leaps into driverless cars

Remember Cyanogen, the open-source Android developer? After renaming itself Cyngn — though it’s presumably pronounced the same way — the company looks set to pivot into driverless car development.

Cyngn has received a permit to test driverless cars in California, according to a report by Axios, and job listings suggest its on the lookout for staff to develop hardware and software for autonomous cars. The report claims it’s hired dozens of employees with such skills recently.

The company imploded last year following layoffs and the departure of CEO Kirt McMaster, who was replaced by former COO Lior Tal. It then stopped updating its CyanogenMod version of Android, which let users fiddle with settings and personalise the mobile operating system, offering an alternative to running the wholly Google linked OS.

An alternative version of autonomous car software could be seen as a useful counter to the driverless systems under development by Silicon Valley giants, but there’s plenty of rivals for Cyngn to have to see off for its as yet unannounced version to win the business of car makers.

 

08/09/2017: UK launches new autonomous vehicle initiative

The government has announced the launch of its MERIDIAN programme, which will help those developing driverless vehicles co-ordinate their testing and is a place to store information regarding all autonomous vehicle testing in the UK.

Part of the initiative will involve developing a “cluster of excellence” along the M40 corridor, where the majority of driverless car testing will occur. The government hopes that by building a hotspot for autonomous vehicle testing, it will attract investment from businesses both at home and abroad, helping to build the UK’s reputation as a leader in connected car testing.

“At the heart of our Industrial Strategy is a commitment to delivering world class science, research and innovation,” climate change and industry minister Claire Perry said. “The MERIDIAN co-ordination hub embodies this ambition, creating a globally recognisable brand that will bring the automotive sector, academia and Government together behind a common set of strategic goals.”

The project has been part-funded by the government’s £100 million CAV investment programme and the rest of the funding has been provided by the tech industry, which recognises the importance of building a hub to continue the effective development of autonomous vehicle testing.

“These technologies are coming and will profoundly change our understanding of mobility,” Ford director of global vehicle evaluation and verification and chair of the Auto Council Technology Group, Graham Hoare said. “The UK has long-standing capabilities across many of the sectors supporting new vehicle technologies and an approach that is more open and collaborative than other markets.”

How do self-driving cars work?

Self-driving cars use a battery of sensors to detect their surroundings, including radar, lasers and camera arrays. The vehicle’s onboard computer then uses specialised software to react to this input in real-time, adjusting the car’s steering and acceleration to suit the situation.

While some vehicles, such as the Google prototypes which have popularised the idea, are totally autonomous, other cars only automate certain aspects of driving. Tesla’s Autopilot feature, for example, features adaptive cruise control, which maintains a safe speed and distance from other vehicles when driving on the motorway.

It also features basic automated steering to ensure you don’t accidentally drift into the wrong lane, and although it can perform basic steering maneuvers automatically, it is not intended to replace a human driver altogether.

Are self-driving cars safe?

There is still much debate over whether or not fully autonomous cars should be made widely available. Some say that their safety record is impeccable, while others argue that automobiles are simply too dangerous to be operated by an algorithm.

This debate has been reignited by a number of high-profile Tesla crashes, one of which has been blamed on an Autopilot malfunction. The incidents have raised questions over whether or not self-driving technology is ready for implementation.

On the other hand, Google has emphasised how safe its fleet of self-driving cars are. As part of the testing programme for its autonomous vehicles, the company has posted regular safety logs detailing any crashes the vehicles are involved in, with the vast majority being caused by human drivers in other cars.

Experts remain divided, however, and if self-driving cars are ever likely to be widely commercially available, they will doubtless be heavily regulated, monitored and tested.

When will self-driving cars hit the road?

In many cases, they already have. Some high-end luxury vehicles already feature ‘assisted driving’ elements that are close to fully autonomous driving, with Tesla being the obvious example.

Elsewhere, testing of various driverless car projects is underway in the US, with California, Texas, Seattle and more all hosting autonomous vehicle test runs. The UK government has also given the green light for similar trials in Britain, so UK commuters may soon be sharing the roads with autonomous shuttles.

As for when driverless cars will become commercially available, however, that is yet to be seen. As the technology is young and comparatively untested, it is likely that substantial tests will have to be conducted in partnership with government and regulatory bodies before the vehicles are available for public purchase.

There is also a question as to whether or not the average driver will be able to purchase one at all. Even if fully autonomous cars are allowed to be sold, the price of each vehicle is likely to be prohibitively expensive due to the large amount of sophisticated technology that goes into them.

As such, it’s likely to be at least a few years before autonomous cars are approved for general road use, and most likely another few years after that before they become a commonplace sight.

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