DIEGO ó Back in 1995, the NavLab 5 team at Carnegie
Mellon University launched an autonomous vehicle on a
trip from Pittsburgh to San Diego.
vehicle navigated itself, without intervention from a
human driver, for 98 percent of the 2,800 mile journey.
It averaged speeds above 60 mph.
if self-driving technology worked on a cross-country
trip 22 years ago, why arenít roads filled with
autonomous cars today?
reason is the technology remains closer to the research
lab stage and is not ready for prime time, say experts.
Itís not good enough or affordable enough yet for
must shrink, improve their range, particularly in bad
weather, and become less expensive. Mobile networks must
eliminate transmission delays so vehicles can
communicate instantly ó not only with nearby cars but
also with the internet cloud to process data.
for very precise, real-time, three-dimensional map
technology to guide self-driving cars must come down.
Artificial intelligence software must be nimble to
handle the unexpected ó ranging from predicting
behavior of nearby drivers to figuring out when an
object in the road is a harmless plastic bag or an
perhaps most importantly, the driving public needs to
come to grips with what it wants from autonomous
vehicles, which hold the promise of reducing accidents
and fatalities but may not be perfect.
May 2016, a man died when his Telsa crashed into a big
rig while operating in the car makerís self-driving
software mode known as Autopilot. U.S. regulators
determined that Telsaís software functioned properly
in the Florida accident but Autopilot requires
full-driver attention at all times.
March, Uber briefly suspended autonomous car testing
after a crash in Arizona, which officials said wasnít
the fault of the self-driving vehicle. It occurred when
a nearby motorist failed to yield.
really expect our autonomous cars to do much better than
us, otherwise we are not going to use them," said
Gabriel Rebeiz, an electrical and computer engineering
professor at the University of California at San Diego.
"That is a very high bar."
hurdles donít mean that the march toward self-driving
cars has stalled. If anything, itís gaining momentum.
all automakers are working on autonomous vehicles
programs. Google and Uber are testing robotic car
technologies on the road. Big technology companies
including Qualcomm and Intel have targeted automotive
technology as a major growth market. It is part of the
rationale behind Qualcommís pending $38 billion
acquisition of automotive chip outfit NXP Semiconductors
and Intelís recent $15 billion buyout of automotive
sensor and software outfit Mobileye.
on autonomous vehicles has been going on since the early
1980s, said Takeo Kanade, a computer vision professor
and winner of the 2016 Kyoto Prize for Advanced
Technology, during a recent event in San Diego. The
cross-country trip between Pittsburgh and San Diego was
a milestone achievement for Robotics Institute at
Carnegie Mellon and the advancement of self-driving
advantage to automation is the potential to reduce
accidents and save lives. Vehicle crashes kill more than
one million people globally each year and injure
millions more. Cutting the number of wrecks would bring
down medical and insurance costs.
happens when a child chases a ball onto the road? As a
human you can slam on the brakes and stop car. But
machines will react much faster than humans," said
Chris Mi, chair of electrical and computer engineering
department at San Diego State University.
with connected smart infrastructure, autonomous vehicles
also could traverse highways and streets more
efficiently, limiting traffic jams and reducing carbon
self-driving cars free up time for motorists to do other
things on their way to the office, boosting
get there, data from on-board cameras, radar and lidar
sensors is being fused together to create a picture of
whatís around the car. Lidar, which can cost $60,000
or more, works like radar but uses light instead of
International CES in January, Ford demonstrated a
pickle-jar sized laser lidar, mounted near the side-view
mirror on a prototype self-driving sedan. (Not long ago,
lidar systems were the size of a suitcase.) It
pinpointed people and objects around the car ó
creating a very detailed dynamic view of its
it also required a trunk full of powerful computer
servers to process the data ó which probably isnít
practical for real life self-driving vehicles.
5G mobile networks could be critical for autonomous
vehicles ó providing a way to off-load the hefty
computer processing demands to the internet cloud.
also is expected to reduce transmission delays ó known
as latency ó in wireless networks, paving the way for
connected cars to make split second decisions required
on the road. 5G networks could roll out as early as
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are other roadblocks facing autonomous vehicles, such as
legal questions of who is responsible if a self-driving
car causes an accident. Cybersecurity experts worry
about connected cars being hacked and wrecking havoc.
advocates of autonomous technology believe these
barriers eventually will be pushed aside. With todayís
self-driving prototypes, a driver is obligated to be
ready to take control at any moment. But in about a
decade, autonomous cars where a human driverís
attention is not required could begin showing up on the
arrival of these autonomous cars might be different than
we expect, said consultant Sven Beiker, a former BMW
technologist and ex-director of the Center for
Automotive Research at Stanford.
is lot of work on these automated robo-taxis, where it
operates within 20 city blocks ó maybe to the airport
ó but you canít take it to the next city," said
Beiker. "So it might not be the Toyota or Chevrolet
or Volkswagen that I buy, push a button and it drives me
home automatically. Maybe itís I wait for my Uber, and
when it arrives there is no driver."
the meantime, Advanced Driver Assistance Systems will
incrementally boost automation and safety in cars.
Already, lane monitoring technology in some vehicles
will automatically correct drifting. Several automakers
offer automatic braking in new models. Adaptive Cruise
Control will automatically adjust speed to maintain a
safe distance between vehicles. At CES, BMW demonstrated
a sedan that parked itself.
is going to take time," said Rebeiz, the UCSD
professor. "But we have the electronics. We have
the know-how. Itís just going to take time before we
integrate it all together."