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Robotics Science

Another Step Towards the Driverless Car 224

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the optical-sensors-said-the-light-was-yellow dept.
jtogel writes "At Essex, we have for some time been working on automatically learning how to race cars in simulation. It turns out that a combination of evolutionary algorithms and neural networks can learn how to beat all humans in racing games, and also come up with some quite interesting, novel behaviours, which might one day make their way into commercial racing games. While this is simulation, the race is now on for the real thing — we are setting up a competition for AI developers, where the goal is to win a race between model cars on real tracks. As the cars will be around half a meter long, the cost of participating will be a fraction of that for the famous DARPA Grand Challenge, whereas the challenges will be similar in terms of computer vision and AI."
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Another Step Towards the Driverless Car

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  • In case of rapture (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Harmonious Botch (921977) * on Thursday March 22, 2007 @07:22PM (#18452357) Homepage Journal
    At least now they won't cause accidents.

    Seriously, this is a technology whose time has come. Persuading elderly drivers to give up their cars is difficult, and the baby boom generation is putting a lot of people in that situation in the next decade or two.
  • by Adambomb (118938) * on Thursday March 22, 2007 @07:31PM (#18452473) Journal
    I must say, I was envisioning disaster when contemplating a world with driving controlled by systems created by humans who arent there to react to unaccounted conditions. You make a bloody excellent point though. The fact that a significant enough percentage of drivers really should NOT be driving would make this a great opportunity. Make it either Opt-In or by Court Order to have to use such automation, and it looks better and better.

    I still would have to be VERY VERY sure of the system and see it tested out the wazoo before I would ever consider getting in one. I don't trust a team of EE and SE specialists to think of all the possible reactions they would need coded in for outlier situations. Even an autopilot for an airplane doesnt have to worry about falling trees, landslides, or elk...unless its a REALLY REALLY bad day at least...
  • by suv4x4 (956391) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @07:43PM (#18452617)
    Seriously, this is a technology whose time has come. Persuading elderly drivers to give up their cars is difficult, and the baby boom generation is putting a lot of people in that situation in the next decade or two.

    Not just, consider accident caused by drunk drivers, by drivers fell asleep, careless drivers...

    But don't expect a smooth transition. An "AI" driver could silently save thousands of lives, but the first cases where the AI was the reason for an accident will cause major outcries.

    It's the nature of human beings to react like that.
  • by Ford Prefect (8777) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @08:07PM (#18452873) Homepage

    I would love to have a driverless car: let me get some work or reading done while lounging in the back seat (safer) of my car while it is driving me through the daily rush hour. Because I can get work done, I can either drive off later or am in less of a rush to get where I'm going. No more tedious trips of hours upon hours of driving.

    Why not catch a train or bus to work?
  • by rolfwind (528248) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @08:17PM (#18452977)
    Time to my daily grind: 40 minutes one way. Parking 3 minutes walk to destination. 43 minutes total.

    Bus: Have a stop locally - 5 minutes walk. Take bus to a central station - 1 hour 5 minutes. Take second bus, unknown wait, to destination - 40 more minutes. 10 minutes walk to destination. 1h55m minimum.

    No thanks.

    Train? None here. I don't live in the city.
  • by stratjakt (596332) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @08:23PM (#18453033) Journal
    I bet you can't wait to be stuck in a state run home, either.

    You're probably young, so the ageism can be explained.

    I know people in their 80s, perfectly capable of driving, and renewing their license.

    We don't need dorks mandating new technologies to use. We just need the DMV to do it's job, which is to make sure only qualified drivers are qualified to drive.
  • by codemachine (245871) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @08:31PM (#18453113)
    There are certainly control and privacy issues in automation, as well who is liability in case of an error (which is probably the one thing that won't be overcome - lawyers will never allow it).

    But on the other hand, getting killed in an automobile is much too common, especially given that almost everyone has to travel in one at some point, if not very frequently. Getting around shouldn't be so bloody dangerous considering how ubiquitous it is. Imagine not every having to let drunks choose between being responsible vs driving home drunk. And imagine not ever having to be on the road where some random drunk or incompetent driver, can end your life at any instant, where it is just bad luck that puts you in this spot.

    Automobiles are an outdated and obsolete technology, or at least should be. The problem is coming up with and implementing the "next step" when the current technology is so ingrained into our society and city planning. It is a very non-trivial problem to come up with something better, and another non-trivial problem to "upgrade" to that something better on a live production world.
  • by Xymor (943922) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @08:36PM (#18453143)
    How many traffic accidents are caused by human errors everyday?
    Drunk driving, Sleep driving, Stupid driving, Sick driving...
    Seriously, most people would benefit from an RELIABLE A.I. system to drive for them.

    Once AI systems are more reliable them us, then the time will be here.
  • by tarball (34682) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @08:45PM (#18453205) Journal
    on a real track, and these algorithms wouldn't stand a chance. Racers know subtle moves and blatent moves that these systems will never be able to learn. Add the fact that real cheating and bending the rules has to occur under the nose of race officials, and that team cars run by algorithms would be banned from any racing venue for being dangerous morons within one or two races, and this would disappear faster than most vaporware.

    Implying that these cars could "drive themselves" in any meaningful or safe manner is idiotic. I would like to see what would happen if they put in place some rules based on sane driving.

    tom
    autocrosser and road racer
  • by Foerstner (931398) on Thursday March 22, 2007 @08:54PM (#18453291)
    By that logic, automakers wouldn't ever introduce new technology.

    Power steering? What if the pump fails during a hard turn?
    Air bags? What if some idiot doesn't buckle up and gets killed by the bag?
    Seat belts? What if the latch weakens with age and breaks during the impact?
    Windshield wipers? What if they crap out in the middle of a heavy rainstorm?!

    Sooner or later the technology becomes mature enough that the benefits outweigh the risk of liability. At that point, the manufacturer slaps another disclaimer into the owners' manual and adds the cost of doing business to the sticker.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 22, 2007 @10:19PM (#18454075)
    Because the program doesn't feel the dynamics of the air or the track like a human does.

    Um, why not? Presumably a robot car would also have robot senses to detect the influence of the air on the forces on the car, as well as variations in the road. What exactly makes you so sure that they won't? Please give me a real reason (eg. perhaps there is a physical law that says robot race car drivers are incompatible with known laws of physics? or maybe an affront to God, punished appropriately from on high?), not just an appeal to your authority as a race car driver.

  • by inviolet (797804) <slashdot AT ideasmatter DOT org> on Thursday March 22, 2007 @10:27PM (#18454153) Journal

    Getting around shouldn't be so bloody dangerous considering how ubiquitous it is. Imagine not every having to let drunks choose between being responsible vs driving home drunk. And imagine not ever having to be on the road where some random drunk or incompetent driver, can end your life at any instant, where it is just bad luck that puts you in this spot.

    The safety aspect is definitely a selling point. But that's not the killer app.

    The killer app for AI cars is: traffic throughput. Right now, traffic throughput is limited by our need to leave lots of space in front of our car so that we don't hit the guy in front of us. This creates low throughput through traffic lights because everyone must wait for the person in front of them to move away, before starting to move too. AI would need none of that.

    Ditto for freeway merges and weaves. AI could weave two lanes of cars together with ease... even without central automation or inter-car communication. All that is needed is a sufficiently standardized algorithm or a sufficiently clever computer. Our brains already do the same, even when the "DriveCar.exe" process is set to low priority in favor of a ringing cellphone.

    Can you imagine how fast traffic could move if (to name just one benefit) everyone rolled forward instantly when the light turned green? And if nobody slowed down to rubberneck a roadside accident?

    The implementation problem might solve itself too. Once AI cars prove their mettle, I can imagine that cities will designate more and more lanes as "AI only", with attendant increases in speed limit and throughput. Sort of like how HOV lanes work today. Soon we'll all be clamoring for an AI car in order to get the same benefits.

  • by gatesvp (957062) on Friday March 23, 2007 @12:51AM (#18455061)

    Some posters have posited the "what if every car were an AI car" scenario. But the transformations all talk about changing our current cars into AI cars.

    But I'd like to propose a different slant. If every car is an AI car, then how will this differ significantly from a distributed form of public transportation? If you break it down, the daily commute is filled with SUVs and a lone driver, with the SUV remaining parked (taking up space) for the whole day. So what about "transportion as a service" here (AKA: public transit and taxis)?

    I mean, if I need to get to work and the wife needs to go shopping with the new-born, in many cases we need two cars. But if my car can drive itself home, then the wife can just wait the extra time and have her car back. Point is, we can optimize roadway usage, but we can also optimize car usage time. Communities could own car pools and "rent" them out. With communities co-ordinating their own commutes, but also with cars that can do intelligent pick-ups, you can get by with less cars and with less "big cars".

  • by 955301 (209856) on Friday March 23, 2007 @04:46AM (#18455965) Journal
    Does anyone else feel like automating our current transportation is insanity compared to building a new transportation system that actually lends itself to automation?

    Why are we trying so hard to make something designed to be operated by a human computerized so it stays on the road when we can make a road with rails on it?
  • by CheeseTroll (696413) on Friday March 23, 2007 @07:27AM (#18456875)
    The difference between dying in an auto accident and dying from pneumonia or cancer, is that auto accidents occur without warning, and affect people at *any* age, regardless of their health situation. Was I sad when my grandparents passed away? Of course, but at 90+ years of age, it was hardly what I'd call a tragic death. The same could not be said if my wife or kids were killed in an auto accident.
  • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Friday March 23, 2007 @09:55AM (#18458665) Homepage Journal

    The killer app for AI cars is: traffic throughput. Right now, traffic throughput is limited by our need to leave lots of space in front of our car so that we don't hit the guy in front of us.

    Yes, and later, traffic throughput will be limited by the need to leave lots of space in front of the car so that if the car in front of us suffers an equipment failure (not necessarily computer-related; a blowout qualifies) the computers have time to work out a solution that doesn't involve collision.

    Certain realities of physics make it a good idea (or even a necessity) to not have cars tailgating one another, even if they are automated and much better drivers than humans are.

    It would make far more sense just to replace the highways with rail lines, load cars onto trains, and ship them places. Then the cars can be loaded literally on top of one another.

  • by smellsofbikes (890263) on Friday March 23, 2007 @11:03AM (#18459719) Journal
    What we NEED is the same thing pilots do: recurrent training and tests every other year to make sure you're still able to run a vehicle safely: medical, knowledge, and performance tests. You fail, you're out, until you've gotten your skills back into compliance.

    It isn't the middle-aged who oppose this plan.

It's a poor workman who blames his tools.

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