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Nissan's Crash-Free R&D: 7 Cute Robots Mimicking Bees and Fish

timothy posted about a year ago | from the if-they-could-only-mate-with-roomba dept.

Robotics 105

cartechboy writes "As Nissan develops autonomous cars for its 2020 target date, the company's engineers are modeling the tech after behaviors seen in bumblebees and fish. Nissan actually tests self-navigation algorithms in seven small toy-looking robots called EPORO. The robots have 180-degree vision (modeled after bees) and monitor each others' positions, travel nose to nose and avoid collisions--just like a school of fish. Getting small robots to zip around without bumping into things might be the first step in getting cars to do the same."

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105 comments

travel nose to nose? (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44708439)

Fish don't travel nose to nose. That would cause issues. Nose to tail seems to work much better for them

Re:travel nose to nose? (1)

themushroom (197365) | about a year ago | (#44708615)

I suspect they mean horizontally, not vertically. But that would be amusing, sort of a Fred & Ginger car configuration.

FINALLY! (1)

Thud457 (234763) | about a year ago | (#44708981)

Once we take the human factor out of the driving equation, can we finally have the flying cars we were promised?!!

Re:FINALLY! (1)

lgw (121541) | about a year ago | (#44709721)

If you remember that recent /. story about Asimov's predictions for the 2014 World's Fair, he went a bit far in predicting cars that, while the couldn't fly, could hover briefly on compressed air to cross obstacles.

However, he specifically predicted small robots darting through the crowd, avoiding accidents, as a tech demo for coming self-driving cars. Right on target it seems!

Really, the only reason we don't all have ground-effect hovercars is that power didn't get cheap at the expected rate, and we can't afford the gas. If power were "too cheap to meter", adding a ducted fan and airskirt to cars to allow limited hovering across obstacles (but driving on tires most the time) is well within current tech - just a matter of extra weight and lots of extra power, which is only fuel costs really.

Re: FINALLY! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44712187)

I don't want to be nearby as your car raises an unnecessary cloud of dust. And anyway, what obstacles do you encounter when you drive that would be useful to float over?

Re: FINALLY! (1)

lgw (121541) | about a year ago | (#44718205)

And anyway, what obstacles do you encounter when you drive that would be useful to float over?

Priuses. If I could just hover across the cloud of smug, that would be bliss.

Re:FINALLY! (1)

Smauler (915644) | about a year ago | (#44711239)

The main problem with flying cars is the power they use.... keeping stuff above the earth requires too much energy... they're possible now, but not really desirable.

Re:travel nose to nose? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44709287)

Most images of schools of fish don't seem to show distinct rows of side-by-side noses...
http://3dtotalgames.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/fish.jpg

Re:travel nose to nose? (2)

dotancohen (1015143) | about a year ago | (#44709277)

Fish don't travel nose to nose. That would cause issues. Nose to tail seems to work much better for them

Fish don't travel nose to tail, either. They are staggered. Until we allow staggered "lanes" instead of rigid, fixed lanes, then we won't be traveling like fish.

Note also that fish are narrow, i.e. they have a small cross section for their volume. This helps to travel staggered. Maybe staggered-driving cars will need to be narrower, longer, and taller. Will people get used to one-across seating?

Re:travel nose to nose? (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | about a year ago | (#44709397)

Fish also don't use roads, unless you live near Seattle, where they do.

Re:travel nose to nose? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44709513)

The reason that fish travel staggered is the same as birds. They're using fluid dynamics to propel themselves. Cars by comparison are only slowed by fluid dynamics (unless you're talking about very high end sports cars), and hence would want to travel nose to tail (to stay in the slip stream) as much as possible, except on very windy roads, with particular car design characteristics.

Re:travel nose to nose? (1)

gsgriffin (1195771) | about a year ago | (#44709861)

Sounds like you are describing the current travel and traffic patterns of India.

Re:travel nose to nose? (1)

timeOday (582209) | about a year ago | (#44709899)

Even today, there are places that use lots of narrow vehicles and don't worry too much about lanes [youtube.com] . Being in traffic there, it does feel like they are flowing around you, like water, or fish. (I'm not saying this is superior, or the way of the future... even just converting to electric scooters would revolutionize the ambience of the place, which has the constant droning of a million small-displacement engines).

Re:travel nose to nose? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44710121)

You expect good grammar and proofreading from Timothy? Have you been around since Commander Taco left?

Summary is wrong.... (1)

rts008 (812749) | about a year ago | (#44710377)

I noticed two things right away when I read TFA:

1. The article has them traveling nose to tail- not nose to nose.

2. According to TFA, the robots have 180 degree vision, not the summary stated 360.

iRobots... (0)

ackthpt (218170) | about a year ago | (#44708453)

Does Apple already have a claim on the name? If Japan continues with this trend of cute robots, it'll be the next big thing.

Is Microsoft paying any attention to this?

Re:iRobots... (1)

themushroom (197365) | about a year ago | (#44708593)

Too late, iRobot makes vacuum cleaners.
But MSFT might sue them to get the name with some flimsy IP claim if they wanted it. ;-)

Re:iRobots... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44708625)

iRobot has a claim on the name iRobot.

Re:iRobots... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44708953)

Asimov [wikipedia.org] probably did, but i'm guessing that name got sold after they made a movie.

Lurking Skynet approves (4, Interesting)

rsborg (111459) | about a year ago | (#44708509)

Seriously, not a whole lot of zipping - more like ambling. I think they're going to need a whole lot better processing to handle movement at 45mph, much less 75mph.
Still, emergent behavior is definitely a strong idea... just wondering how the "groups" form - what sort of negotiation is needed? Will it require some form of authorization/authentication? What happens when the "group" loses an individual (ie, power/comm failure)? What about rogue elements?

Lots of stuff to study and apply - but it still looks far off in implementation. I'd love to see this research combined with Google's driverless car tech :)

Re:Lurking Skynet approves (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about a year ago | (#44709971)

It's swarm behavior, each unit of the group has simple rules that follows. Things like "don't get closer than X to the unit in front of you" and "don't approach another unit at more than Y relative speed". There's no central processing happening to manage the group, no more than there is for a flock of starlings flying through the air. It's just simple rules leading to seemingly complex behavior.

Re:Lurking Skynet approves (1)

rsborg (111459) | about a year ago | (#44710135)

It's swarm behavior, each unit of the group has simple rules that follows.

It's not just a swarm - a swarm usually deals with members from the same hive or have some basis of affinity. How will we generate affinity between units securely? Auth?

For cars, the "swarms" will need to be created and modified ad-hoc (e.g.: car coming into right lane in highway from onramp, exiting, switching lanes, etc). That aspect of this seems very complex and the system needs to add in redundancy and robustness... not to mention, is there an analogue to ad-hoc swarms in nature?

Re:Lurking Skynet approves (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44711881)

not to mention, is there an analogue to ad-hoc swarms in nature?

You mean like birds? Some species at least seem to form groups and lose members and change size all the time, the only thing they have in common is going in roughly the same direction. And such flocking is handled fine by very simple rules. I've seen high school students do such work for science fair projects 10+ years ago. The big difference between what they did and stuff like this is that they did it on a computer where they had access to info like where the location and direction of the nearest agent was in the simulation, whereas here it has to be worked out from sensor input. Analyzing that sensor input to get an object's location takes way more computation power than figuring out what to do once you know the object's location and direction.

Re:Lurking Skynet approves (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44713669)

Insects and fish DO form swarms and groups in an ad hoc manner. They lose members, they change direction, they split off. Watch bees move sometime, in groups and individually. Same with ants and fish... The rules they follow for their behavior is VERY simple, but when added up to many individuals, becomes complex and can even result in 'group decisions' being made, that affect the whole. Voting happens without even a single individual truly realizing what it's doing, in some cases, as with ants choosing a new nest site, or bees choosing a new place to place a hive.

The only true concern I have is how these robotic swarms would deal with an individual not following these conditions... IE, a human driver in their midst.

Re:Lurking Skynet approves (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44714415)

I imagine they'd do much the same thing that schools of small fish do when a different species, perhaps a potential predator species, swims through them. They part and swirl around the interloper. In fish at least, I suspect the "keep X distance away from other fish" is based on visual/apparent size not absolute distance, since when it isn't a predator fish, but merely a larger fellow traveller, they tend to keep an increased distance from it.

In fact, as long as it was free to move away, and can do so as fast or faster than you can approach it, an autonomous vehicle would actively evade your attempts to hit it on purpose. (imagine having to try and catch your car in the morning, like chasing a horse)

They should make it resemble Bumblebee (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44708519)

and transform into a 30 foot tall robot with plasma cannons....

Seems a stretch (1)

wbr1 (2538558) | about a year ago | (#44708525)

This seems like it utilizes swarm/schooling behavior. This is fine if all the members obey the same basic rules. That however would require all cars to be autonomous, not just some.

Re:Seems a stretch (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44708665)

not all cars have to be autonomous for this to work. The autonomous cars will just be traveling in groups, which will be very efficient. I can even foresee dedicated lanes for autonomous cars.

Re:Seems a stretch (1)

Smauler (915644) | about a year ago | (#44711377)

Autonomous cars would have to cope with human driven cars... in which case, they'd be pretty easy to troll. I know I would :P.

Re:Seems a stretch (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44715227)

Right up to the point that the car gets angry at you and trolls you right back. That'd be hilarious.

Re:Seems a stretch (1)

MiniMike (234881) | about a year ago | (#44709333)

They should throw some puppies in that racetrack, to simulate human drivers.

To simulate city driving, they could then tie a chew toy on the back of each robot.

Re:Seems a stretch (3, Interesting)

beelsebob (529313) | about a year ago | (#44709545)

I actually recently discovered why BMW drivers love your arse so much.

It's because of their active cruise control system. I was demonstrated a 5 series' cruise control system, which got so close to the car in front it terrified me. If I were driving the car in front, I would probably have been thinking "bloody beemer driver" at that point.

So actually, it's already the fault of autonomous cars that people get up close and personal behind you.

Re:Seems a stretch (1)

timeOday (582209) | about a year ago | (#44710105)

Sort of. From the manual: [m-sedan.com]

"You can set the specified minimum distance for DISTRONIC PLUS by varying the time span between one and two seconds. With this function, you can set the minimum distance that DISTRONIC PLUS keeps to the vehicle in front, dependent on vehicle speed. You can see this distance in the multifunction display

WARNING

It is up to the driver to exercise discretion to select the appropriate setting given road conditions, traffic, driver's preferred driving style and applicable laws and driving recommendations for safe following distance."

Re:Seems a stretch (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44711973)

If the minimum separation is 1 second, then at 30-60 mph that becomes 13-27 m, or about 3-6 car lengths. That is less than the typical two second rule most are told to follow, but I wouldn't consider it "terrifyingly" close, especially if you've been anywhere that following the 2 second rule causes people to cut in front of you.

Re:Seems a stretch (1)

MiniMike (234881) | about a year ago | (#44710919)

It seems that BMW has merely automated an activity that was previously done manually. Hopefully the cruise control system is less likely to be distracted by cell phone/latte/other shiny cars/etc. than the BMW drivers I typically see.

Re:Seems a stretch (2)

Smauler (915644) | about a year ago | (#44711609)

I don't get this... I don't let anyone sit on my arse, ever. If someone does get too close, in the overtaking lane, when I'm looking to overtake someone in a queue, I pull over. It's their problem, and I'm not going to be a part of it. I only sit on the arse of others when they do not pull over for no reason (actually, generally I undertake them, carefully).

I don't drive _that_ fast... generally about 80 when cruising in the UK, which is technically illegal, but what loads of other people do, and police won't do you for it (most of the time).

Seriously, people, if someone is sitting on your arse... pull over. Don't complain about it... they're more likely to die than you. You lose nothing.

Re:Seems a stretch (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44712079)

The people going a lot faster than me seem to quickly pass when getting over and are not a big deal. But there are some that are weird wimps about passing. Maybe they want to only go a tiny bit faster, and otherwise don't feel like passing, even when there are two lanes going in your direction. They'll just pull over to the slow lane with you when you do, continuing to ride your bumper for 10 minutes or so until finally deciding to pass. Or worse, they pass, only to go slower than you do so you eventually pass them again. Unless by pulling over you mean pulling off the road, which is more effective but has its own risks on a decent speed highway.

Re:Seems a stretch (1)

MiniMike (234881) | about a year ago | (#44715549)

There seem to be a lot of drivers who don't want to go fast, they just want to be first. They will go as fast as they need to to get in front of everybody, and then slow down. In the passing lane. Driving erratically like this seems much more dangerous than just speeding.

Re:Seems a stretch (1)

Animats (122034) | about a year ago | (#44709429)

This seems like it utilizes swarm/schooling behavior.

Right. That goes back to Craig Reynolds' "Boids" paper, and is the basis for much crowd behavior in movies and video games. In the real world, it's less useful. The general idea is that there are attracting and repelling fields, and you add up the fields and get a direction vector. This works OK in not-too-crowded spaces. It's great for birds and fish. When there are turning circle limits, or narrow lane limits, it's not as useful.

We tried this approach on our DARPA Grand Challenge vehicle in 2004-2005. It wouldn't work in tight spots. We had to go with a completely different approach. We ended up projecting alternative curved paths in front of the vehicle out to stopping distance and picking the best one.

It looks like these Nissan robots are slow, round, and can turn in place. That's the ideal case for a flocking algorithm.

My anus hole is so god dang itchy an soar! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44708581)

I have a terrible itchy an soar anus hole. It all started this smornin. I took a pretty big poop before school an by third period it was really itchin so I went to the boys bathroom an took a ruler with me an scratched it pretty good. It felt good but a LOT of poop came out on the ruler an I thought that maybe I just needed to wipe moar. So I took toilet paper an wiped my anus hole really good.

By period five it was itchin again an I borrowed a pare of scicors from my friend Steven an a few minutes later I went to the bathroom. I pushed the scisors a little way into my anus hole an scratched a little bit an it felt SUPER GOOD an when I pulled out the scisors they was covered in poop again even though I had just wiped my anus hole really good a couple of hours before.

By six period it was worst! Their is like a big swollen ball in my anus hole an I don't no what it is but it is really botherin me especialy when I sit down. I keep scratchin my anus hole real good, an it feels good when I scratch, but the swollen part is SOAR. I took mom's hare brush an really scratched it super good a few minutes ago an it felt good but the sweled part is still soar.

What is gone on an what can I do to make it stop itchin an make it not be so soar where it sweled?

Re:My anus hole is so god dang itchy an soar! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44709351)

Go home Miley you're drunk again!

Zipping around? (0)

SoupGuru (723634) | about a year ago | (#44708583)

Do you know how I know you didn't watch the video?

Little robots lurching and stumbling around at random does not impress me as a future smart-car building block.

Re:Zipping around? (1)

ZombieBraintrust (1685608) | about a year ago | (#44708863)

Smart car would need to deal with hazards such as cars drivin by humans, dear, ice, pedestrians, emergency vehicles, sudden stops, and blown tires. How the car behaves when radom stuff happens is important. It makes sense to test if a smart car can navigate through a field with randomly moving objects without a collision.

Re:Zipping around? (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | about a year ago | (#44709431)

My favorite example is driving in Seattle. Watching cars spin out as they slide down an icy hill, where most people don't turn into the spin, and then smash each other, or during a sudden downpour while your car is misted up and your sensors are shot - these are a few of my favorite things.

Zip my (axle).

Re:Zipping around? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44710515)

The problem with your examples is that it is already proven that humans can't handle those situations satisfactorily.
I'm not even convinced that a self driving car with a few shot sensors will perform worse than most humans during those circumstances.

Re:Zipping around? (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | about a year ago | (#44710647)

The problem with your examples is that it is already proven that humans can't handle those situations satisfactorily.
I'm not even convinced that a self driving car with a few shot sensors will perform worse than most humans during those circumstances.

That depends on what you mean by satisfactorily.

To whom?

To the insurer? To the person? To the car?

If the car hits a house is this better or worse than hitting a puppy?

What if it hits a little kid building a snowman?

Re:Zipping around? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44710893)

I recommend that you read IEC/EN 62061, ”Safety of machinery: Functional safety of electrical, electronic and programmable electronic control systems,” and IEC 61508 [wikipedia.org]
ISO 26262 is the standard that deals with road vehicles if you are interested in that in particular.

If you want an operating system that is suitable for those safety critical systems you can buy an ARM with SafeRTOS [highintegritysystems.com] in ROM.
You might also want to have a look at VxWorks [wikipedia.org] if you want an operating system that can handle memory errors in a predictable manner. (The Mars rovers uses it among other things.)

A misted up car and a shot sensor isn't a problem. There are already plenty of systems out there that already deals with worse situations than that.
Also, the sensor isn't shot. The car has to be able to detect that the sensor is shot and refuse to let you drive (Apart from manual override for moving the vehicle cautiously to a safe location.) if critical sensors are non-working.

If you are going to give us silly examples you can at least take something that is hard to solve, like how to protect the vehicle from intentional tampering by a person with insight to the inner workings of the system. That is a harder nut to crack.

Re:Zipping around? (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | about a year ago | (#44711009)

Um, not silly examples. Real world examples from the city I live in.

Look, what works in the lab does not always work in the wild.

Re:Zipping around? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44714013)

Read the standards, they already cover all the examples you have named. No self-driving car will ever be let out without dealing with that. Every nation have organizations with decades of experience of analyzing life critical machinery before they hit the market.
We aren't talking about what works in a lab here, we are talking about real machinery.
Do you think that the automated cranes that works just fine are just allowed to run over people or randomly drop their load if a sensor is shot or if a random short circuit happens in them? Are airplanes that fly completely automated allowed to just crash and burn because of mist?
Yes, developing safe machinery is hell of a lot more expensive than consumer devices but it clearly is possible as real world examples show.

Also, in your example you say "Watching cars spin out as they slide down an icy hill".
While self driving cars have the capability to stop the slide they don't really need to since they don't drive in a way that they start to spin anyway.

a wet blanket (4, Interesting)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year ago | (#44708595)

"Getting small robots to zip around without bumping into things might be the first step in getting cars to do the same."

I seriously hope they are past the 'first step' of modeling things in small robots. If they are planning on releasing this thing on the road in the next six years, they need to have tech that is just being refined at this point.

For comparison, it can take six years to test and refine avionics software, even after all the algorithms are known. This software needs to be extremely reliable. Remember that even if a server has 99.999% uptime, it's still going to crash every year or so. When people's lives are on the line, you're going to want 99.99999% availability. That kind of software is not easy to make. If they are still doing fundamental research, they aren't going to have it done in time.

Re:a wet blanket (3, Interesting)

Shatrat (855151) | about a year ago | (#44708847)

Human drivers are far short of 99.999999% reliable, so I say hurry it up even if they're at Five Eights reliability...

Re:a wet blanket (3, Insightful)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year ago | (#44709169)

No, you are mixing up topics. You are looking at how often the human makes a mistake that results in a collision. My comment didn't even get to the topic of mistakes, it was talking about catastrophic software failures. A human has a Mean Time to Failure of 80 years.

If you want to make a human comparison, you have to ask, "how often does a human have a heart attack or other catastrophic failure on the road?" This is just the base system, you need to make it reliable before you even get to talking about the quality of the algorithms. It's great you have a perfect driving algorithm, but if the OS crashes and needs to reboot once a year while driving, then no one will care if you have a perfect algorithm. Your car is having the equivalent of a heart-attack every year on the road.

It's harder than writing a typical website. To get an idea of the difficulties involved, remember that at that level of reliability you need to take into consideration that cosmic rays will corrupt your memory. ECC can be helpful, but you can still get corruption. So imagine if you have a for loop, and your index gets corrupted. How will you guarantee that it doesn't become an infinite loop?

These problems are known and can be solved, but the point is, it's really hard. It will take six years of effort, and that is assuming the algorithms are ready now. If they are not, then they won't have it ready by 2020.

Re:a wet blanket (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44709307)

It's harder than writing a typical website. To get an idea of the difficulties involved, remember that at that level of reliability you need to take into consideration that cosmic rays will corrupt your memory. ECC can be helpful, but you can still get corruption. So imagine if you have a for loop, and your index gets corrupted. How will you guarantee that it doesn't become an infinite loop?

Shielding.

Re:a wet blanket (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44709367)

Shielding.

Hey, look at that! AC solved all the problems of reliable software in a single word. Let's go home, folks.

Re:a wet blanket (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44709413)

Shielding.

Hey, look at that! AC solved all the problems of reliable software in a single word. Let's go home, folks.

Nope. Just the problem that was presented. But hey, you have fun with your hyperbole.

Re:a wet blanket (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44709753)

Nope. Just the problem that was presented. But hey, you have fun with your hyperbole.

The problem presented was the problem of reliable software.

Re:a wet blanket (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44712275)

Well, since the specific problem of cosmic ray strikes has been solved by "shielding," maybe the same AC can solve the next problem: how do you fit a computer with hundreds of meters of stone or metal shielding needed to stop cosmic rays into a car?

Re:a wet blanket (1)

lgw (121541) | about a year ago | (#44709919)

He was asking the right question. Self-driving cars don't need to be much less mistake-prone than humans to be accepted. Crashing once per year would be a bit much, but as long as it crashes less frequently than the human would it's good enough for early adopters. The perfect is the enemy of the "good enough to sell" in this case.

Re:a wet blanket (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year ago | (#44712765)

Crashing once per year would be a bit much, but as long as it crashes less frequently than the human would it's good enough for early adopters.

The topic under discussion is the difficulty of creating a system that crashes that infrequently.

Re:a wet blanket (1)

lgw (121541) | about a year ago | (#44718223)

In which case talking about things like cosmic ray strikes flipping bits is moronic. That sort of thing is far under the noise floor. We simply don't need airliner levels of reliability to be acceptably better than human drivers.

Re:a wet blanket (1)

dywolf (2673597) | about a year ago | (#44708937)

Plus the average airplane gets many many more preventative maintenance hours performed on it than the typical car. Military planes more than civil, but still, MH per FH is significantly greater than 1:1 for aircraft, whereas for cars its significantly less.

Now for cars, that makes sense, or else the operating costs would skyrocket, so low maintenance needs are an essential feature. But then that means the parts and the software needs to be EVEN MORE reliable. And this is without even considering how poorly a lot of people actually treat their cars compared to teh "recommended/designed" maintenence levels.

Re: why robot cars dream of electric sheep (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | about a year ago | (#44709459)

Actually, electric vehicles have a much lower maintenance requirement than gas/diesel vehicles do - on average about 1/4 the cost factor and time factor.

Requiring auto-guided vehicles be electric only, with max speeds of say 30 mph (typical highway speeds during rush hour) might go a long way to making them safe. Potential energy drops as speed drops.

Re: why robot cars dream of electric sheep (1)

tftp (111690) | about a year ago | (#44712799)

Actually, electric vehicles have a much lower maintenance requirement than gas/diesel vehicles do - on average about 1/4 the cost factor and time factor.

The origin of the engine's power is irrelevant, unless somehow a car that is propelled by an electric motor is safer than the one that is propelled directly by an ICE.

Maintenance would be relevant in the areas of power {brakes,steering,etc.} but that is already electric in hybrids.

Requiring auto-guided vehicles be electric only, with max speeds of say 30 mph (typical highway speeds during rush hour) might go a long way to making them safe.

I fully agree. Not a single human would die in any such vehicle on the road. But the reasons for that lie not in their electric power, but in their speed. Most humans drive considerably faster than 30 mph, and they have a life to live instead of sitting extra hours per day in a hot tin can.

Re: why robot cars dream of electric sheep (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44715269)

and they have a life to live instead of sitting extra hours per day in a hot tin can.

Tell that to my boss, who thinks I live just to work for him. That's the case of the majority of employers.

Re: why robot cars dream of electric sheep (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | about a year ago | (#44717429)

The origin of the power train is relevant - fewer moving parts, less subject to corrosion, no controlled explosions (in grade 10 I took power mechanics, I could build an engine for you if you want.

Brake maintenance tends to be about the same.

Re: why robot cars dream of electric sheep (1)

dywolf (2673597) | about a year ago | (#44715739)

that's great. but thats not my point. my point is how little maintenence the owners of the cars will actually perform. electrics have lower requirements? that's great, and comepletely beside the point that cars get treated like sht by a lot of their owners. yet the cars still have to have X level of reliability precisely because of that in order to meet all the regulations and be attractive to customers.

Re: why robot cars dream of electric sheep (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | about a year ago | (#44717479)

According to industry standards, total cost of maintenance is much higher for gasoline or diesel engine cars than for electric cars.

(source CNN Money)

Re:a wet blanket (1)

Bottlemaster (449635) | about a year ago | (#44709451)

If they are planning on releasing this thing on the road in the next six years, they need to have tech that is just being refined at this point.

The article is about research into different ways to organize traffic among autonomous vehicles. Its practicality will be limited until manual driving is banned, and it's not at all necessary for their 2020 goal. The first autonomous vehicles will be designed to operate among unpredictable manually-driven cars and will drive in lines like the rest of us.

Re:a wet blanket (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about a year ago | (#44710043)

First generation autonomous vehicles won't be able to use swarm logic, because it only works if everyone is doing it and 99% of the cars on the road won't be (they're be driven by people). Now, in 2040 when you simply can't buy a car that doesn't drive itself you can start looking at eliminating the "rules of the road" as they exist now. If all vehicles perform with near perfect decision making you can do things like divide the 2 lanes each way highway into 6 lanes (because they can be much closer together and even overlap in some cases) going whichever direction traffic needs them to go. And eventually you can just say no lanes at all, just a sheet of pavement and cars will pack in however seems most efficient at the time. That is the kind of future this research is for, not puttering around the suburb following the posted road signs.

Re:a wet blanket (1)

recharged95 (782975) | about a year ago | (#44710461)

Good point.

All research currently is with these small bots, minipucks and such. But research as also shown that mass doesn't scale well in the algorithms used for collision avoidance and path planning. They just are not robust enough to handle non-linearity that occurs in the environment--which means that demo will not scale well.

Why? What fun is an autonomous car? (0)

Squidlips (1206004) | about a year ago | (#44708741)

They are seriously over estimating the demand for such vehicles...

Re:Why? What fun is an autonomous car? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44708789)

Every driven I-10 across Texas? Try it and you'll understand why you might want an autonomous car.

Re:Why? What fun is an autonomous car? (2)

dywolf (2673597) | about a year ago | (#44708961)

I-10 is a summer blockbuster movie compared to US-50 across Nevada.

Re:Why? What fun is an autonomous car? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44708893)

One of the main buyers of an autonomous car would be the elderly, who have just lost the ability to drive. That is a huge loss in self-sufficiency. They can buy a car that can drive itself, so they can maintain independance a bit longer. I hope that these are widely availble by the time (say in about thirty or fourty years) that I become too old to drive.

I could have my car drive me around, so I could yell at kids to get off of lawns!

Re:Why? What fun is an autonomous car? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44709017)

I could have my car drive me around, so I could yell at kids to get off of lawns!

Just accept the spy drone philosophy and set up some low-flying spy drones with a loudspeaker and a recording of your best shout. If it sees anyone on a lawn without a lawnmower, walker, or cane, it plays the recording at full volume and follows the person until they exit the lawn.

Then just sit back on your rocking chair, coffee in one hand, Kindle News in the other and smile (well, scowl differently) each time you hear the drones activate in the distance.

By contrast, my plan involves Lynxes, and I'm still working on the details.

What fun is a normal car? (2)

Valdrax (32670) | about a year ago | (#44709203)

What fun is a normal car? I mean, I can't think of any activity that involves nearly as much banal, repetitive tedium combined with the need to be vigilant against life-threatening danger that doesn't involve enlisting in the military.

I hate driving. You can't do anything really exciting with a car 95% of the time, because there are (necessary) safety laws preventing it, and the road is full of drivers worse than you (or at least worse then you think you are). I waste about 5% of my life every day on driving the same route back and forth from home to work, and I would trade a fair amount of money to be able to put my attention elsewhere for it. Sure, that won't happen for at least a few decades after driverless cars initially hit the market, but if I still have to drive myself when I'm old and infirm, it will be a huge disappointment.

Re:What fun is a normal car? (2)

lgw (121541) | about a year ago | (#44709871)

Driving is fun. Traffic is boring. Driving without traffic is increasingly difficult to find. But there are plenty of corners on my daily commute to have fun with under 30 MPH. It doesn't have to be fast to be "as fast as you can".

Re:Why? What fun is an autonomous car? (1)

lgw (121541) | about a year ago | (#44710009)

They are seriously over estimating the demand for such vehicles...

I doubt it. It's not like it will debut as an expensive mandatory package on every car. It will be an (expensive) option on cars where it makes sense. Nissan just introduced steer-by-wire. They already have smart cruise control, lane drift prevention, blind spot detection, impact reduction, and so on, but the cars only steer themselves gently by using the brakes on one side.

In a few years I expect options that will give the computer far more control of steering, brake, and throttle in situations where the driver doesn't seem to be paying attention - this would be an incremental change to what Nissan has already.

By 2020 I'd expect the goal would be a "full computer control" option, but one where legally you might still need to be able to take over driving at a moment's notice. Certainly you'd be able to take over driving by just switching the option off, just like you can switch all the current stuff off with a couple of buttons while driving.

That's a feature I'd pay for, even if I only used it in commuter traffic.

This is the way to go. (5, Interesting)

intermodal (534361) | about a year ago | (#44708785)

This kind of system needs to be based on natural and fluid situations. Trying to base them on as-presently-constituted traffic laws is a mistake no matter how you slice it. The paradigm has different advantages and shortcomings than manual driving. Build a good anti-collision system, and then as needed, add the other layers on top instead of building a base upon assumptions based on law.

Re:This is the way to go. (1)

OhSoLaMeow (2536022) | about a year ago | (#44709321)

This kind of system needs to be based on natural and fluid situations.

If the autonomous cars can ignore accidents on the other side of the highway I'm all for it.

Re:This is the way to go. (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | about a year ago | (#44709969)

Current laws are based on the constrains of roads while bees and fish work in a different world. The most obvious being 3 dimensional for the natural system vs 2 dimensional for most roads. There is also the constrains of the sides of the roads, intersections, on/off ramps, different vehicle performances, higher speeds, greater momentum, greater consequences of collision,etc. Natural situations are much more forgiving to errors. One fish hitting another will cause little or no damage. One car hitting another at high speeds could cause an accident that could kill many people.

Re:This is the way to go. (1)

intermodal (534361) | about a year ago | (#44710065)

Yes. Which is why you build the natural system and then build those considerations as a restriction package on top of it. There is no reason to build a system that is dependent on the status quo, all that does is impede future improvements.

Re:This is the way to go. (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | about a year ago | (#44710365)

If you build a natural system that can not fit into the constrains you are no further ahead and have just wasted lots of time and money. For example, bees and fish can go over/under each other if crossing; vehicles can not. Failing to take that constraint into account in the original design will doom it to failure. with all these systems the 80/20 rule applies. 80% of the work will be consumed by the last 20% of the problems.

There is no reason to build a system that is dependent on the status quo,

There is a reason and that is due to the fact that we all are not going to instantly convert all our vehicles to autonomous vehicles. Autonomous vehicles are going to have to coexist on our roads with human driven cars. There may be some changes to rules of the road but they will not be all that drastic. It will impede future progress but it has to to integrate with present conditions.

Re:This is the way to go. (1)

intermodal (534361) | about a year ago | (#44710579)

I don't think you understood my post. I'm saying make a quality autonomous motion system independent of our modern roads, and then build a system to allow vehicles to deal with modern traffic rules and realities on top of that so when the present condition differs from what we have today, it doesn't become a matter of re-inventing the wheel.

I'm not saying throw out every bit of the present transportation system right away. I'm just saying that we don't need to entrench them as the entire basis of how the autonomous vehicles work. Over time, it may prove quite practical to make significant changes to the way such things work, and that even first-generation (in the wild) autonomous vehicles will need to be able to adapt to those systems readily so they don't hold back future innovation.

Re:This is the way to go. (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | about a year ago | (#44712037)

Until we get flying vehicles we are going to have to deal with the constraints of roads. Bees and fish do not have those constraints and are a poor example to model road movement after. How do you build a highly constrained 2D system (roads) on top of a very open 3D system(flying or swimming)? The movement and constraints are completely different issues and the solutions are not transferable.

To paraphrase. Lets model autonomous systems now in an environment that may never exist in such a way as it will not work in the environment we have now. If it does not work now it does not matter if it may work in the future.

Lets not look so far into the future we lose sight of how to get there.

Re:This is the way to go. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44715299)

You're an idiot.

Re:This is the way to go. (1)

intermodal (534361) | about a year ago | (#44715993)

You're being quite short-sighted here, assuming that such a system would be restricted to cars. Why would we not expect the same system to be useful for helicopters and aircraft?

Re:This is the way to go. (1)

argStyopa (232550) | about a year ago | (#44710649)

Agreed. Take advantage of systems that have had hundreds of millions of years of evolution, rather than base it on human codes and rules that - intrinsically - are irrelevant to the "world" of autonomous vehicles.

Certainly, there will have to be some concession to human norms, as these vehicles will share the road with human-driven vehicles for a long, long time.

Nevertheless, count me as one of the people who feel that despite an almost-certainly-painful teething period, computer-controlled cars will be both safer and MUCH more efficient managers of our horrendously-clogged traffic systems. Plus, I so much want to read a book while I wait to get to work, than watch some dumbass driving in bumper-bumper traffic while he's texting his g/f and reading a newspaper.

Well, at the speed those robots are moving (1)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about a year ago | (#44708955)

You might be able get out of the way [youtube.com]

zip? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44708983)

Call me cynical, but those robots aren't zipping anywhere. Plod might be a better adjective.

Problem is sensors and processing. (3, Interesting)

Lumpy (12016) | about a year ago | (#44709115)

They need a system that can identify visually, as well as with radar that can not be fouled by other radar to scan the road ahead. Because I can see scumbags setting up a radar broadcaster in their junker to cause an autoguide car to hit them for insurance money.

Re:Problem is sensors and processing. (1)

cascadingstylesheet (140919) | about a year ago | (#44709359)

They need a system that can identify visually, as well as with radar that can not be fouled by other radar to scan the road ahead. Because I can see scumbags setting up a radar broadcaster in their junker to cause an autoguide car to hit them for insurance money.

Oh yeah ... this is a "hacker"'s dream. "Oh, I was just trying to be helpful and find vulnerabilities, that's why I was remote controlling Grandma's car."

Re:Problem is sensors and processing. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44710693)

How would that be different from causing someone to hit your car by turning the lights off on a dark road? Scumbags will always be around and invent new tricks but society has always had to deal with that so it's nothing that applies to self-driving cars in particular. Heck, if I wanted to do something like that, I'd rather try fooling a human driver since at least I would know first-hand how a human driver perceives the environment and what he might say after an accident. If blame is a matter of dispute between two drivers, the brain activity and observation data cannot be downloaded as-is for investigation. A self-driving car would have the advantage of being able to give a completely honest log of what its sensors were feeding it.

Besides, if the safety records of Google's self-driving cars affect insurance rates, owners of self-driving cars should get the best rates by far. Especially since with the same AI driving all cars of a particular model, the driving time should be summed up and thus give the AI more years of crash-free driving than any human ever within the first weeks of being launched.

Personally, I can't wait until I can buy a self-driving car. I have never considered driving fun (not even in the beginning) - a car for me is just a means of transporting myself + a lot of stuff. Driving more than an hour is so much that even if we're going with my car, I - depending on who's with me - ask them to drive instead so that I can read of play with my phone or whatever.

Not so fast (1)

ThatsNotPudding (1045640) | about a year ago | (#44709317)

It ain't the other 'bumblebees' that will be the issue; it's the 1975 1/2 ton with a pair of cataracts driving, or the mid-70's Thunderbird ahead of the car in front of it that no longer has visible tail lights due to the shitty design that let dirt and water inside the lenses.

This is all fine until someone gets hurt (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | about a year ago | (#44709381)

Just because you can get a small number of autonomous robots to not crash into similar sized objects in a controlled environment does not mean it's ok for giant metal death traps to careen down streets and (usually) not hit small children darting into the street when their ball rolls away or as they bike.

It's all fine and dandy until someone gets hurt. And the second it happens to a little kid, it doesn't matter that you have 99.999 percent uptime, that 0.001 percent exclusion means obsessed parents will shut you down faster than you can say "I'm Just A Bill".

That's why God invented lawyers.

Great Canadian X-Prize for autonomous vehicles. (1)

TheSkepticalOptimist (898384) | about a year ago | (#44709461)

All I have ever seen with autonomous cars is controlled tests in controlled areas under ideal weather conditions in Nevada or California.

It's time to put up or shut up about autonomous cars and put them under some real world testing.

Put 100 of these things on the Trans-Canada highway and ask them to drive from St John's, NL to Vancouver, BC in the middle of January and get there faster than a horse drawn carriage. Use the schmucks who want to fly to Mars as their passengers because they have no value for their own lives.

The biggest issue is they will have to face is driving through Montreal and the province of Quebec, no autonomous car is going to come out of that city and province unscathed.

A box of Timbits and a large Double Double for the first passenger that survives the trip.

So many things wrong. (1)

jklovanc (1603149) | about a year ago | (#44709725)

Fish and bees do not have to deal with two dimensional intersections.
When fish or bees touch each other it does not cause an accident that could kill someone.
Fish and bees are not constrained by the width of roads.
Vehicles move much faster than fish or bees and momentum is a much bigger issue.
Fish or bees generally do not have individual destinations which require movement in many different directions.

As for the demonstration, it was laughable.
Extremely slow.
No crossing.
No joining or leaving.

The term "zipping" is relative. They were "zipping" if you are a snail. To me, the apt description would be meandering.

Not WALL-E (1)

Russ1642 (1087959) | about a year ago | (#44710497)

Why is it that if you put even the dumbest electronics into a package that looks sleek and smart people think that it must be 'intelligent'? They did it a long time ago, stretching back to the mechanical turk I guess, where if the machine just looked human then it must contain advanced intelligence. Even these days whenever the Japanese put out some terrible uncanny-valley type robot that can only sit there and try not to be outwitted by SIRI people will still think it's some kind of advanced WALL-E style intelligence just because they jammed it into a real-doll body.

Build it and they will come (1)

Drunkulus (920976) | about a year ago | (#44710627)

Every time an effort is made to ease traffic congestion, such as adding lanes, it works temporarily until people take advantage of it, and then traffic resumes its previous speed. While adding lanes would have been a permanent solution for the existing amount of traffic, now you simply have more people commuting from farther distances, creating more pollution etc. Self driving cars will temporarily improve travel times until sufficient numbers of people use them, then the roads will again be clogged. The only real solution is population control.
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