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Transportation Technology

Alphabet Is Finally Taking the Driver Out of Some of Its Driverless Cars (recode.net) 176

An anonymous reader shares a report: After almost a decade, Google's parent company Alphabet is getting closer to fulfilling its promise of rolling out cars that can take anyone anywhere without a driver behind the wheel. Alphabet's self-driving car company, Waymo, is introducing truly driverless cars to public roads for the first time, the company's CEO John Krafcik announced today at the Web Summit conference. That means there won't have to be a person sitting in the driver's seat, waiting to take over, and that the car's computer system will complete all parts of the driving task -- though for now, only in some of the company's cars in Phoenix, Ariz. While this move is still geographically limited, it marks the beginnings of Alphabet's driverless future finally becoming a reality. No other company has succeeded in operating a fleet of fully driverless cars on public roads.
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Alphabet Is Finally Taking the Driver Out of Some of Its Driverless Cars

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  • by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2017 @03:11PM (#55508409)

    I've seen other posts on Slashdot before that were dubious we'd see self driving cars in the next 20 years... but it's not even going to be five before they are in use with real people in all sorts of areas, as this article indicates.

    There is just too much demand, too much benefit, and SO much effort being put into making self driving cars work. People seem concerned these cars may make mistakes but the benefits are so huge mistakes will be overlooked, because in the end even now they are probably safer than most human drivers, much less after a few more years of effort.

    The largest obstacle I see really is how to deal with snow, which can really block up pretty much any kind of sensor. Otherwise the technology to drive correctly has advanced and will continue to advance at a very rapid clip...

    • Who says the technology has advanced at a rapid clip? The hypesters that run these companies. These cars will still have employees in them.
      • Who says the technology has advanced at a rapid clip?

        I've spent some of my spare time studying self driving car tech (including the Udacity course). It's not like I'm going to be building my own self driving car anytime soon, but I've learned enough to see that self driving car tech is very real and not hype. There are a LOT of prototype cars on real roads today from a large number of companies,, not just in California, not just Google, but others cities and companies now as well. We are very close to th

        • No there aren't. Hype. You probably think "AI" is right around the corner too, along with a Mars rocket.
        • by mjwx ( 966435 )

          I've spent some of my spare time studying self driving car tech

          Reading articles on MacFanboyNews.com is not research or study.

          I'm actually involved with the one of the key technologies used by Google for its autonomous cars, namely LIDAR. Google uses a Helodyne HDL-64, which is a fantastic bit of kit but has a few serious drawbacks that are inherent to LIDAR. Namely moisture. Strangely enough, objects with a high refractive index like water tend to really screw with LIDAR (the L stands for Light). Whilst a Helodyne HDL-64 is fantastic at doing aerial terrain surveys

      • "Who says the technology has advanced at a rapid clip? The hypesters that run these companies. These cars will still have employees in them."

        Sure, but from the back seat (as in the video) the most they are going to be able to do is hit a button for emergency stop. What's being demonstrated here is that the car is now expected to be able to deal with all situations to be found in that area of Phoenix, with real life traffic and pedestrians.

        We're not at a commercial Level 5 system yet. But it's getting tantal

        • "the most they are going to be able to do is hit a button for emergency stop" Says who? The hypesters.
          • Do you enjoy being wrong, always doubting everything?

            Slashdot tradition I suppose. "No wireless. Less space than a Nomad. Lame."

    • liability both civil and criminal need to be worked out.

      Maybe they can hide under eula and other bs + drag out trails so that victims take a low settlement to get on top of there mounting bills.

      But in a criminal cases if they try NDA's / destroying evidence it can get very bad for them.

      now there may be a push to have doctored evidence to cover for poor code and other system faults.

      • by hawk ( 1151 )

        NDAs wouldn't cover the other car and its passengers . . .

        It's a matter of working it out and allocating it, but it is "merely" that.

        Once the accident rate/severity can be brought significantly below the of human drivers, the total cost of vehicle production and liability becomes less than the total cost of human vehicle and regular liability.

        The only "real' issue here is whether to allocate the liability to the owner or the manufacturer--and even so, the total costs remains the same.

        One possible solution i

    • I've driven in snow that blocked up all my sensors though too. I once had to open my door and follow the white line on the road outside the door to navigate while someone watched for tail lights ahead at 5mph for an hour. Having GPS + Radar guidance would have been invaluable. Radar would have seen through the snow no problem and GPS could have kept me on the road.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        Why didn't you just clear the windscreen? Why wouldn't a self-driving car have wipers and heaters to keep sensors clear?

        • by hawk ( 1151 )

          I haven't been caught in snow that bad, but once was caught in fog so thick I could barely see the end of the hood--and ended up opening the door to creep down the road with the dotted line.

          These conditions *do* exist, and clearing the windshield won't help when the vision obstruction is in the air.

          while I've *seen* snow that drops visibility to a few feet, I was able to stay inside.

          There's a reason I live in this desert . . .

          hawk

          (and, yes, there are deserts that get snow, and even parts of this valley--but

    • The largest obstacle I see really is how to deal with snow, which can really block up pretty much any kind of sensor.

      I think it's also going to be a bitch to get this thing to drop your boat off at the boat launch...park itself, and then know when to come back to get you after your day at the lake...

    • >There is just too much demand, too much benefit, and SO much effort being put into making self driving cars work. People

      As I said elsewhere, SDC is a perfect confluence: government, users and corporations - all are insterested in this:

      - Government will get more control on the traffic and population (eventually)
      - Users will get more free time in the comfort of the personal environment of their car (whether it is a hire or personal car does not matter). There won't be proverbial Sartrarian "others".
      - Corp

    • I see the cost being a factor at first. The lidar system adds something like $7500 on top of the car. Obviously there are already costly alterations done to vehicles right now to make them handicap accessible so a market is there. In fact, the market might be even greater, since current modifications are still reliant on the driver having some capacity.

      There must be others that would very much like to be driven around, but are flatly unable to get a license, due to age, vision, motor cortex problems etc. So

      • by Kjella ( 173770 )

        I see the cost being a factor at first. The lidar system adds something like $7500 on top of the car. (...) There must be others that would very much like to be driven around, but are flatly unable to get a license, due to age, vision, motor cortex problems etc. So I see those groups as the pioneers.

        My parents have lost their driving licenses, going to the cabin without me they'd have to take a complicated taxi-train-taxi setup or a direct taxi which would be like $170 whereas the actual running costs are like $40. And they'd probably have to pay some return fare since the driver would be way out of his regular area, so potentially closer to $300. So around $250 extra, one way so $500 round trip. Multiply by 5-10 trips a year, 5-10 years lifespan, never mind the other uses they'd have... $7500 is a bar

      • by hawk ( 1151 )

        Compare that $7,500 up front (which history says will drop to a fraction of that with mass production) to a huge drop in annual insurance in a large city (far less compelling in rural areas).

        If someone gets a $500/year insurance break, *and* gets back an hour a day by doing something else in the car instead of driving, it starts sounding cheap *really* quick

        hawk

  • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2017 @03:16PM (#55508457)
    that driving for a living is going away soon but you'd be amazed how many don't believe that. It's gonna be like when computers decimated junior accountants but without all the new jobs working on computers.
    • Especially if they push this "tech" as fast as they are... there's no way it's going to backfire (/sarc).
    • It's gonna be like when computers decimated junior accountants

      When did that happen? My wife's firm just hired 3 more.

      • It's gonna be like when computers decimated junior accountants

        When did that happen?

        It didn't. Computers eliminated some bookkeeper jobs, but by taking away the drudgery, and allowing accountants to focus on higher level tasks like forecasting and planning, it has has made accountants more valuable that ever.

        The same thing will likely happen with SDCs. Driving jobs will fade away, but you don't need to use too much imagination to see all the new business opportunities that will open up with cheap ubiquitous transportation of people, goods, and services.

        • You do understand that bookkeeper was how folks who couldn't afford higher education got a start in something besides ditch digging. And I hope you also understand that the world does not, in fact, need ditch diggers. We have machines for that and they do the work of a thousand ditch diggers for less then the cost to feed them just enough to keep digging. Next you're gonna say something about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, somehow completely impervious to the irony of using a phrase that is literal
    • by mjwx ( 966435 )

      that driving for a living is going away soon but you'd be amazed how many don't believe that. It's gonna be like when computers decimated junior accountants but without all the new jobs working on computers.

      Honestly, I think that AI is going to put Accountants, Lawyers and many other white collar professions out of business long before drivers. Driving is a job that is pretty random, you cant put in an algorithm to predict a kid or dog running out on the road. Hell, we cant even get an algorithm to reliably predict if tomorrow will be rainy or if the A322 will be just slow or at a standstill.

      What AI is good at, exceptionally good at is applying rules and rule sets to data. A lot of professions are based on

  • by Noryungi ( 70322 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2017 @03:17PM (#55508465) Homepage Journal

    Quoting from the article:

    That means there won't have to be a person sitting in the driver's seat, waiting to take over, and that the car's computer system will complete all parts of the driving task -- though for now, only in some of the company's cars in Phoenix, Ariz.

    Now: Phoenix, Arizona. Probably one of the driest spots in the USA, and one with nice, straight roads. Hmmm... Is it possible that the Waymo / Alphabet / Googleplex cars are not that good at self-driving?

    I mean this seriously: the more I think about it, and the harder it is for me to take the idea of a self-driving car seriously in anything that is not in the southwestern United States.

    A self driving car in some parts of Europe would simply be very, very difficult: anyone who has navigated the beautiful little streets of, say, Granada in Spain knows what I am talking about (hint: very narrow). Anyone who has driven in Norway, or any other country in Scandinavia, knows that the weather can be grueling there (Alaska or North Dakota, some parts of Illinois or Wisconsin also come to mind).

    All of this to say, a decade into this slef-driving car project, has Waymo been blowing smoke all along? Is the self-driving car vaporware? Discuss.

    • by gnick ( 1211984 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2017 @03:32PM (#55508599) Homepage

      Phoenix, Arizona. Probably one of the driest spots in the USA, and one with nice, straight roads. Hmmm... Is it possible that the Waymo / Alphabet / Googleplex cars are not that good at self-driving?

      When you're running code for the first time, do you present it with the most complicated input you can imagine? Maybe if you're really sure of yourself and have little consequence for errors. I start with simple test cases and work my way up. My dad was always fond of telling me to "shoot the cripples first."

      • When you're running code for the first time, do you present it with the most complicated input you can imagine?"

        That might explains why so much production software is bug-laden shite...

        • by BasilBrush ( 643681 ) on Tuesday November 07, 2017 @04:14PM (#55508977)

          What utter nonsense. You start with something that works for the general case. Then you start exploring the edge cases. Writing a test for each potential issue. that's standard Test Driven Development. And standard practice (minus doing the tests first) for every other kind of coder too.

          If you are trying to tell me that people deal with the hard cases first, before the general cases, I won't believe you have any experience at all.

        • by gnick ( 1211984 )

          Actually there's nothing wrong with that and I have too. But only when the consequences of failure are slight or beneficial.

    • When developing and testing complex new systems, you try to keep your unknowns and external variables to a minimum (i.e. bad weather, terrible roads and traffic). Once you've established your algorithms work in the simpler cases, you move on to tougher and tougher situations. This is normal, logical development progression. I'm not sure why you'd think it's somehow indicative that cars will *never* be able to handle anything but good weather and traffic.

      • And until you've proven that self driving cars will work under all conditions you shouldn't assume that they will.
        • I don't need a self-driving car that works in Norway and Spain. I need one that works where I live (Phoenix). Oh hey, look at that, the one from Google seems to fit the bill.

          You don't have to solve every corner case to have a useful product.

          • That's why we have lawyers and lawsuits. When there's a software failure you just don't lose your document, someone dies.
        • I think you're misinterpreting my position.

          Exactly why do self-driving cars, especially first-generation cars, have to work under all conditions to be useful or viable products? You're going to need a drivers' license to operate these first-gen vehicles anyhow. Think of self-driving mode as an advanced cruise-control, and I think you'll be closer to the mark than a 100% hands-off vehicle.

          My presumption is that the first-gen vehicles will not work well in snowstorms, extreme traffic conditions, or be able

          • You'll have to excuse me for thinking that autonomous meant no human intervention. But just out of curiosity, you're driving up the street and want to scratch your nuts so you throw the car into "self driving mode" and just at that moment a person walks in front of you and are hit. Does your insurance cover that? What if your tires are wore out and unsafe, does the car know? I see problems.
            • Early generation autonomous vehicles will undoubtedly still require some amount of human intervention for special cases or tricky navigation. How would your autonomous car, for instance, possibly be able to understand where you want to park inside a multi-story parking garage, especially if you have a ticket for a particular spot? Seriously, it's going to be decades before cars are that smart. Maybe not even then.

              In the situation you describe, the car's autonomous systems would kick in during self-drivin

              • Looks like you're all set then. While I don't think it's a good idea for me, for you it seems like a good fit.
      • When developing and testing complex new systems, you try to keep your unknowns and external variables to a minimum (i.e. bad weather, terrible roads and traffic). Once you've established your algorithms work in the simpler cases, you move on to tougher and tougher situations. This is normal, logical development progression. I'm not sure why you'd think it's somehow indicative that cars will *never* be able to handle anything but good weather and traffic.

        I'm not sure why you think that the edge cases are solvable without a general AI (which doesn't yet exist).

        In any case, this is good news: I'm tired of correcting people who say "SDCs already have a better driving record than humans" when they mean "SDCs with a human to correct them in the driver's seat driving only under perfect conditions have a better driving record than humans under all conditions".

        I've been waiting for SDCs that need no human correction. This looks like it might be it.

    • Illinois fails if they can just do the speed limit

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I don't understand why we have driving schools. We don't we just put humans in to the worst possible situation behind the wheel and see how the driver will handle it. Is it possible that the humans are not that good at driving?

      I mean this seriously: the more I think about it, and the harder it is for me to take the idea of human driving seriously in anything that is not in the southwestern United States.

      Driving a car in some parts of Europe would simply be very, very difficult for humans.

      All of this to say,

    • Now: Phoenix, Arizona. Probably one of the driest spots in the USA, and one with nice, straight roads.

      You forgot to mention: and mostly populated with old people.

      If a few oldsters get banged up, what's the harm? They were gonna die soon enough already.

  • Buses are filling up with folks from Los Angeles, fresh from their classes on Hood Jumping and Curb Tripping. This message brought to you by Dewey, Cheatham, and Howe.
  • I can't wait until they teach them to make left turns at 200mph.
  • The word 'finally' indicates an editorial opinion. You're entitled to have one, dear msmash (what a surprise), but your really ought not place it the articles, let along in the headline. When you do, you come off as trying to tell your readers what to think. That's unprofessional.
  • From the article: "Alphabet's self-driving car company, Waymo, is introducing truly driverless cars to public roads for the first time, the company's CEO John Krafcik announced today at the Web Summit conference."

    Alphabet better scrounge up "waymo" money once those self-driving cars get loose and the legal actions begin to roll in!
  • Will their Wall Street market crash too?
  • So then how is the operating system supposed to interact with the devices?

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