Autonomous Technology for Backing

There are a growing number of manufacturers developing autonomous driving features. Some focus on enabling the vehicle to drive down the road with the driver relaxed or reading a book.  Others have different goals or benefits.

One project being developed by ZF Friedrichshafen AG enables their “ZF Innovation Truck” to be piloted remotely through a touch-sensitive tablet device.

I could imagine a time where a tractor trailer driver has to back into a narrow space with obstacles on either side.  Instead of using mirrors and spotters, he or she could hop out of the cab and use their tablet device from outside the rig.  This would enable them to visually inspect clearances while maneuvering the rig into the precise spot needed.

Check out the video.

Additional details on this project can be found in the September 2014 issue of FleetOwner magazine (page 46 – Technology Column)

53 foot trailer

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Other Perspectives on AVs

gm_firebird_iii_conceptWe’ve posted many articles over the years on the emerging technology that will someday make “Autonomous Vehicles” a reality.

Most traffic safety professionals see this as a hopeful sign that traffic fatalities could be reduced dramatically since 90% of crashes are tied to driver’s choices, attitudes, and actions while behind the wheel.

road train automatedStill, not everyone is comfortable with an 80,000 pound tractor trailer (aka ground based “drone”) hurtling down the highway on its own — destined for some far distant warehouse or retail center.

It’s easy to appreciate the trepidation of folks who, in their mind’s eye, see robot trucks running amok, creating devastation and putting CDL drivers out of work.

Recently, an editorial titled “I’ll Keep My Steering Wheel, Thank You Very Much” appeared (click HERE for full story) summarizing both the ongoing advancement in technology and the concerns of “what if” the technology isn’t everything we hoped that it would be….from the article:

I’ll say right now that I’m not too pleased with where these folks think things are heading, especially as a majority seem to believe critical components such as steering wheels, throttle and brake pedals are going to disappear by 2035…Hey, I WANT a steering wheel in a vehicle – and a brake pedal for that matter! “Autonomous” technology may be all well and good for buses, trains, and the like, but if I want to go somewhere in my car I actually want to be able to drive it there!

Now, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that the author was being a bit sarcastic to make a point — we may not be comfortable with the thought of what’s coming down the road in the future, but we’re not there yet, either.

Over time, we have been witnessing the gradual introduction and fine tuning of individual technologies that “assist” drivers with safe or efficient driving (i.e. lane departure, forward looking radar, nighttime vision assist, movable headlamps, etc).  Over the next couple decades, we’ll see these independent systems linked and become more readily available in all vehicles as a “standard” feature instead of a “Buck Rogers” add-on.

What do you think?  Are your ready for vehicles with no steering wheel?  Or are you uncomfortable with that notion?

Safety Features of Autonomous Vehicles (AVs)

Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) or “self-driving cars” incorporate a lot of high tech and cutting edge technology in order to be able to drive down the road in a safe and predictable manner.

A recent artticle at “Tech Page One” (Link HERE) did a great job summarizing key safety features of AVs and included a wonderful “infographic” as well.

Here is a short list of several features:

  • LIDAR, and acronym for Light Detection and Ranging, uses sensors to collect data about the position of the AV in relationship to other, nearby, objects.  From the article; “A LIDAR device consists of a laser, a scanner and a specialized GPS receiver…Typically, airplanes and helicopters use this technology because it’s known for precision and accuracy in mapping nearby targets. In driverless cars, LIDAR automatically controls the steering, power delivery and braking…”
  • Adaptive cruise control & brake assist are two functions that help AVs control their speed as they go up and down hills, around curves, enter into areas of congestion (stopped traffic) and such.  Emergency brake assist is used when the AV is in danger of hitting a stopped object, or if it is overtaking another object too quickly.
  • Specialized cameras help AVs to recognize pedestrians and cyclists in real time so that the computer can adjust speed or travel path as needed.
  • Preloaded, detailed mapping helps the AV know where it is located in relationship to buildings, roads, and other fixed objects.

Autonomous Vehicles & Object Detection

Connected CarsOne of the primary concerns that we’ve raised with Autonomous Vehicles (AVs or “driver-less vehicles”) has been the ability of the on board computers to distinguish between various “real world” objects like deer, motorcycles, raccoons, small children chasing a ball, and so on.

The heart of the issue is whether the computer will take evasive action (endangering the occupants with a potential rollover) or make some other calculated move to minimize the odds of a crash (such as sacrificing a wild animal to save the occupants of the car from injury or death).

Tech companies are working on these object detection systems right now.  They’re testing and cataloging “real world” images so that they can “teach” a computer how to recognize a car from a group of pedestrians.

In a recent article published at “GIZMAG” (Click HERE) we have learned that Fujitsu is building what it calls an “Approaching Object Detection Library” to help both AV systems and live drivers recognize and react to the driving environment.

From the article:

When it comes to driver awareness, we all know how hard it can be to keep an eye on every pedestrian and moving vehicle in our vicinity, particularly when driving in a busy city area…To help in this regard, Fujitsu Semiconductor Limited is set to introduce software that assists in detecting and identifying cars, people, and other moving objects and alerts the driver of their position and direction of travel.

This is achieved by using elements built into the Approaching Object Detection Library, where vehicle camera images are analyzed in conjunction with a detection algorithm that identifies approaching objects. These are then run with detection-error reduction processing to eliminate false positives. The resulting image is overlaid on real-time images collected through the vehicle’s on-board cameras, and displayed on a dashboard monitor, providing vital information for the driver about the objects moving around them.

It is very exciting to see what technology can bring to the table for increasing driver safety on the highways.  Better than a simple camera system, this technology (when fully tested and developed) could help provide meaningful alerts for drivers who may be ill, sleepy or momentarily distracted by passengers, or other simple inattention scenarios.

blog rainy traffic day 1

Updates on Autonomous Vehicles

While we’ve covered AV’s in the past at the blog site:

We felt that it might be time for a quick update by posting some links to recent articles of interest (and some that are older, but still hold a relevant place in our discussion about safety, risk and insurance).

  1. Connected CarsOne of the most recent articles asks “WIll you ever be able to afford a self-driving car?” (Click HERE) and offers some interesting stats on the real cost to up-fit a vehicle with the needed gear to make it driver-less.  Of course, with mass production, these costs will come down (just like any tech related gear from phones to computers and flat screen televisions), but it’s interesting to consider the economic factors that may push widespread adoption further into the future simply because of cost.
  2. The Military sees the benefit of AV’s to reduce the liklihood of casualties on the battlefield from Improvised Explosive Devices (IED’s) — http://rt.com/usa/driverless-autonomous-vehicles-pentagon-498/
  3. One of the biggest questions on people’s minds seems to be “would widespread use of AV really improve road safety?”  An article from the New York Daily News offers thoughts on this issue – http://www.nydailynews.com/autos/cars-safer-drivers-self-driving-vehicles-eliminate-traffic-accidents-article-1.1595616
  4. Daimler’s CEO feels that AVs could be rolling off the production line by 2025, at least as outlined in this article – http://www.detroitnews.com/article/20140113/AUTO04/301130112
  5. Naturally, we’d all like to know how much we’re going to save on car insurance if we “leave the driving to the vehicle” – http://reviews.cnet.com/8301-13746_7-57422681-48/how-much-will-it-cost-to-insure-an-autonomous-car/  AND  http://www.foxbusiness.com/personal-finance/2012/05/30/will-driverless-cars-cut-your-insurance80-percent

AV trucksLast, but not least, we recognize that AV technology isn’t limited to personal cars and light duty delivery vehicles — some of the most demanding and immediate applications for AV tech falls among the largest vehicles in quarries, mines and off-road trucking.  So what happens when USA’s “truckers” are replaced by radar and laser sighting equipment?  Will there be 80,000 pound, articulated, tractor-trailer rigs running cars off of the highway, or will truck safety results also improve (regardless of who might cause or contribute to crash occurrence)?  Check out this article for a preliminary discussion of these issues —http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/features/autonomous-vehicles-how-safe-are-trucks-without-human-drivers-9047546.html

road train automated

AV tech is on it’s way — it’s no longer reserved for Saturday morning cartoons like the Jetson’s flying car, etc.

gm_firebird_iii_concept