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Ford Predicts Self-Driving, Traffic-Reducing Cars By 2017 388

Posted by Soulskill
from the flying-cars-would-have-helped-with-this dept.
An anonymous reader tips a story about comments from Ford Motor Company showing how confident they are in the autonomous car technology currently in development. They say self-driving cars will be here within just five years, and that the tech to do so is available already. They also think these cars will dramatically affect the flow of traffic. Quoting: "Ford makes this projection, based on simulator studies: If one in four cars has Traffic Jam Assist or similar self-driving technologies, travel times are reduced by 37.5% and delays are reduced by 20%. In other words, if the freeway part of your rush hour commute takes 60 minutes, it will drop to 38. That’s because adaptive cruise control (ACC) is better at pacing the car ahead without continual brake, speed-up, brake cycles. Here’s how it works: Stop-and-go ACC keeps pace with the car ahead, using a look-ahead radar and mirror-mounted camera. Lane keep assist keeps the car centered, also taking advantage of the camera in the mirror. Electric power steering is better for remote control than mechanical power steering; it can be guided by the Traffic Jam Assist black box. Sonar units — for blind spot detection and cross traffic alerts (cars crossing behind when backing) — monitor traffic to the side. Combine all those and you have a car that’s smart enough to guide itself during predictable, low-speed conditions."
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Ford Predicts Self-Driving, Traffic-Reducing Cars By 2017

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  • by crazyjj (2598719) * on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @03:40PM (#40532473)

    Typical Ford, lagging behind. People have been predicting that autonomous cars are 5 years away for decades now.

  • by TWX (665546) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @03:46PM (#40532567)
    ...any place that plows their roads. Plowing roads not only means that the lane markers are obscured and harder to recognize as a pattern, but snowplows are very hard on the paint. When I've visited Boston I have a hard time seeing lane markers even in the summer, as they're often just bits of paint down among the aggregate, where all the high points have been scraped off. Wouldn't this wreak havoc on lane detection systems, when even humans have a hard time identifying the lanes? And what about the difference between de jure road markings, and de facto usage, where the actual markings are basically irrelevant and instead drivers choose the best fit path?

    I commend their efforts to make self-driving cars, but I see a lot of problems that I don't see a practical solution for. If they've come up with solutions then I'd really, really like to know how they work.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Speaking about lane markings, there are some roads in Boston where the road has been maintained, and the old lane markings take you on a path to nowhere, say off the edge of a bridge. Humans recognize this and auto correct onto the new lane markings, with minimal swerving and disruption (though noticeable). Would a computer drive off the bridge?

    • by Applekid (993327) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @03:57PM (#40532767)

      I commend their efforts to make self-driving cars, but I see a lot of problems that I don't see a practical solution for. If they've come up with solutions then I'd really, really like to know how they work.

      Just because you can't think of the solution doesn't mean there is no solution. Humans manage to figure it out somehow, and because us meat popsicles have lots of accidents that means the bar for par is set pretty low, IMHO, for an automated solution.

      Plus, this, like all other technologies, will evolve over time to become better suited for the problems at hand. Can't say as much for the human brain.

      • by TWX (665546) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @04:13PM (#40533031)

        Just because you can't think of the solution doesn't mean there is no solution. Humans manage to figure it out somehow, and because us meat popsicles have lots of accidents that means the bar for par is set pretty low, IMHO, for an automated solution.

        Believe me, I'm well aware of that. That's why I said that I want to know how the solution works.

        Plus, this, like all other technologies, will evolve over time to become better suited for the problems at hand. Can't say as much for the human brain.

        I wouldn't be so sure. My grandfather grew up in the era of the horse and buggy, where one burned oil for light at night and hand-pumped water for use in the house. They did have a windmill for powering water distribution on the farm, but basically it was all mechanical energy, with a little bit of chemical (ie the lights). He was introduced to electricity, telephones, automobiles, self-propelled farming equipment, flight, electronics and computers, automated home appliances, and members of his species walking on the Moon, all in his lifetime, all in about 70 years. He had to learn how to deal with all of the changes he saw in his life in a very short time, relatively speaking, and managed to do so without too much trouble, and without a formal education beyond eighth grade.

      • by crazyjj (2598719) *

        Us meat-popsicles can read text, read captchas, write prose, and do a lot of other shit that gives computers major headaches. Do you really want a computer driving your car, trying to recognize the road, when it can't even reliably recognize handwriting?

      • Just because you can't think of the solution doesn't mean there is no solution.

        Indeed. In this case, thinking of solutions is not even particularly difficult:
        1. Use differential GPS [wikipedia.org]as a backup (or as a primary)
        2. Use cellphone signals and WiFi triangulation as a backup
        3. In addition to using lane markings, keep a database of the location of mileage posts, street signs, trees, etc.
        4. Dead reckoning is probably good enough to travel a hundred meters or so between checkpoints
        5. Pull off the road, and beep to wake up the driver.

        • by oxdas (2447598)

          Pattern matching and a simple learning algorithm accomplishes the same thing with no need for more equipment. Seriously, this problem has been solved for more than a decade. If the computer can't see the lane markers, then it moves into a mode where it uses the edges of the road to calculate its position. This is not a difficult problem.

    • by gl4ss (559668)

      if it would trust lane markers it would be fucked anyways, they're hardly correct quite often.

      however, the speed adaptation cruise thing is very workable, though doesn't MB already have that?

    • by timeOday (582209)
      Adaptive Cruise Control doesn't steer the car, it just maintains your speed behind the car ahead of you. This would improve traffic flow by improving response times over manual control.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by vlm (69642)

      snowplows are very hard on the paint

      In wisconsin there are plenty of roads where they just categorically give up on road markings. The suburban subdivision in front of my house, even the feeder road to the interstate. In fact there are portions of the interstate that are unmarked, especially concrete bridges. I would imagine the car would do the same thing human drivers do, and given a theoretical 3 lanes of unmarked road, space themselves accordingly. Much as we somehow figure out how to park on unmarked grass at the county fair without

    • by icebike (68054) * on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @04:55PM (#40533673)

      Its only the lane tracking part that I see as not currently practical. And you doesn't have to be in snow country to see this as a problem. Its probably un-workable with anything other than a guide wire embedded in the roadway, because as you point out simple wear and tear removes paint quickly.

      Radio advertising of braking would probably also not work, just due to the nut jobs that would hack it, but it would also be very useful if they could solve that.

      But I have Adaptive Cruise Control now, and I absolutely love it. My car uses a Bosch radar-based system, but there are multiple technologies [wikipedia.org] already deployed. Its been around for about 10 years, and its still in its infancy, but from my experience it works very well. Works in fog too.

        Small subtle differences in the speed holding capability of vehicles running cruise control no longer drive me nuts. The car follow the one ahead at a set distance (adjustable), and its pretty reliable. The only problem with it is you may find yourself following the slowest guy on the road. But as long as there is one guy somewhere paying attention to speed limits or safe driving speeds it works great. Throw in Blind Spot monitoring and things become far less stressful.

      (This is where everybody is going to jump in and say how dumb this is due to people becoming less vigilant, and lecture me on being an idiot for relying on technology to do my driving for me. I drive the same way when I have this technology or not, as I switch vehicles frequently. I would never take off on a cross country trip without Cruise Control, and having Adaptive Cruise Control is even better. Try it before you knock it. We've heard all the nay-saying we need to hear).

      I find it interesting that the industry is finally adopting some of the very same techniques [trafficwaves.org] that Jim Beaty was so soundly criticized for back in 1998 when he posted his Traffic Wave and Jam Busting experiments. Although now they are putting it into the vehicles.

    • It seems odd to me that there should be such a Luddite tone here on Slashdot, and an egotistic assumption that humans will always be better at these tasks for the foreseeable future. I see several problems with your lane marking example. 1. If lane markings are so bad humans cannot easily discriminate them, then this should be addressed ASAP autonomous vehicles or not. 2. You seem to assume the self driving car will have no other lane confirmation information other than lane markings from some camera with human eye like contrast discrimination when in actuality, having taken the recent Stanford AI course, they will use multiple input sources and cameras to determine proper lane usage including statistical probability based on previous lane markings, the sides of the road, GPS, LIDAR, RADAR, and placement and movement of other nearby vehicle (and of the latter it will place much more avoidance weight). With Google’s quarter of a million miles already autonomously driven I would assume they often navigated areas with less than ideal lane markings (else we would be hear the hilarious situations the Google cars where constantly getting themselves into).

      Yes people will balk at first, but this really is a task humans are REALLY bad at. We may be wonderful at discriminating a dog from a cat or recognizing a pizzeria from the pizza shaped sign, but the self driving car will be hugely better at determining that there is an object at of size X at distance X traveling Z miles per hour towards us. It doesn’t need to understand what every object on the road or side of the road is to operate, it won’t be distracted by video billboards or scantily clad persons of the opposite sex – it is just obsessively crunching data on position and moving object hazards all the while confirming the road ahead is true drivable pavement.

      This is a hugely complicated problem, but it is well constrained with clear rules. There is nothing new about driving the self driving car needs to figure out each time. Until streets are better designed for autonomous vehicles they may be overly cautious, but I doubt hazardous, and as streets become optimized for self driving vehicles and as the vehicles themselves improve, they will be able to tear around at incredible speeds safely – if we decided we wanted to let them off the leash so to speak.
  • by yotto (590067) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @03:47PM (#40532585) Homepage

    FTS:

    They say self-driving cars will be here within just five years, and that the tech to do so is available already

    I refuse to believe THAT one until I see one driving around Nevada with a Google sticker on it.

    • by AliasMarlowe (1042386) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @04:17PM (#40533115) Journal

      They say self-driving cars will be here within just five years, and that the tech to do so is available already

      I refuse to believe THAT one until I see one driving around Nevada with a Google sticker on it.

      And I refuse to believe it until they are driving around Finland (or Maine or Ontario) in the winter.

      The road surface may be black ice, slush above ice, slush above tarmac, dry ice, soft snow, packed snow, or bare, covering a few orders of magnitude in coefficient of friction and steering/braking response. Roads can be locally impassable due to snowdrifts, or two lanes may be constricted to one from sheer quantity of snow over some distance. And road markings and road edges can be completely invisible under snow or ice. Despite what wikipedia says, "cats eyes" are not used on roads where severe cold is expected - they'd be removed along with their "steel protectors" by a typical snowplough in Finland.

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        Here in Western NY state, any "cats eyes" are often under the layer of snow or ice. I would imagine the computer controlled car would do what I do. Guess at where the lane is and try to imitate the other cars on the road.

  • (clears throat) So, uh, how will all this auto-driving react when I er, share (split) lanes going down the 405 on my way home? Will the auto-center re-center wildly all the sudden when it detects my bike? Will it not detect my bike at all? I'm all for there being fewer people wildly swerving from one side of the lane to the other (fark, pick a side...I'll pass on the other!) but...I also don't want cars violently changing position automatically when it abruptly detects my presense yet hasn't detected th
    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @03:52PM (#40532671)

      The Google car detects motorcycles that lane split and doesn't side-swipe them on their way by. Sebastian Thrun addressed this concern in his keynote talk at the Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition conference two weeks ago in Rhode Island.

      • by Antipater (2053064) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @04:00PM (#40532821)

        and doesn't side-swipe them on their way by.

        Sounds like it's got a bug.

      • The Google car detects motorcycles that lane split and doesn't side-swipe them on their way by. Sebastian Thrun addressed this concern in his keynote talk at the Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition conference two weeks ago in Rhode Island.

        Indeed. It's necessary for one of the occupants of the driverless car to side-swipe the biker with the door. Probably makes it easier, too...

    • by h4rr4r (612664)

      Hopefully it makes you stop doing that. I would suggest the computer open a door in your way.

    • by EnergyScholar (801915) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @04:20PM (#40533163)
      It's strong AI. It can be as effective, or more so, as a skilled human driver. You should learn about what's actually been done before you raise these issues. The issue you raise has already been solved, and in a public forum, no less.
    • Motorcycles are one safety ruling away from being made illegal. Motorcycles straight up wouldnt be allowed on fully automated roads. Its an unsafe machine at highway speed in a world where we force people in engineered crumples to still wear seat belts.
      • by sl149q (1537343) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @06:29PM (#40534943)

        Actually they will be MUCH safer in a world of 100% automated (>= 4 wheel) traffic.

        Most of the problems with motocycles and bicycles are getting hit by idiot drivers not paying attention.

        Automated cars don't fall asleep, don't listen to music, eat, drink, fiddle with the radio, text, or talk on their phone.

        And when we reach 100% automated traffic the cars can do things like having all three lanes of traffic move over in tandem to avoid a cyclist.

        This is not simply because it is nice to do that for cyclists, but something needed to avoid hitting, dogs, cats, raccoons, deer, etc.

        It will of course be ILLEGAL to ride your motorcycle in an unsafe manner that requires automated cars to avoid you. AND since these cars are well connected be sure that the police will be notified quickly and provided with video, lidar and other recordings showing exactly what you did. So I expect that joy riding like that will be eliminated quickly as well. You get fined on the first offence. We keep your motorcycle on the second offense.

         

  • by Picass0 (147474) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @03:49PM (#40532611) Homepage Journal

    I have hated ABS for years. It's nearly causes me more accidents than it's helped me avoid, especially on ice. Now I can look forward to my car doing more shit I don't expect during an emergency.

    Do not want.

    • by Keruo (771880)
      ABS is designed to work especially on ice, to stop your movement by sequencing braking instead of locking your wheels and causing you to slide uncontrollably.
      What exactly is there not to want?
    • It's a very predictable system. It pulses the brakes when it loses traction. Don't lose traction and you'll never have to deal with it. If you do lose traction, it'll help you get it back faster, and retain more of it than you would have otherwise.

      If you're a superhero driver who can drift reliably, knows when he's about to lose traction, and has a cool enough head to back off the brakes to just the right amount for maximum stopping power and maneuverability, well, you can also probably figure out a way to disable the ABS system, and make enough in stunt driving jobs to pay for the lawsuit when you cream someone.

      • If you're a superdriver, drifting on ice or snow AND USING YOUR BRAKES, well, you're doing it wrong.

        ABS won't get in the way because you're supposed to be using your throttle, gears and steering wheel. The only thing that an ABS system is going to make more difficult for 'superdrivers' is hitting the breaks to start your 'controlled' skid. But if you're such a good driver, if you're not skidding, then you are just driving along normally and everybody is happy.

        Superdriver indeed....

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        You don't need to be a stunt driver to be able to out drive a cheap ABS setup.

        Next winter turn your ABS and traction control off and go find a empty parking lot.

        • I live in upstate New York. I once spent three winters in a row taking every single corner through city traffic sideways in my RWD manual, and I used to go bombing around the unplowed country roads for fun after a big snowstorm. Yes, I know it was dangerous and I regret doing it and am incredibly lucky that I didn't hurt anyone. The point is though, I never wrecked my car, never ditched it, and saved it from too many close calls to count. I know how to drive in snow and ice, I know how good people can get a

      • If you're a superhero driver who can drift reliably, knows when he's about to lose traction, and has a cool enough head to back off the brakes to just the right amount for maximum stopping power and maneuverability,

        Automatic systems are already better at that. See Stanford's autonomous sliding parking [youtube.com] and autonomous drifting [youtube.com] demos. Auto stability control systems already manage individual wheel braking, power, and steering, but this takes it to a whole new level.

        Machine learning of control is getting very good. See the autonomous helicopter aerobatics [youtube.com] from four years ago.

  • by smooth wombat (796938) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @03:49PM (#40532619) Homepage Journal

    I'll pass. Considering the overwhelming failure of their touchscreen controls for radio, phone, temp control and everything else, I wouldn't dare trust my life with such lousy software.

    As to the overall concept of self-driving, meh. I have no problem driving myself, keeping a safe distance from the person in front of me or being aware of who's around me. It's the nutjob beside/behind me who's ghetto driving while on his phone or that person in the pickup truck who just has to get one person ahead to save that extra half second of driving time (and yes, there is someone like that I have to deal with every day).

    • by wcrowe (94389)

      Yes, and don't forget all the jackasses that run red lights.

      • Funny you should say that. This morning I saw two people make left turns on red while the oncoming or cross traffic had the green.

        I guess like that nutjob who has to get one car ahead, they were in too much of a hurry to worry about anyone else.

  • After the first fatality involving one of these cars there will be a crippling uproar and/or legal battles.
    • by TummyX (84871)

      You don't think there are already fatalities that are caused by cars and not people? When it happens, eople will accept that on average self driving cars are more reliable and insurance will take care of the lawsuits.

  • For me, it can't get here soon enough. Like a lot of people, I find driving frustrating. But if I could just sit back and let the car do the driving, the frustration level would go down considerably. However, there are some things that I have not heard addressed. Unexpected hazards is one. Parking once you get to your destination is another. I think we will still be spending a lot of time at the wheel, directing our cars for the foreseeable future.

  • I personally applaud the technology and look forward to seeing a world with this in widespread use but I love my car and have absolutely no intention of replacing it. Now, I'll add all the sensors, (already have most in place hooked up via arduino) but how is this going to work for manual/standard transmissions? In any case, not my car.

    • Why not both.... 95% of driving is crap. Get/rent/order a self-steering car for the commute, get/rent/order a minimalistic rear- or middle-engine stickshift for those 5% when you really take a fun driving tour along that mountain road.
    • You old guys will be 'grandfathered' in a nice little oval next to the rest home where you can take your golf cart round and round all day.

  • Google "gps train accident" and read about the numerous accounts of GPS directing drivers into the path of an oncoming train.

    No way would I get behind the wheel of these autonomous vehicles until GPS is fixed.
    • by bieber (998013)
      They don't just blindly follow GPS directions, that would be absurd. They're equipped with sensors and cameras that collect more than enough data to let them detect and avoid dangers like railroad tracks. When you look at the immense amount of injuries and property damage done by human drivers on a regular basis, it becomes pretty well apparent that one of the best things we could possibly do for public safety is to get humans out from behind the wheels of cars as soon as possible. Will there still be so
  • Will this set off radar detectors that drivers are using, or does it operate on different bands? Would it interfere with radar guns used by police depts (I presume the answer to this one is no or it likely wouldn't be approved)?
  • by RandCraw (1047302) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @04:05PM (#40532901)

    RTFA. Ford isn't promising full autonomy. Their "Traffic Jam Assist" is pretty close to what Mercedes already offers -- the ability to trail along behind another car and automatically adapt your speed to theirs. TJA only adds the ability to track the car ahead and steer with it. To me that seems quite achievable within 5 years.

    Sebastian Thrun and Google have already done much more wuth the Google Autocar. I woudn't be surprised if by 2017 the GA will be fully and reliably autonomous. The challenge probably isn't the algorithms but the instrumentation. Somehow the production cars will need to spray out several light and radar beams and make reliable sense of the reflection, all within the shape of a car that looks normal and withstands snow coverage and the incomplete removal thereof. That typical continuing level of everyday soccer mom abuse will limit full autonomy for a while yet, but at no fault of Ford (or Google).

    • by JDG1980 (2438906)

      TJA only adds the ability to track the car ahead and steer with it.

      What happens if the person ahead of you is drunk? What happens if they swerve off the road into a ditch?

      Google's fully autonomous tech seems like a better bet than this.

  • Wildly optimistic...maybe they'll have a product ready by 2017 if they're already working like ninjas on it, but then it will be time to modify laws and possibly the roads themselves, and only after that will self-driving cars hit the roads.

  • No way, too soon. These guys are developing the cars for five years out right now. The tech isn't there. I predict closer to 15 years. Too many unknowns about insurance, liabilities, and legalities.
  • Most of the posts here indicate that the fine tradition of not reading the linked article is alive and well at SlashDot..

    The system Ford is proposing:
    1. is for use on controlled access roads (aka Freeways)
    2. Usable only at slow speeds (traffic jams)

    Frankly, given what Google is doing with autonomous driving, what Ford is proposing is very disappointing.

  • It's a shame (Score:4, Interesting)

    by thePowerOfGrayskull (905905) <marc.paradise@g m a i l . c om> on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @04:15PM (#40533075) Homepage Journal

    It's a shame that we need technology to do something that most of us should be doing automatically - and yet most fail to do.

    That’s because adaptive cruise control (ACC) is better at pacing the car ahead without continual brake, speed-up, brake cycles.

    I see this all the time and odn't understand it. When I'm in traffic, I hang back - I try to stay at a constant speed. This has a couple of interesting effects:
    1) I almost never use my brakes and consequently avoid the resultant acceleration - better gas mileage
    2) Unless it's a complete traffic stoppage such as from a full road closure, I never need to stop.
    3) It seems to influence people behind me to do the same thing. I tend to create a small island of slow-but-steadily moving traffic until the overall slowdown is done, while everyone else follows the brake/accelerate cycle.

    Yes: there are asshats who weave in and out. They get impatient and zoom around me (and promptly slam on the brakes when they realize they really can't go anywhere). They also get impatient and cut back out from in front of me when they get stopped again, so it's zero-sum as far as I can see. Don't get me wrong - I love driving fast, but there are appropriate times and places.

    I don't understand the mentality of people who follow the "accelerate/brake/accelerate" cycle. LOOK at the road ahead of you, LOOK at what hte cars are doing. Don't accelerate if you see that a car or three ahead everyone is stopped - there's no point. If you want to change lanes to get ahead fine - but LOOK - observe more than that empty space and make sure you're really going to go somewhere.

    Then again, I've come to expect nothing more from most drivers. They're capable of looking as far as the end of their hood and a few inches beyond - no further. I'm amazed only that so many people survive to old age.

    • You might get some people to leave this thing on, but most people who drive like idiots will just turn it off once the novelty wears off because it's not going fast enough, leaving too much space in front of them, etc... The problem isn't that people can't effectively gauge the proper speed to keep the traffic flowing, even though the computer may be able to do it better. They just don't want to, and they aren't going to let the car do it for them either.
  • I'm familiar with the basic concept of adaptive cruise control – automatically speeding up or slowing down to keep pace with other vehicles in the same lane – but I'm still unclear on how it works when multiple vehicles are using it, or how it reacts to out-of-range conditions. What happens if four people in a line are using ACC? How is it decided how fast they should go? What happens if you're using ACC and the person ahead of you slams down the gas? Will your car automatically cause you to kee

  • The problem isn't with predictable low-speed conditions, it's with drivers accustomed to cars which drive themselves under low-speed conditions who are suddenly thrown into an unpredictable situation.

  • by arendjr (673589) on Tuesday July 03, 2012 @04:20PM (#40533173) Homepage

    Will these cars be autonomous enough that a driver's license is not needed anymore?

    The reason I ask is I'm 28, live in Amsterdam, and don't own a driver's license. Frankly, the main reason why I don't have one is simply because I never needed one. Within the city, biking is a lot more efficient. And for anything further, the public transport isn't that bad either. Of course I also save a lot of money not driving a car, and my CO2 output is a lot less too (not that I care that much).

    Still, there are always situations where a car would be preferable. But why wouldn't I just wait a few years more and get an autonomous car right away (or just rent one on those few situations). I wouldn't miss the experience of driving myself anyway. Heck, probably I would be using my laptop in my car instead. I guess someone can dream :)

  • I don't want to be "that guy" who comes onto /. saying "oh this will never work", and I think that this technology does have the potential to make better use of existing road space.

    But...

    America's problem is not insufficient road capacity. Its problem is settlement patterns. Single-use-zoning ordinances make it illegal to open a corner store in a residential neighbourhood in many American cities. These kinds of big government regulations force people to drive between their daily needs, and it's by no acci

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