Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Vans Drive Themselves Across the World

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the next-up-beer-runs dept.

Transportation 157

bossanovalithium writes "Four driverless electric vans successfully ended a 13,000-kilometer test drive from Italy to China which mirrored the journey carried out by Marco Polo in the Middle Ages. The four vans, packed with navigation gear and other computer software, drove themselves across eastern Europe, Russia, Kazakhstan and the Gobi Desert without getting lost. They had been equipped with four solar-powered laser scanners and seven video cameras that work together to detect and avoid obstacles."

cancel ×

157 comments

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Very cool, but... (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34061364)

... as cool as it sounds, the vans were mostly designed to form a "virtual train" after a human-driven vehicle, so it's not quite autonomous navigation just yet.

Hey at least something cool out of my home country for once!

Re:Very cool, but... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34063266)

... as cool as it sounds, the vans were mostly designed to form a "virtual train" after a human-driven vehicle, so it's not quite autonomous navigation just yet.

I figure the first practical use for autonomous vehicles will be articulated lorries / semi-trailer trucks on the motorway / freeway. They tend to form virtual trains anyway. If they can talk to each other, you could get them just inches apart (with synchronized braking, etc.), which I imagine would offer opportunities for much improved aerodynamics.

More Importantly (4, Funny)

Ltap (1572175) | more than 3 years ago | (#34061386)

Did they bring back any spices or silk? And we can't trust their tall tales of two-headed men without proof!

Re:More Importantly (1)

rossdee (243626) | more than 3 years ago | (#34061414)

Fortuately since there was no people in them, they didn't bring back the black death or bird flu or otther deadly diseases...

Re:More Importantly (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34061466)

Driverless yes, peopleless no, RTFA:

Though the vans were driverless and mapless, they did carry researchers as passengers just in case of emergencies. The experimenters did have to intervene a few times. The vans got snarled in a Moscow traffic jam and humans were needed to handle toll stations. At one point, a van stopped to pick up hitchhikers.

Re:More Importantly (4, Funny)

snspdaarf (1314399) | more than 3 years ago | (#34061542)

Oh, great. First, my GPS tries to kill me by directing me down a one-way road the wrong way, now my automated van is going to stop for some Manson wanna-be on the side of the road. No, thanks!

Re:More Importantly (2, Interesting)

CastrTroy (595695) | more than 3 years ago | (#34063754)

This is exactly the problem with self driving vehicles. Even if they are 10000 times safer than having human drivers, they will still not be used by the general public, because any kind of crash will be a huge lawsuit against the company. With human drivers, you can always blame the problem on human error. However, with computerized drivers, it's now the manufacturer who is at fault for every single problem. They can't even get all the systems they have (Think Toyota) working properly. Making cars that drive themselves is going to be an even bigger problem.

Re:More Importantly (4, Funny)

tophermeyer (1573841) | more than 3 years ago | (#34061580)

At one point, a van stopped to pick up hitchhikers.

I thought you were joking, so I checked TFA. This actually happened. Which is crazy. Horror movies start with stuff like this.

Robot vans picking up hitchhikers? In what twisted universe does a hitchhiker: 1) flag down a van 2) discover that it is driven by nobody and 3a) trust the van's occupants that they are "researchers" 3b) trust that "it's totally cool, nobody's going to steal your organs".

Re:More Importantly (1)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 3 years ago | (#34061904)

I thought you were joking, so I checked TFA

Damn noobs.

Re:More Importantly (1)

kryliss (72493) | more than 3 years ago | (#34062332)

Commenting on your sig, When the humans had to take over during "Moscow traffic" was probably caused by a blue screen of death. :) Obligatory Microsoft bash completed.

Re:More Importantly (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34062492)

Horror movies start with stuff like this.

But so do pornos

Re:More Importantly (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34062088)

But most men are two-headed.
[Unbuttons pants]

Frist Thumbs-up! (2, Insightful)

pinkushun (1467193) | more than 3 years ago | (#34061392)

At one point, a van stopped to pick up hitchhikers.

Re:Frist Thumbs-up! (1)

EdZ (755139) | more than 3 years ago | (#34061750)

Shouldn't that be thumb sideways?

Sponsor (5, Informative)

flyingkillerrobots (1865630) | more than 3 years ago | (#34061458)

For those of you who want to know who made the vans, it was sponsored by the European Research Council. The lead researcher works at the University of Parma, Italy. Why, oh why do the summaries lack useful information? Yes, I am new here.

Re:Sponsor (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 3 years ago | (#34063672)

That's what's really interesting and new about this story to me - this wasn't done by the usual characters from CMU or Stanford who have won the DARPA driving challenges in the past (the google car is from that same lineage also). Whether developed independently or replicated, the technology is getting more widespread.

Not more "safety features" please (2, Insightful)

inigopete (780297) | more than 3 years ago | (#34061464)

Rather than replacing drivers it is hoped that the technology will be used to study ways to complement drivers' abilities

That's become the problem with ABS, traction control, airbags and many other safety features: make drivers feel like they're safer, they will drive more like idiots. I'd far rather this system was developed to replace drivers; granted it will take more work to make it completely reliable, but it would mean fewer people thinking that because they've got the latest safety systems in their car they don't have to pay as much attention to their driving.

Re:Not more "safety features" please (2, Insightful)

Ltap (1572175) | more than 3 years ago | (#34061514)

The problem is that most people would rather trust a human in life-or-death situations, despite the fact that humans would be hampered by slow decision-making and reflexes.

Re:Not more "safety features" please (4, Insightful)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | more than 3 years ago | (#34061674)

Humans might make slower decisions, but they have a much broader and more integrated matrix of perceptions and conceptions to draw from. Until AIs are strong enough to understand environments intelligently and intuitively as a whole rather than programmed to respond to a few set objects in a few set ways, a human decision and action will be necessarily more complete even if it is slower.

Re:Not more "safety features" please (1)

cheekyjohnson (1873388) | more than 3 years ago | (#34062128)

Yet still, the number of accidents caused by human drivers is staggering. An AI, if made properly (as you said), would outdo a human and make far fewer mistakes. I really don't think that absolutely groundbreaking AI is needed for this, though.

Re:Not more "safety features" please (2, Insightful)

shentino (1139071) | more than 3 years ago | (#34062164)

A human still has to program the sucker.

And I would much rather have a human I could watch and monitor than an AI concealed in an opaque chip that I would just have to trust implicitly.

I barely trust people as it is even when I can watch them.

Re:Not more "safety features" please (1)

cheekyjohnson (1873388) | more than 3 years ago | (#34062548)

"A human still has to program the sucker."

Yes, and while humans do make mistakes, that is precisely why it would be rigorously tested before mass producing it.

"And I would much rather have a human I could watch and monitor than an AI concealed in an opaque chip that I would just have to trust implicitly."

The AI would do exactly as it was told. In reality, there would likely be far fewer accidents if it was, again, made properly.

Re:A human still has to program the sucker. (1)

DocSavage64109 (799754) | more than 3 years ago | (#34063150)

From my experience most accidents are due to distracted, impaired, unskilled drivers or skilled drivers exceeding safe speeds for the conditions. A well programmed AI would take out the driver skill variable and should make the car's safety equal to all but the best drivers -- much like a computerized chess AI is better than all but the best humans.

Re:Not more "safety features" please (2, Interesting)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | more than 3 years ago | (#34062718)

"Staggering"? Hyperbole. In the first place rates vary culturally. Iceland has 3.8 fatalities/year per 100000 people, less than a quarter of the rate of the US at 12.3, which in turn is about a quarter of the rate of the worst country for fatal car accidents: Eritrea at 48.4. Even that highest rate is still only 0.0484%/year, and at the risk of sounding cavalier about human life, I wouldn't call that staggering.

Also your assertion that the AI problem would not require a groundbreaking solution is founded on what knowledge? I think you vastly underestimate the problem. Example scenario: a vehicle is traveling on a rural road in the winter around a tight, blind turn on a mountain road. Suddenly, another vehicle appears heading toward the first in the middle of the road. Does the AI in the first vehicle know it's winter and black ice may interfere with braking? Does the AI know that turning out of the other vehicle's path toward the mountainside may result in the vehicle flipping? Does the AI know that if it turns away from the mountain to avoid the other vehicle that it could cause it to plummet to its doom?

Let's back this off a bit, instead of a mountain, it's a hilly region and the same scenario, turning toward the hill would cause the same risk of flipping, but turning away would probably be rough but survivable. The AI turns away, but the hill is too steep and icy to brake effectively, does it know how to steer under such conditions? Does it know where to steer? Let's say there's a body of water down there, does it recognize that as a hazard to avoid? What if the water is frozen? Does that appear as a solid surface to the AI? What about at night? On and on and on.

Human intuition and integration is so powerful we don't think about most of these things consciously. We have the capacity to act with so many key factors understood naturally and relationally. AI will get there, that's inevitable, but it will be decades more before that happens, and when it does it will be "groundbreaking".

Re:Not more "safety features" please (1)

cheekyjohnson (1873388) | more than 3 years ago | (#34062970)

" Does the AI in the first vehicle know it's winter and black ice may interfere with braking? Does the AI know that turning out of the other vehicle's path toward the mountainside may result in the vehicle flipping? Does the AI know that if it turns away from the mountain to avoid the other vehicle that it could cause it to plummet to its doom?"

Obviously, it should. I didn't underestimate the problem. I knew exactly what you were trying to say. I mean, sure, it will require more knowledge of AI than what we have now, but I don't really consider that "groundbreaking."

Re:Not more "safety features" please (1)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | more than 3 years ago | (#34063170)

I really wish an AI developer/researcher were around to punch you in the dick. I can only intuit the problems, but I do know as most do that imitating human awareness and decision-making capacity in dynamic environments is one of the holy grails of AI. Hell, there have been countless projects and contests year after year since AI development has existed, none ever fully achieving that goal. To continue to trivialize it as not "groundbreaking" is to demonstrate a fundamental ignorance of the field even as an abstract.

Re:Not more "safety features" please (1)

cheekyjohnson (1873388) | more than 3 years ago | (#34063720)

No. I did not say it wasn't impressive or that it wasn't extremely difficult. I merely meant to say that, compared to some other things that an AI could be made to do, it wouldn't be as difficult. I did not mean to imply that it wasn't impressive or incredibly difficult. I know that it is.

Re:Not more "safety features" please (1)

robot256 (1635039) | more than 3 years ago | (#34063194)

Also your assertion that the AI problem would not require a groundbreaking solution is founded on what knowledge? I think you vastly underestimate the problem. Example scenario: a vehicle is traveling on a rural road in the winter around a tight, blind turn on a mountain road. Suddenly, another vehicle appears heading toward the first in the middle of the road. Does the AI in the first vehicle know it's winter and black ice may interfere with braking? Does the AI know that turning out of the other vehicle's path toward the mountainside may result in the vehicle flipping? Does the AI know that if it turns away from the mountain to avoid the other vehicle that it could cause it to plummet to its doom?

There are many different types of driving situations, some more difficult than others. Why must an AI be able to cope with all of them for it to used at all? I would hope that the operator of such a vehicle would understand the limits of its AI and revert to manual control in situations like you describe. If it were able to out-perform humans in the most common settings--interstate and city during fair to somewhat severe weather--then I see no reason to ban its use outright. Heck, in severe weather the computer may have an advantage--it has radar that can see through fog and rain in all directions, it has the actual data from traction sensors, and yes, it knows where the walls and cliffs are and not to hit them.

Re:Not more "safety features" please (1)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | more than 3 years ago | (#34063676)

[...] it knows where the walls and cliffs are and not to hit them.

You're missing the point. It's a Kobayashi Maru-style scenario. Of course an AI isn't going to just ram itself into a rock wall, but if it has to make a decision between an oncoming vehicle, a rock wall, and a cliff, what is it going to do? Could it really come up with the maneuver that maximally increases survivability? (Which, by the way, is progressive braking swerving as close to the wall-side as possible, hoping that the other vehicle compensates in the opposite. However, if the oncoming vehicle is on a ballistic trajectory (due to hydroplaning or ice skidding) toward the wall side, then the opposite response is called for, including accelerating rather than braking because you want to choose the path of non-intersection because if you succeed in stopping near the edge of the cliff and the other vehicle bounces off the rock wall and pushes you off the cliff... well... you're dead. Further, if the vehicle is in a tractor-trailer configuration, one has to compensate for the potential of trailer swing during its breaking/swerving. That has to be observed and reaction adapted. Can an AI do this yet? Hell no.)

Re:Not more "safety features" please (1)

HiThere (15173) | more than 3 years ago | (#34063642)

There are real problems, but you didn't list them. The problems you listed are refinements of the current system. Real problems are what do you do if an animal runs in front of the car? A child? A child in a Halloween costume? How much damage should you take to avoid each? And how do you distinguish cases 1 and three?

Things like that. Complex object recognition, particularly when in disguised form, is an unsolved problem, and *does* require a breakthrough. Driving skills, terrain recognition, standard obstacle recognition are refinements. (And "black ice" isn't necessarily hard to see. If you're combining radar with sonar other things will be difficult, but probably not that.)

Re:Not more "safety features" please (1)

Firethorn (177587) | more than 3 years ago | (#34063484)

Personally, I think that my question becomes one of 'what do you do when somebody successfully designs an AI driven vehicle that is statistically safer than a human driver and cheap enough to be affordable?'

I'm not saying that it'll be perfect. But it'll never get tired, drunk, or distracted. It may not be able to handle all situations, but those it can it handles far better than humans.

How do you settle liability in such cases? Would you still say it's the 'drivers' fault? The owners*? The car company or the AI maker?

It might be best, assuming high initial cost and like I said, liability concerns, to have them in taxies and long distance trucks first. That way you have a company to absorb the liability while saving money on drivers(assuming you can get rid of them) and rack up enough hours to justify the system relatively quickly.

*While the insurance company cuts him a deal on his rate for having the system.

Re:Not more "safety features" please (1)

nmos (25822) | more than 3 years ago | (#34063606)

I really don't think that absolutely groundbreaking AI is needed for this, though.

Maybe not to handle a modern well marked highway but It'll be a while before they can handle the typical neighbourhoods without lane markings and stop signs overgrown by trees etc much less construction zones and parking lots. IMHO the real question is if we develop cars that can deal with 90% of the driving will our driving skills become so poor that we can't properly handle the 10% where humans are still needed.

Re:Not more "safety features" please (1)

robot256 (1635039) | more than 3 years ago | (#34063006)

Humans might make slower decisions, but they have a much broader and more integrated matrix of perceptions and conceptions to draw from. Until AIs are strong enough to understand environments intelligently and intuitively as a whole rather than programmed to respond to a few set objects in a few set ways, a human decision and action will be necessarily more complete even if it is slower.

But sometimes a complete solution is useless if it is too slow, and the limited perception of humans leads to suboptimal solutions. If the AI can sense more accurately react faster than a human, it doesn't need as much predictive capability. Why do you need to anticipate a pedestrian running into the road if you can stop as soon as they actually do? And I think you underestimate the quality of AI these days. But in any case, AI and human drivers have different strengths, and I believe the best solution will take advantage of both of them. I for one would love a car that can both drive itself if I let it, and watch out for my mistakes when I am in control. I don't think I would ever be reading the paper behind the wheel even if it was driving itself, though.

Re:Not more "safety features" please (1)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | more than 3 years ago | (#34063462)

In general, I agree, as Omar Bradley once said: "The second best decision in time is infinitely better than the perfect decision too late."

However, predictive capacity isn't the point, and in fact I never mentioned it. Where humans excel AIs is interpreting layered dynamic environments intuitively. Your example of the kid running into the street is nice and simple. Obstacle presents itself, car immediately brakes, problem solved, eh? Oh yeah? What if there is a car tailgating at speed? Does the AI split the difference between the braking distance between it and the kid as well as the car behind? What if the road is icy? Does it know to maneuver instead of or in addition to braking? (The next one's a stretch, but bear with me:) What if the kid isn't actually running into the road at all, but quickly moving one side to the other while standing on a flat bed trailer? As an object it would be registered as 'human moving into path' but in fact it wouldn't really be, would the car still brake?

It's very easy to come up with pat simple scenarios and make a program that simply executes little when A do B routines, but combinations of conditions do not always result in a combination of responses. Humans can intuit their way through layered conditions in a dynamic environment in a way that makes up for the time it takes to come up with the solution.

Re:Not more "safety features" please (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34062766)

If it can hold a constant speed and stay between the lines than it's better at driving than a lot of lisenced drivers I know. I'd be much more inclined to trust an AI driver than a random person.

Re:Not more "safety features" please (3, Interesting)

somersault (912633) | more than 3 years ago | (#34061524)

Who do you know that drives more like an idiot because their car has safety features? I drove like an idiot even when my car didn't have ABS, and these days even though all cars I drive have ABS, I drive like less of an idiot.

Traction control is no use for driving like an idiot. I switch it off when I want to have some fun.

Re:Not more "safety features" please (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34061728)

Slashdot users are not normal people. Before Power steering, ABS etc... how many people were eating breakfast as they drove. If they were around back then, I doubt celphones would be common use in vehicles of that time.

Re:Not more "safety features" please (1)

Dishevel (1105119) | more than 3 years ago | (#34061828)

Are cellphones car safety equipment now???

Re:Not more "safety features" please (3, Informative)

Eevee (535658) | more than 3 years ago | (#34061808)

You don't ride taxicabs in Munich [queensu.ca]

Subsequent analysis of the rating scales showed that drivers of cabs with ABS made sharper turns in curves, were less accurate in their lane-holding behaviour, proceeded at a shorter forward sight distance, made more poorly adjusted merging manoeuvres and created more "traffic conflicts". This is a technical term for a situation in which one or more traffic participants have to take swift action to avoid a collision with another road user.[3] Finally, as compared with the non-ABS cabs, the ABS cabs were driven faster at one of the four measuring points along the route. All these differences were significant.

Re:Not more "safety features" please (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 3 years ago | (#34062702)

I drove like an idiot even when my car didn't have ABS, and these days even though all cars I drive have ABS, I drive like less of an idiot.

Translation: You grew up and you got experience. If we could fill the roads with 40 year olds with 20 years driving experience, the accident rates would go way down but it doesn't work that way.

Re:Not more "safety features" please (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 3 years ago | (#34063044)

Well, put it this way. In the same timeframe that I had my Golf (no ABS, no airbags, no aircon, no nothin!), I also had access to my mum's car which had ABS and was faster. I was 19. I didn't consciously take more risks simply because the car had ABS and airbags. Certainly I have become a better driver with experience and further training, but I don't rely on electronic driving aids to keep me on the road. The only times my ABS has been active have been in wide open areas like carparks or muddy areas where I'm purposely messing about.

Re:Not more "safety features" please (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 3 years ago | (#34063062)

Meant to say "only times my ABS has been active in the last year". I have had it kick in on real roads on occasion, usually in very wet or icy conditions.

Re:Not more "safety features" please (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#34062722)

I drove like an idiot even when my car didn't have ABS, and these days even though all cars I drive have ABS, I drive like less of an idiot.

Perhaps you like got older or something. Maybe you even grew up a little, who knows?

This, children, demonstrates the importance of a control group in experiments.

Re:Not more "safety features" please (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 3 years ago | (#34062908)

I've grown up very slightly - in large part due to taking an advanced driving course and having a subsequent driving ban due to speed, rather than simply because I'm older - but the point is that I definitely don't take risks just because I know my vehicle is "safer".

I suppose if someone doesn't actually know what ABS does then they may be more inclined to allow less time for braking etc, but ABS can actually increase stopping distance, for the sake of retaining directional control.

An interesting point from the article someone linked above [queensu.ca] is that ABS reduced the number of accidents "caused by the driver", but increased the number of accidents which "they had no control over". I'm presuming this to mean that they were better able to avoid obstacles and retain control of their vehicle, but in situations where there was nowhere safe to turn, the extra stopping distance caused them to crash.

Re:Not more "safety features" please (1)

tophermeyer (1573841) | more than 3 years ago | (#34061604)

It seems to me that this is an "all or nothing" kind of thing. Either all vehicles are computer controlled, or none of them. My experiences seeing average humans interact with computers would make me not feel safe in my computer controlled car while panicky meatbags are on the road with me.

Re:Not more "safety features" please (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34062040)

Insurance rates will probably fix that, assuming that the robo-car is orders of magnitude safer than the manual car.

Re:Not more "safety features" please (4, Insightful)

jeffmeden (135043) | more than 3 years ago | (#34061782)

That's become the problem with ABS, traction control, airbags and many other safety features: make drivers feel like they're safer, they will drive more like idiots.

Never mind the fact that traffic deaths (in the US at least) have been decreased INCREDIBLY with the aforementioned technologies. Some do choose to drive like increasingly effective idiots, but not nearly enough to outweigh the safety benefits. I will go with the safety technology versus the notion that the sword of Damocles is effective at preventing accidents, thank you very much.

Re:Not more "safety features" please (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34063364)

granted, the decreas in trafic accidents also mirrors the aging demografic.

Re:Not more "safety features" please (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34061870)

Completely agreed.
If anything, they should scare the living daylights out of people wanting to take up driving so they pay attention.

"So you want want to drive, eh?
YOU MIGHT DIE! EVER THOUGHT ABOUT HOW PAINFUL IT WOULD BE TO CRASH?!
IMAGINE YOUR DRIVING WHEEL IMPALED IN YOUR CHEST, SOUNDS SORE, RIGHT?
So, rest your foot on the accelerator here, and breaks here, take the handbrake off and gently push the accelerator."
Meanwhile, the person learning quite literally pissed his or her self.

Re:Not more "safety features" please (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34063224)

Windows Vista taught us that this feature would be immediately turned off and/or ignored by the vast majority of users, including most of the ones who most need the coaching. If you try to teach a non-captive audience with annoying methods, you will lose them.

Re:Not more "safety features" please (2, Insightful)

balbus000 (1793324) | more than 3 years ago | (#34062266)

I don't think we'll ever have completely automated cars. Even if they reduced accidents by 80%.

People will see a big difference between getting in an accident by human error or by a malfunctioning computer.

The fact that it's completely up to the computer will make it feel like playing a slot machine. Sure there are times when human error by someone else is completely out of your control, but I think people will perceive it differently.

Re:Not more "safety features" please (1)

cheekyjohnson (1873388) | more than 3 years ago | (#34063084)

"Even if they reduced accidents by 80%."

Yeah, humans are illogical like that. Now to wait until the people against technological advancement die off...

Re:Not more "safety features" please (1)

jeffmeden (135043) | more than 3 years ago | (#34063252)

Hold your breath for the odds that one (or a handful) of companies want to be directly responsible for the 20% of accidents that are left over. It's not about being a luddite, it's about not wanting the risk involved. With individual drivers making mistakes (that admittedly add up to a lot of accidents) you still have a low risk/responsible party ratio. If every single fatal accident that happened (even if the count were reduced by 80%) resulted in a lawsuit claiming the car was at fault because the human inside had little/nothing to do with operating it, the car companies wouldn't be around for long. We have already witnessed this with things like preventive braking and adaptive cruise control. The technology has been available for decades to allow it to supplement the driver's ability, but the corporate lawyers took one look at it and said "haaaaaaaahaha go ahead and sell one, WE won't get rich but all the other lawyers in the country will!"

That is the illogical attitude you are referring to.

Re:Not more "safety features" please (1)

Grygus (1143095) | more than 3 years ago | (#34063338)

I think it's inevitable.

If nothing else, once you have kids growing up with self-driving buses, they won't think twice about self-driving cars and will roll their eyes at their parents' concern.

wonder how they were fueled (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34061474)

wonder how they got fuel and whether fuel usage and estimation was automated as well?

Re:wonder how they were fueled (1)

Petskull (650178) | more than 3 years ago | (#34061520)

"Accidents were few but far from nonexistent, though I suspect the greater stress was from the fact that these vans had to charge 8 hours for every 3 hours of driving."
http://www.crunchgear.com/2010/10/28/driverless-vehicles-complete-trek-from-italy-to-china/ [crunchgear.com]

http://edition.cnn.com/2010/TECH/innovation/10/27/driverless.car/index.html [cnn.com]
"We weren't worried about not making it," though, Broggi said. "This big trip was an intermediary step in a longer process. We have something new planned for 2012."

Uh oh..

Autonomous vehicles (5, Insightful)

ledow (319597) | more than 3 years ago | (#34061488)

The problem with autonomous vehicles is not what they can do successfully, it's what happens when they fail.

If I don't press my brakes in time to prevent an accident, I risk going to jail for dangerous / careless driving.
If the autonomous van doesn't... well... what? We can take the human "driver" off the road, sure, but that's not fixed the problem. So the second one person has an accident in an autonomous vehicle, you're looking at major liability and lawsuits directed towards the car manufacturer - whether or not it was their fault and whether or not a human driver could have prevented the accident in *any* car. That manufacturer now has to take responsibility for that car versus every idiot on the road, every pedestrian that runs out and everything that can confuse one of its sensors.

Autonomous driving *is* possible and quite easy - but we need autonomous roads to make it work, with nobody but the autonomous vehicles on it. Nobody, nowhere has actually built a real-life one of those on a real road that people would want to use because you have to use their vehicles to do it and you have to (indirectly) pay for that vehicle, that road, and any mistakes those vehicles make. And those roads don't and won't exist for decades if at all - or, more accurately, it's called the rail network. Automated rail networks are commonplace - London has the Dockland's Light Railway that has no drivers.

If you're going to have to build a road that only automated cars can use, and make some cars to use that road, you've effectively built a railway, or else you're putting billions of pounds of effort into avoiding obstacles and keeping to a strict lane when you could just make the thing run along a rail.

Why is there no call for an automated rail network? You can make it as fast as the super-express trains, it's very safe in comparison to any road, on established technology, you know it's not going to veer off the road, you can pack thousands of trains onto the rails if you do it right and take thousands of passengers in each etc. But instead, people honestly think that it's more sensible to put an automated system of even the best technology on an open road with other idiots and do this on a one-person, one-car basis (hence millions of units and billions of pounds) with complete freedom over how it moves the car, among other traffic that will stop it ever doing anything a human couldn't do? It's ridiculous.

Stop wasting your time and build a personalised rail network when I can get into a "pod" or something, enter my destination and it would take me there on good, solid, metal rails and a bit of signalling. And I don't have to worry that it thinks the man walking along the street with a cardboard cutout is actually a small child running in front of the car, or that it doesn't spot a police tape which has been strung across the road to close it because of a pedestrian parade further up the street.

An automated car has to have a human in it. It's the best call ever made on the introduction of a new technology so far. An automated car needs exclusive automated roads to every destination in order to work anywhere near effectively under autonomous control - that's called a railway and any more "transportation routes" being built just for automated cars is a fantasy world in a modern city. Automated cars have been shown to crash WHEN DEMONSTRATING how they were uncrashable. An automated railway already exists and works perfectly and has an excellent safety record. Use it.

Re:Autonomous vehicles (4, Interesting)

caluml (551744) | more than 3 years ago | (#34061528)

Stop wasting your time and build a personalised rail network when I can get into a "pod" or something, enter my destination and it would take me there on good, solid, metal rails and a bit of signalling.

Indeed. A packet-switched transport system. Broadcast your destination via Bluetooth, "routers" can receive that and direct you the best way. The pods would be unpowered, but pushed/blown along - possibly compressed air?
If you had a system of tubes under the ground, and some sort of decent bearings, you could make it work. You could also have large "trunk"/"backbone" roads, which smaller roads joined. Basically, model it on the Internet. But without the packet loss, or routing loops. Or collisions.

Re:Autonomous vehicles (2, Funny)

RivenAleem (1590553) | more than 3 years ago | (#34061690)

And keep the porn. There should be a mechanism whereby I can get off whenever I desire.

Re:Autonomous vehicles (1)

jeffmeden (135043) | more than 3 years ago | (#34061856)

Basically, model it on the Internet. But without the packet loss, or routing loops. Or collisions.

The success of the Internet thus far has been thanks to the fact that every few years we manage to develop another novel way to pack a digital signal into a tenth of the space it once occupied. If your series of tubes are to be successful, we are going to need miniaturization (of the passengers) and a LOT of it. Sadly the trend (in the US at least) is for the average passenger to get larger over time, not smaller.

Re:Autonomous vehicles (1)

natehoy (1608657) | more than 3 years ago | (#34061998)

Basically, model it on the Internet. But without the packet loss, or routing loops. Or collisions.

Or a government kill switch.

Re:Autonomous vehicles (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34062330)

Google invested in http://shweeb.com recently.

Re:Autonomous vehicles (1)

burkmat (1016684) | more than 3 years ago | (#34062542)

Finally, us, the geeks, will be the overlords! Disobey our commands, and we might just ARP-spoof your default gateway into a concrete wall!

Re:Autonomous vehicles (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 3 years ago | (#34062962)

Compressed air is really not a very efficient way of storing and transporting energy... (really, why would you want to throw away all the experiences with mechanical design of, well, cars?)

Re:Autonomous vehicles (1)

Dr_Barnowl (709838) | more than 3 years ago | (#34061592)

There are pilot projects of Personal Rapid Transit [wikipedia.org] systems going on.

Re:Autonomous vehicles (1)

OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) | more than 3 years ago | (#34061698)

If the autonomous van doesn't... well... what? We can take the human "driver" off the road, sure, but that's not fixed the problem. So the second one person has an accident in an autonomous vehicle, you're looking at major liability and lawsuits directed towards the car manufacturer - whether or not it was their fault and whether or not a human driver could have prevented the accident in *any* car. That manufacturer now has to take responsibility for that car versus every idiot on the road, every pedestrian that runs out and everything that can confuse one of its sensors.

As in every other situation - the owner of the car is responsible "by default" for any accident. (It's not because just about every leasing contract specifies the driver being responsible that this is always true). Obviously, you'd probably want to change this with contracts.

And frankly this "impressive feat" was pulled off by animals with barely a few tenthousand neurons, using much harder to navigate routes than the public road network. While I agree, given the current state of technology, it is unfortunately impressive. That AI is not actually capable of giving us something half as smart as a stupid dog is sad, though.

As for the magical system you're describing, it exists ! It's called "public roads". It requires things with the intelligence of a stupid dog (ie. not a very interesting job for humans, but done by humans for lack of alternatives). Now if we could just make programs that can be just a little bit smarter than the least of the mammals, that'd be great, and it would allow us to build your "pod system" for an investment of $0, losing none of the flexibility we have now. While your system, if we can make it work (it's a much harder problem than you state) requires a few Obama's ($1 trillion per 6 months, for 4 years).

Re:Autonomous vehicles (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34061888)

There is a key difference between a highway for autonomous cars and an automated rail system. Namely, the last mile: you can get off of an autonomous highway and start driving your car on public roads (manually, even) but you can't do the same with a rail system. I don't think anyone is, at this time, floating a proposal for autonomous cars that MUST drive themselves.

The technology for autonomous driving is also the same for autonomous alerting - i.e. "let me drive, but tell me if I'm doing something wrong."

Re:Autonomous vehicles (2, Insightful)

Kjella (173770) | more than 3 years ago | (#34061916)

A car needs a semi-drivable asphalt / gravel / dirt road to drive on. There's endless miles of them that it wuold cost trillions to replace and billions to maintain per year. The vast, vast majority of people want a drive that takes them to the doorstep and ends in their driveway, not some railway station far off from which you need to carry all your belongings and goods. Most of those that can comfortably do without already take the bus / tram / metro / railway.

And even if you happened to be on the network, it still wouldn't replace the car unless all yours friends and family and shops and everything else you'd like to visit was on the network too. I don't have a car and as a result I need to have a taxi budget, if I needed it regularly I would without a doubt buy a car and an automated car system like you describe would be no substitute at all, exactly because all the odd places wouldn't be covered.

An automated driving system would have a huge advantage in that we could have it record all the video and sensor input to a black box that'd survive the crash meaning no more word against word. I would think as all the crap drivers got exposed through video recordings, the death and injury tolls and the insurance costs started dropping people would accept that it is not perfect but substantially better and can be continously improved unlike the average driver who is pretty much the way it is. If the US wants to be all legally retarded then it'll happen in Europe or some other area and eventually the US would get dragged along.

Re:Autonomous vehicles (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 3 years ago | (#34062882)

Rethinking our habits would be required with autonomous cars anyway (for starters - how to deal with 80-90% of drivers thinking they are in the top 50%?). We might as well not limit ourselves to just one wundersolution...

Not giving away the cities to cars, not building them primarily around the requirements of cars, would be a good start. Would help in not inhibiting bikes, too. Which BTW, in the form of folding(*) or "rental" bikes, nicely expand the utility of public transport ((*)and such bike is often a very handy addition to a car - easy to keep in the trunk most of the time, often gets useful at some destination to which only car travel is practical; but once there...). And certainly many more examples.

Re:Autonomous vehicles (1)

cheekyjohnson (1873388) | more than 3 years ago | (#34062192)

"The problem with autonomous vehicles is not what they can do successfully, it's what happens when they fail."

I wonder what people do in the many, many occasions when human drivers make a severe error...

Re:Autonomous vehicles (1)

snspdaarf (1314399) | more than 3 years ago | (#34063122)

I wonder what people do in the many, many occasions when human drivers make a severe error...

They die. The driver gets sued. When Robodriver pooches something, it will be a godsend to the victim's family [lawyer] as they will get to sue $AutoManufacturer, $SoftwareCompany, and $ThirdPartySupplier, all of whom have more money than the owner of the vehicle.

Re:Autonomous vehicles (2, Interesting)

rockNme2349 (1414329) | more than 3 years ago | (#34062304)

So the second one person has an accident in an autonomous vehicle, you're looking at major liability and lawsuits directed towards the car manufacturer - whether or not it was their fault and whether or not a human driver could have prevented the accident in *any* car. That manufacturer now has to take responsibility for that car versus every idiot on the road, every pedestrian that runs out and everything that can confuse one of its sensors.

I've thought about this problem for a while, and here is my guess how it will proceed. When cars started being made with cruise control, the responsibility in an accident still belonged to the driver. There are cars being built today which automatically apply brakes when they sense an oncoming collision, but in the event of a malfunction or accident, the human driver is ultimately held responsible.

I don't believe anyone is going to drop an autonomous car into the market, but instead it will simply be more and more iterations of the computer taking control. The human driver will always have a manual override though, and will be responsible for the accidents, simply because that was the status quo. My guess is by the time we do get autonomous cars, people probably won't be paying attention to the road since their cars are driving themselves fine anyway, but they will have signed a disclaimer claiming responsibility anyway. I do think there will be uproars when accidents do occur, like we have seen with the Toyota problem, but not for a long while after we have become comfortable with autonomous vehicles will any law change regarding responsibility.

Re:Autonomous vehicles (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 3 years ago | (#34062906)

I do think there will be uproars when accidents do occur, like we have seen with the Toyota problem...

More precisely, uproars at perceived problems with autonomous cars. Certainly perceived chiefly by drivers - 80% of which think they are in the top 50%.

Re:Autonomous vehicles (1)

master811 (874700) | more than 3 years ago | (#34062566)

London has the Dockland's Light Railway that has no drivers.

That's not entirely true though. Yes they don't have drivers per se, but they still have a trained staff member on board at all times, to manually control the train in the event of an emergency and to generally control when the train leaves and departs, - especially during peak hours, when the network is busy.

Re:Autonomous vehicles (2, Insightful)

sznupi (719324) | more than 3 years ago | (#34062934)

As was the case with elevators for a long time...even when not strictly needed.

Automated fill-ups, too? (-1, Troll)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 3 years ago | (#34061508)

Did they manage to fill themselves up with petrol and pay the bills on their own as well?

Re:Automated fill-ups, too? (1)

IAmGarethAdams (990037) | more than 3 years ago | (#34061560)

No, because as the first 4 words of the summary states, they are electric vans

Re:Automated fill-ups, too? (1)

cindyann (1916572) | more than 3 years ago | (#34061566)

Didn't read the article eh? Or even the summary?

Electric vans.

THREE words (1)

ctid (449118) | more than 3 years ago | (#34061622)

You couldn't be bothered to read three words before commenting?

Re:THREE words (1)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 3 years ago | (#34062000)

I know... isn't it brilliant? First we stopped RingTFA. Then we skimmed the summaries only. Then we only read the headline. The next logical step is random posting to stories. Then, just picking a random website to post to.

I LOVE PROGRESS!!!!

Re:Automated fill-ups, too? (1)

2gravey (959785) | more than 3 years ago | (#34061676)

had to be recharged for eight hours after every two to three hours of driving.

Man that's a long freakin road trip!

Why all-electric vehicles aren't there yet (2, Informative)

Sonny Yatsen (603655) | more than 3 years ago | (#34061510)

This last line caught my eye.

The vehicles ran at maximum speeds of 60 kilometres per hour and had to be recharged for eight hours after every two to three hours of driving.

I think Marco Polo probably made better time with camels. Still an impressive feat, though.

Re:Why all-electric vehicles aren't there yet (1)

chemicaldave (1776600) | more than 3 years ago | (#34061598)

I think Marco Polo probably made better time with camels. Still an impressive feat, though.

But they weren't audromedous camels.

Re:Why all-electric vehicles aren't there yet (5, Informative)

cindyann (1916572) | more than 3 years ago | (#34061632)

answers.com says it took Polo four years to get to China -- even with getting stuck in Moscow traffic the vans win.

Re:Why all-electric vehicles aren't there yet (1)

Sonny Yatsen (603655) | more than 3 years ago | (#34061694)

That was a joke - not to be taken literally.

really... (1)

pablo_max (626328) | more than 3 years ago | (#34061610)

Packed with navigation gear and didn't get lost you say? Wow! Seems like a very achievable goal to not get lost when you are packed with navigational aids. I suppose what is more interesting is if they make the journey without human intervention..i.e..not needed a human to get them unstuck.

Re:really... (2, Funny)

RivenAleem (1590553) | more than 3 years ago | (#34061842)

Does this mean there was always a woman on standby to ask for directions?

Great fuel milage (1)

Clipless (1432977) | more than 3 years ago | (#34061850)

They only had to stop for 8 hours after every 2 to 3 hours of driving. That sounds like a freaking blast.

Re:Great fuel milage (1)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 3 years ago | (#34062020)

Sound like when I drove the inlaws to the Outer Banks for vacation. I swear to God that their bladders held only 2 mls..... COMBINED.

I wish they followed someone else's path.. (2, Funny)

Jargon Scott (258797) | more than 3 years ago | (#34061992)

Every time I see the name Marco Polo I'm instantly 12 again, screaming MARCO!!!! while at the city pool. All my "friends" left me and went to the snack bar.

We all know what happens next... (1)

Stenchwarrior (1335051) | more than 3 years ago | (#34062096)

Johnny Cab!! [ugo.com]

holy crap (1)

grumpyman (849537) | more than 3 years ago | (#34062268)

That's miles better than when they did the DARPA challenge???

Robo-Van is a must-have (1)

digitaldc (879047) | more than 3 years ago | (#34062326)

I need one of these vans for my morning commute. I can sleep in the back while the van takes all the strees from the bad drivers, horrific traffic, scared deer and occasional road-rage :)

So what about water? (1)

hesaigo999ca (786966) | more than 3 years ago | (#34062670)

So how did they cross the water, did they know which boat to take, and when it would be waiting, or was it that part that was manual for the experiment?

skynet approves... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34062820)

..enough said.

Proud (1)

xnpu (963139) | more than 3 years ago | (#34062880)

Proud of this accomplishment! Mostly though that they arrived without any flat tires!

russia... (1)

Loki_666 (824073) | more than 3 years ago | (#34063022)

Bet this messed with he heads of the (Road police). How did the vans react when they were pulled over every 50km by a cop seeking a bribe....

Did the vans react and stop? How can they identify a policeman directing them to stop?

And more to the point, can they dispense cash for bribes to continue on their way?

Only 13,000K from italy to china (1)

Nursie (632944) | more than 3 years ago | (#34063594)

I drove 27000 around the coast of australia this year. maybe instead I should have driven from the UK to Perth.

The article almost blew my mind (1)

IndustrialComplex (975015) | more than 3 years ago | (#34063742)

They had been equipped with four solar-powered laser scanners and seven video cameras that work together to detect and avoid obstacles."

I read that as:

They had been equipped with four solar-powered laser cannons and seven video cameras that work together to detect and avoid obstacles."

Those vans were almost a hell of a lot more awesome.

Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?