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Autonomous vehicle claims are just a load of hot air… and here's why

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Motoring Journalists

"Lord knows what motoring journalists make of it all but the ever-extending deadline..."

In the UK it'll be whatever their VAG/BMW/Merc paymasters tell them to make of it.

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Re: Motoring Journalists

I don't know about the UK, but in France it would rather be "whatever their GM masters tells them to". Round these parts, merkin gas-guzzlers that practically need an oil tanker on-call to run for a full daily commute are considered "clean", while my German-made bike which sips 3 litres per 100 km is grounded on pollution alert days.

Sip-related tea-note: as any civilised tea drinker knows, tea is to be brewed in water heated from 70 to 90 celsius (depending on the tea), but NEVER in boiling water. That kills all the aromas.

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You're late - the weekend started yesterday! :)

Have a good one!

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Mixed signals

"... tech company decides to run an on-road test for its autonomous vehicle, it should enforce a Board of Directors' Walk To Work Week."

Good one!

There are very mixed signals about when self-driving is coming:

- Waymo building 20K Jag iPace into self-driving cars over the next 2-3 years.

- On the other side: A Tesla that can't spot a stationary firetruck on a freeway

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Mixed signals

To be honest, the Tesla was never an autonomous car.

To be honest, they are idiots calling it "autopilot".

To be fair, if you set an aircraft "autopilot" to straight ahead... it will... even if there is something else there!

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Autopilot fun

I've been known to sail on the Solent, and not being anywhere near there I rent a boat. One of them had an autopilot system that had been disabled apparently on the orders of the insurance company, because too many people were setting the same course, so rather than having the whole sea to play in all the boats were in a narrow corridor and the crew weren't keeping proper watch.

I predict flocking behaviour will be an interesting failure mode for fully autonomous cars...

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Re: Autopilot fun

Unless you are a 'Round the World Soloist' in the middle of a respectable ocean, the general rule is that someone is on an active watch. Normally though when sailing/cruising on autopilot you are doing somewhere between 2 and 6 knots depending on whether you are motoring or sailing and the wind and where it is relative to your course. That gives you, at those speeds time to react to impedimenta even if you are reading a book.

With allegedly self driving cars the rule until they are genuinely autonomous should be that the driver/ commander/watchperson should be as engaged and alert as any other driver with their hands in actual contact with a means of control should one of the aforementioned impedimenta appear suddenly in front of them.

An alternative, and this is radical out of the box thinking here, is to limit their speed and have a man witha red flag walking in front of them.

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FAIL

Re: Autopilot fun

An alternative, and this is radical out of the box thinking here, is to limit their speed and have a man witha red flag walking in front of them.

Bearing in mind that Tesla hit a big RED firetruck, no way will I be the one holding the red rag to that autonomous bull :P

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Mixed signals

Funny thing is that when they named it Autopilot, I thought that the name was absolutely clear , since on an airline flight, although the plane has an autopilot, there are also _two_ pilots to make sure there's always somebody to take over when the autopilot can't handle it, and everybody knows that there's always a pilot on the plane.

Naive, I know.

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Facepalm

Re: Autopilot fun

In 2005 I had the happy task of travelling to the Solent to pick up a new boat. The night before we stayed in Milford on Sea and the landlord recited a recent story about Autopilot...

A crew were returning a large Sunseeker to the factory in Poole for some work; they had programmed the course into the nav system and unwisely used coordinates of buoys to set the route. Having exited the Solent, they went through the gap by Hurst Castle to take the ‘coastal route’ to Poole.

The next waypoint was a large yellow buoy off Milford and presumably they weren’t keeping watch properly as they slammed into this large buoy at Sunseeker speeds, promptly sinking the shiny new and very expensive boat.

(Fortunately it wasn’t far off the beach and the crew swam ashore safely.)

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Re: Autopilot fun

Switching on an autopilot in a plane or boat just means that the system takes some of the routine workload of the person operating the thing. It does not mean that the craft is working automatically, you still have to have an active watch. The same applies to cars, in fact more so because unlike a plane or ship the traffic flow is less regulated. So people who switch their autopilot software on in their Tesla and then think the car is going to drive itself are just 'driving without due care and attention'.

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Re: Autopilot fun

Impedimenta means luggage or baggage (originally military). You may have intended to say impediments?

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Re: Autopilot fun

"I predict flocking behaviour will be an interesting failure mode for fully autonomous cars..."

Your prediction is already wrong. That was the fault falure mode of all GPS systems for the first 15 years of their existence.. just like your boat example above. We are WAY past that. Waymo already does realtime traffic sensing and makes offers to divert around jams while using their mapping system. It makes sense that they would put this logic, that they already posses, in cars to drive around jams.

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The only thing going for the hot air balloon is that it is, in a very practical sense, the only full autonomous vehicle in actual use around the world.

Can we consider this one as an autonomous vehicle?

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I'm sceptical about driverless cars

but there are many, many people in the USA who see it as Nirvana, the promised land. A good number of them are Tesla Fanbois but that is another issue.

Unless ALL vehicles are equipped with the same level of automation and these vehicles are working together, it is a disaster waiting to happen (in my worthless opinion)

I don't normally agree with the views expressed in the articles by Christian Wolmar but his book

"Driverless Cars: On a Road to Nowhere (Perspectives)" published last January is a good read and does provide an insight into the problems involved on the rock road to driverless utopia.

no matter how good the automation is that vehicles of the future will employ there is always the unpredictability of us Humans and don't forget Animals as well. Given the death recently in the USA, I don't think that driverless is going to be here before 2024 at the earliest.

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Re: I'm sceptical about driverless cars

Given the death recently in the USA, I don't think that driverless is going to be here before 2024.

If it was cause by Waymo or GM vehicles you would be right because they are the leaders. Unfortunately it was done by Uber which already has a shitty record and are known for their dodgy practices. So it likely to just be written off as something done by a company cutting corners trying to catch up to their rivals.

There going to be a autonomous taxi at the end of 2018, that Waymo goal. An in several cities across America by 2020. It likely the UK will also have various driverless schemes up an running by then as well, probably in terms of small buses shifting people from town centers to out of town car parks or train stations. An countries like Singapore, Dubai and Qatar will have will all have something similar being set up. Singapore wants self driving buses because they can't hire enough bus drivers.

I bet on Qatar having self driving cars and buses driving around world cup fans for 2022 world cup. Because they want to show off what a modern country they are. They might even have a few flying autonomous taxis flying around by then as well.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I'm sceptical about driverless cars

Rules:

1) Obey traffic laws

2) Don't hit people, animals or objects that will damage the car

3) If you must hit people, animals or objects that will damage the car, hit the brakes so that the crash speed is as low as possible

4) Try not to hit small animals and other objects that won't damage the car

Unpredictability of humans really is an overblown argument, at best. The technical challenge is reliably to recognize objects and motion. If they can't do that, we won't have autonomous vehicles, if they can, we will have autonomous vehicles.

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Anonymous Coward

Me, I scream like a girl if I even so much as glimpse a CorelDraw logo.

Try using Visio. You'll go running home to the comforts of Mother CorelDraw.

The only thing going for the hot air balloon is that it is, in a very practical sense, the only full autonomous vehicle in actual use around the world.

The balloon fraternity would take exception to your assertion that they're not piloted. Steering them's tough (but, with knowledge of the winds, possible), but going down is dead easy. Up is almost as easy, so long as on has one's Ronson handy.

Outside the civilised world, such as France, tea is made with room-temperature water from the nearest hot water tap fed by a boiler that broke down yesterday. Even then, having poured the water into a receptacle, the French tea-maker will wait an additional minimum period of time – somewhere between 30 minutes and a fortnight – before adding any leaves or a tea bag.

They do it on purpose you know, out of spite, something to do with having lost the Napoleonic wars.

It's also very hard to make proper tea in the USA. Their kettles switch off below the boiling point of water, so it's not hot enough to make tea properly. I once got stuck in the middle of Mojave desert doing some tests, but I'd come prepared and had taken a British kettle with me. That, plus a handy ex-US Army generator that could be set to output 240V, enabled me to sup on a decent brew in amongst the sand, scorpions, rattle snakes, and bemused American colleagues. Though as it was at 3000ft up, the water still wasn't quite hot enough.

Despite being sold a then-future (now-present) of autonomous cars, what we got instead was idle, distracted Uber fatties running down pedestrians. As members of the public, we are all fair game to the experimental whims of tech billionaires. One by one, we will be beta-tested to death to make another disruptor incrementally richer.

Autonomous cars is simply the latest tech band wagon. There's a lot of VCs and shareholders putting a ton of cash into groups working on self-drivers, but there's zero chance they'll get a return. The money men are getting burned by the tech evangelists, and when they realise that it'll become harder for more realistic propositions to get funded.

The thing to invest in is nuclear fusion. If that ever gets going (and so far the signs are good), that's the true killer app of the future. Unfortunately for the VCs, various governments have got the rights to that pretty much sown up (ITER).

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Anonymous Coward

Great post but I disagree about fusion reactors. I think that's farther off than truly safe autonomous vehicles, which is much farther off than predicted. I'd suggest pebble bed reactors as a reasonable alternative for the near future, or other such nuclear tech. I do think that money needs to put into fusion, but I believe the payoff on its viability it much farther off. Unless there's been a new breakthrough in fusion technology of which I am not aware and that is entirely possible.

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Honestly, fusion power generation will happen first

Which tells you everything you might want to know about self-driving cars.

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Devil

For God's sake, why?

I've been at a complete loss to understand why we have a Gadarene rush by manufacturers, legislators and technical-commentators-who-should-know-better to try to convince us that self-driving cars are just around the corner.

Until I remembered a quote (source forgotten) that described cars as one of the instances of real freedom available to ordinary people. Once, we're all in self-driving pods, that disappears.

See also, "smart" meters.

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Re: For God's sake, why?

they are not around the corner through, they are here now, driving on our roads, from the end of the year Waymo will have a autonomous taxi service up and running in the US without any safety drivers.

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Re: For God's sake, why?

"from the end of the year Waymo will have a autonomous taxi service up and running in the US without any safety drivers."

Or so Waymo claims...

I'll believe it when I've seen it go 2 months without causing a big accident.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: For God's sake, why?

The potential value of autonomous driving is absolutely humungous.

If a company is successful with a reasonable affordable system it would be massively disruptive to vehicle sales.

The R&D is expensive.

The belt-and-braces systems that use a bunch of lidars are very expensive, which means that their market value is 0.

Add all of that together and you have a problem where a bunch of companies have to put a lot of money into autonomy but they aren't going to see any return until they deliver a usable product.

So, it's not surprising that they're all saying "Soon, soon".

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Anonymous Coward

Re: For God's sake, why?

With _remote_ safety drivers.

Big difference.

Autonomous vehicles aren't autonomous until they are operated without a human watching.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: For God's sake, why?

The reason for the rush? A growing number of seniors who will be too old to drive, too remote or handicapped to use the bus, too poor to take taxis, and too independent to accept a caretaker.

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Re: For God's sake, why?

>A growing number of seniors who will be too old to drive....

That's all of us, more or less. You don't become 'too old to drive' overnight, the process is gradual and you may not notice it until one day you end up stopped in traffic pointing the wrong way without any idea of how you got there. (That happened to a friend of my wife's.) I don't need a fully autonomous vehicle but anything that can reduce the risk of a crash due to a moment's inattention is worth having.

Inattention applies to other road users, though. That recent fatality may have been caused by a flaw in the software but it was almost certainly precipitated by someone crossing the road at night without paying attention. Unless we can figure out how to write software that automates precognition this type of accident is inevitable (....and for evidence to back me up on this look at the number of people who are flattened by trains in the US -- these things are huge, they have bright lights on the front and a horn that not only can be heard miles away but also is used frequently.)

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Re: For God's sake, why?

"these things are huge, they have bright lights on the front and a horn that not only can be heard miles away but also is used frequently"

They're also deceptive in terms of depth perception. They move faster than they look and (since they're usually pulling tremendous weight) have tons of inertia meaning stopping is a matter of yards if not miles. Many times, the train incident is a case of misjudging closing distance.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: For God's sake, why?

7 brain dead responses.

THE MONEY. a driverless truck can drive 24/7, requires no breaks, no sleep, no logs. There are 3.5 million professional truck drivers in the U.S. Walmart, king of the cheap shits, pay drivers $73000 a year.

The DOT says that the average driver makes $40,000. Simply accepting the lower number: In JUST TRUCKS ALONE, thats about $140 BILLION per year. Has this question become ridiculously stupid to answer yet?

There are many reasons... traffic remediation, safety, etc, , but the #1 is ALWAYS money.

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Re: For God's sake, why?

The first few wrongful death lawsuits will be interesting. Are they going to charge the software with Vehicular Manslaughter? "Build 2231 got five years, the poor guy"

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Silver badge

"Yet another heap of well-meaning nonsense has been slid off a shovel onto my shoes this week"

What was that about insisting on active verbs?

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>> What was that about insisting on active verbs?

In headlines.

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Silver badge

"In headlines."

I wondered if you'd slipped that one in deliberately to see if anyone noticed.

Here's one to make your toes curl: living in High Wycombe we used to get balloons floating over from a site used by a ballooning club somewhere further up the Hughenden valley. One day I looked up to see a balloonist who had dispensed with the basket. The pilot was sitting on a piece of board - essentially a swing seat. Nothing else. Just a swing seat.

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Nothing else. Just a swing seat.

Well, that's essentially how I fly my paraglider. Though I am strapped in.

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TWB

One man balloon

I've flown one of those - including over the centre of Reading once at 1500 ft - and it was surprisingly safe and easy to fly - I was a bit lonely up there.

Bigger balloons with baskets took longer to deflate (on landing) and it was harder to pull the vent at the top, so they would drag along the ground for longer in high winds - not that we flew in what most people would count as high winds.

I never felt unsafe flying balloons, the basket edge is quite high. I have felt more uneasy on high ground based objects e.g. buildings.

It's an enjoyable (IMHO) but daft form of transport, though not quite as daft as a gas balloon where you have a lot less control of height.

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“...old gender-neutral-partner’s tale”

That’s ageist.

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Anonymous Coward

What happens when pedestrians learn to spot autonomous vehicles?

Once pedestrians learn that they can cross a busy road by walking in front of driverless vehicles, forcing them to emergency stop ... at least it will redress the balance between cars and pedestrians, very much in the pedestrians' favour!

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Trollface

Re: What happens when pedestrians learn to spot autonomous vehicles?

Rich and poor, as well, if they rob the passengers, or if they don't have anything worth stealing, hold them for ransom. While wearing masks of course - those cars have 20 cameras.

Perhaps the algorithms will be tweaked to run over pedestrians wearing masks.

This, however, may not go over well with certain minorities.

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Re: What happens when pedestrians learn to spot autonomous vehicles?

"Once pedestrians learn that they can cross a busy road by walking in front of driverless vehicles, forcing them to emergency stop ... at least it will redress the balance between cars and pedestrians, very much in the pedestrians' favour!"

Evidently you haven't read the news recently.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: What happens when pedestrians learn to spot autonomous vehicles?

Also, in areas with strict crosswalk laws, pedestrians DO cross wherever and whenever they want to, even if it kills them. Autonomous cars not required.

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The water will be boiling in normal use, it's only tepid when the emissions test cheat device is enabled.

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Re: it's only tepid when the emissions test cheat device is enabled.

or when buying Coffee from a certain junk food retailer.

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MrT

Re: it's only tepid when the emissions test cheat device is enabled.

And in Cali, have a bumper sticker next to the tail-pipe that reads "Warning - exhaust gas may cause cancer when added to coffee."...

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Coat

Re: it's only tepid when the emissions test cheat device is enabled.

or when buying covfefe

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I feel I have to point out that autonomous cars are "on the roads" in 2018. I'm quite freaked at how accurate that prediction was.

True, they're not on many roads, but they're out there.

I don't know if you noticed, but last week Waymo announced they were buying 20,000 of the things from Jaguar (link). That's not a test run, that's an operational fleet - that will be on the road by 2020.

That seems pretty close to me.

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"That seems pretty close to me."

So long as they don't come close to me. Someone else can be their crash test dummy.

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WTF?

Wetware Drivers Are not Perfect Either

Round where I live the wetware drivers do not have such a great record at avoiding road furniture other wetware drivers, pedestrians flora and fauna either. Either roundabouts are invisible to them or they earn special points for flattening anything and everything on them. Some also treat speed limits as a sort of minimum target to be beaten at all costs to other drivers.

Having said all of that I to suspect that we are some years away from a really autonomous vehicle, though a 'are you sure mode' of guidance might be a step forward.

As for the UBER disaster, as it is subject to investigation and probably legal action I should be guarded in what I say, but I find it troubling that neither the test pilot nor the vehicle registered the presence of an object in its vicinity. The alarms on my newish car go off only too readily and they are only warning the wetware in the driving position.

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Re: Wetware Drivers Are not Perfect Either

It's the test pilot that makes no sense. He's supposed to be backup for precisely this situation. And failed spectacularly.

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All I know is that Waymo is launching a self driving taxi at the end of the year and just slump 1.4 billion down on twenty thousand cars.

But then Waymo built it own technology and understands how it work. Uber stole theirs.

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All I know is that Waymo is launching a self driving taxi at the end of the year

I guess the first three words of that sentence are correct at least, since you've regurgitated nothing but this "fact" 3 times in these comments already.

Look, just because Waymo says it's launching a self-driving taxi this year doesn't mean that it will, nor that it'll be autonomous and not require a safety driver, nor that it'll be able to operate on more than a limited subset of "good" roads, nor that it'll turn out to be a roaring success rather than a glimpse of just how far true autonomous cars have to go before they're a practical reality.

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