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Helicopter Crashes While Filming Autonomous Audi 218

Posted by timothy
from the send-robot-ambulances dept.
telomerewhythere writes "A helicopter commissioned by Audi to film its autonomous Audi TT climbing Pikes Peak crashed early this morning. Four people on board were hurt, the pilot seriously. It's a surreal story — a manned vehicle crashes while the one climbing a mountain driven only by computers and sensors carries on. Here's more on the autonomous Audi, a project undertaken with the help of Stanford University."
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Helicopter Crashes While Filming Autonomous Audi

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  • by scosco62 (864264) * on Sunday September 19, 2010 @09:23AM (#33626736) Journal
    Frighteningly obvious........
    • by nametaken (610866) *

      Yeah, helicopters. Turns out they're complicated things to keep in the air. :)

      http://hardware.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=10/09/11/2150229 [slashdot.org]

      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        Kind of makes me wonder if anyone is working on manned quadrocopters. Seems like they would be simpler to keep up, at a cost in footprint.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by ceiling9 (1241316)
          I think the reason is that on a small scale, it is possible to control a quadcopter or quadrotor by changing the relative speed of the rotors, which is much simpler because there is no cyclic pitch, or swashplate mechanism, but this technique doesn't scale well. On a man-sized quadrotor, it would be difficult to accelerate and decelerate the rotors fast enough to have agile control, and so the use of cyclic pitch becomes the better method to control thrust. If you are using cyclic pitch, then it becomes s
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Sulphur (1548251)

            If one has four rotors, wouldn't he use collective pitch on the individual rotors, rather than cyclic pitch or rpm change?

    • Oh, the Irony.

  • Surreal? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Karganeth (1017580) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @09:30AM (#33626764)
    Since when is a helicopter crash surreal?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by gEvil (beta) (945888)
      Since when is a helicopter crash surreal?

      The helicopter crash itself isn't surreal -- the story is ("It's a surreal story...").
    • Re:Surreal? (Score:5, Funny)

      by sakdoctor (1087155) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @09:45AM (#33626854) Homepage

      Ceci n'est pas un helicoptere

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Correction: Un hélicoptère

    • by Schemat1c (464768)

      Since when is a helicopter crash surreal?

      You told me it was surreal!
      ...It was a pun.
      A PUN?!?
      No, no...not a pun...What's that thing that spells the same backwards as forwards?
      A palindrome...?
      Yeah, that's it!

    • Since when is a helicopter crash surreal?

      When it's placed in a context where the one expected to succeed fails and the one expected to fail succeeds?

      The summary was very short, why didn't you read it?

  • Too soon (Score:3, Funny)

    by CarpetShark (865376) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @09:32AM (#33626774)

    Damnit, I told Audi not to fit Kitt's microlock device [wikipedia.org] before the car was tested against the Three Laws [wikipedia.org].

    • by numbski (515011)

      So this thing will not only drive as stupidly as every other luxury car I see on the road (cutting people off wantanly in traffic, apparently busted turn signals, staying in lanes that end until the very last moment to cut in front of traffic, etc), but now it will also have Super Pursuit Mode? Who's genius idea was this, anyway?

      • You'll use the road more efficiently if you keep all lanes open until the end, then alternate merge.

        Perhaps more importantly, you'll always get there quicker if you run up to the end and then merge. You'll feel like an asshole if you do it, but you'll feel like a chump if you don't.
  • by Chicken04GTO (957041) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @09:32AM (#33626776)
    Before jumping to conclusions....yeah I know this is the internet...
    Flying @ 14,000' elevation aint easy for a helicopter, and it gets *windy* up there at the top of Pikes Peak. Until the NTSB completes the investigation, any comments about what happened and whose fault it is would be pointless.
    • by CarpetShark (865376) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @09:38AM (#33626800)

      Flying @ 14,000' elevation aint easy for a helicopter

      Irrelevant. The helicopter was given a pep-talk before take-off. Neither the confidence nor this determination of the helicopter were factors in the crash, and its endurance was second to none, as it has a lusty wife.

    • Flying @ 14,000' elevation aint easy for a helicopter, and it gets *windy* up there at the top of Pikes Peak

      It's not like the conditions for the car [youtube.com] were any easier.

    • Why pointless? It could give hours of fun and much feeling of self-importance to loads of /. readers. I think that's reason enough.

  • GPS? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Esospopenon (1838392)
    As mentioned in TFA, they hope to create "autonomous driving systems that will one day be integrated into all vehicles as a safety measure". That being the case, I think they still have a long way to go since they have fitted a $100.000 GPS system for guidance. They also have a driver running the course first so the system can "incorporate human reactions", which probably means "learn when to breake" The real test for this system will be when it can cope with unpredictable situations, like traffic lights an
    • Re:GPS? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MakinBacon (1476701) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @09:39AM (#33626816)
      There's also the problem that any time somebody using their system gets into an accident, they'll probably try to sue the manufacturer.
      • Re:GPS? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by timholman (71886) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @10:01AM (#33626944)

        There's also the problem that any time somebody using their system gets into an accident, they'll probably try to sue the manufacturer.

        As opposed to suing the manufacturer(s) and/or driver(s) like everyone already does for most car accidents?

        The old saw about "We'll never have autonomous cars, because the manufacturers will be sued out of existence after the first crash" is pure nonsense. We already have an enormous amount of computer control in cars, and people are already suing the manufacturers, e.g. Toyota, claiming that those systems malfunctioned after a crash. Toyota is still in business, and the costs of those suits are just folded into the manufacturing costs, as always.

        In the U.S. alone, human drivers account for 40,000 fatalities, millions of injuries, and $250B in costs due to auto accidents every year. It would take a pretty unreliable computer system to even get within an order of magnitude of what we do to each other through inattentive or drunken driving. Maybe Microsoft could manage it, but it would be a reach even for them. :-)

        When the first autonomous cars hit the road around 2020, what everyone is going to see is the exact opposite - accident rates and costs will plummet. When that happens, auto insurance rates will be adjusted accordingly for autonomous vehicles, and soon you'll find that manual driving is not only expensive, but even illegal in many areas.

        Human beings have no business driving. I know this statement bothers a lot of people, but the statistics bear it out. I, for one, will gladly hand over my keys the day I can buy an autonomous vehicle, and never think twice about it. Driving is a chore 99% of the time, and one that I'd be just as happy to turn over to a computerized device as any other chore.

        • It would take a pretty unreliable computer system to even get within an order of magnitude of what we do to each other through inattentive or drunken driving.

          Since when has logic ever stopped people from suing large corporations for things that aren't their fault? If anything, the drop in car crashes will cause them to seem less "normal", and people will be even more trigger-happy with the lawyers.

        • Duh! (Score:3, Funny)

          by Alef (605149)

          [...] and people are already suing the manufacturers, e.g. Toyota, claiming that those systems malfunctioned after a crash.

          Well, obviously the systems are gonna stop working if you crash the car!

        • Insurance costs (Score:4, Interesting)

          by nten (709128) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @12:36PM (#33628098)

          Assuming the autonomous systems actually work most of the time car insurance providers could make a bundle offering discount rates for the feature (only slightly of course, they are evil), and then gradually raising the rates for the lack of the feature. So eventually we won't be able to afford to drive manual vehicles. At least I can read my kindle on the way to work.

        • Re:GPS? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by khallow (566160) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @12:53PM (#33628252)

          Human beings have no business driving. I know this statement bothers a lot of people, but the statistics bear it out. I, for one, will gladly hand over my keys the day I can buy an autonomous vehicle, and never think twice about it. Driving is a chore 99% of the time, and one that I'd be just as happy to turn over to a computerized device as any other chore.

          Human beings have no business being alive either. I think statistics will bear that one out too. Look, I recognize that there are plenty of activities, even plenty of transportation activities that don't require me to be in control. For example, we routinely travel by means that have someone or something else doing the driving (passenger trains, airlines, etc). And these means of travel are usually (at least in the developed world) safer than if I were driving myself. But driving is "do it yourself" mobility. In exchange for a somewhat elevated chance of injury and death, you gain a great deal of freedom.

          Second, driving engages me. It is often fun to drive a car.

          Ultimately, safety is not the key point of driving or for that matter, it isn't always a chore. Else we never would have left the house in the first place. And an autonomous system won't be able to cover all those needs that formerly used a human driver.

          • But most driving is a chore. Why do you think rich people hire drivers? The freedom you get from having a car is totally independent of the responsibility of driving it.

            Do your pleasure driving on courses designed for the purpose,and you'll have the fun of driving without any of the danger to others.
            • by khallow (566160)

              But most driving is a chore.

              That's true especially traffic jam driving. But there's a difference between choosing to have an automated system drive you on occasion and being required to have an automated system drive you.

    • I'm curious about the $100,000 GPS system. They sell GPS add-ons for $70. So what kind of GPS costs $100,000? Military, I suppose.

      Even if they could make the GPS more cheaply, wouldn't this imply that they expect the very accurate military-grade GPS service to be available to consumers in future? Galileo was abandoned, wasn't it?

      Or is this "GPS" actually much more than a GPS -- something more like an aircraft tracking computer?

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        Or is this "GPS" actually much more than a GPS -- something more like an aircraft tracking computer?

        Probably they were using something like that. Something along the lines of an inertial measurement unit (IMU) or similar navigational computer. These things usually combine GPS tracking with a precision gyroscope. They can pretty much fly a plane all by themselves, and the military uses them in land-based vehicles, such as autonomous or semi-autonomous tanks. That they could be used to drive a car is not sur

      • Re:GPS? (Score:5, Informative)

        by mindriot (96208) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @10:36AM (#33627202)

        Your $70 GPS addon is way too inaccurate for the kind of autonomous navigation they're trying to achieve. I mean, your standard SiRFstar III claims 2.5 meters of accuracy 50% of the time (a sigma of 3.7 m). That means you can't even be sure whether you're actually on the road, never mind what lane you're in. And that's only in a clear-sky situation. Once you're in a downtown "Urban Canyon" where you hardly pick up any GPS satellites anymore or get wrong readings due to multipath propagation, good luck. Your standard GPS SatNav simply always assumes you're on the road. That won't do for an autonomous vehicle.

        You'll need something closer to this high-speed INS+GPS [oxts.com], the better models of which can be accurate in the decimeter range (assuming careful calibration). The ones I know about are all in the US$50,000 and above price range.

        • by am 2k (217885)

          I think using some cameras (infrared or visible light) and computer vision algorithms is way more reliable than GPS for determining whether you're still on the road and which lane you're in.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          Right, this was probably an expensive INS (e.g. ring laser gyro) + GPS system. I imagine they would use something like this for a prototype, because they can get precise acceleration information without having to recalibrate after changes to the vehicle. The good news is that it is easy to get acceleration data for cars because they only have one axis of rotation, and they have wheels that are always on the ground. For production cars with this sort of technology, they can probably just use the speedomet
      • by usrusr (654450)

        I'd safely assume that the editors were just using the term "GPS" in the way that it is now commonly used by nontechnical people: as a general short for "technomagical gadget that tells cars'n'stuff where to go". They would probably call it a "GPS" even if it wasn't using satellite navigation at all (which it sure does, as the technoligy is just too useful to ignore)

      • by Mike1024 (184871) *

        I'm curious about the $100,000 GPS system. They sell GPS add-ons for $70. So what kind of GPS costs $100,000? Military, I suppose.

        1. A part of the error on GPS is due to things like radio signals slowing down as they travel through the ionosphere. If you set up a GPS base station at a known location, you can take GPS measurements, work out the errors due to the ionosphere (and similar things), transmit that to the receiver on the car, and subtract the errors there. Within a few kilometres of the base station lots of the errors will be common - so a lot of errors are eliminated. (if you don't want to operate your own base station, ther

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      As mentioned in TFA, they hope to create "autonomous driving systems that will one day be integrated into all vehicles as a safety measure". That being the case, I think they still have a long way to go since they have fitted a $100.000 GPS system for guidance.

      A "long way to go"? That's the understatement of at least the year. Did you catch this quote from TFA? "If we can design a car that can autonomously go up Pikes Peak, we can design a car that can take over when a driver falls asleep," Kirstin Talvala, one of the students working on Shelley, told the AFP. Wow, no you can't. For one thing, you don't have to deal with other cars when you're making an exhibition run up Pikes. That was a stunningly stupid thing to say, Kirstin.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by mindriot (96208)

        Wow, no you can't. For one thing, you don't have to deal with other cars when you're making an exhibition run up Pikes.

        That depends on what you mean by "taking over". If someone falls asleep or has a heart attack while driving, "taking over" can just mean bringing the vehicle to a controlled stop in a safe location and turning on the hazards. In that particular situation, there also won't be much room for suing anyone if something goes wrong -- because had the vehicle not done anything, the situation w

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          Also, while you may not have to deal with oncoming traffic running up Pikes, you have to have a damn robust and fast perception system that is able to react to its environment quickly and safely ("oh, pothole on the right, better avoid that")

          Potholes don't move. Dealing with moving obstacles is literally orders of magnitude more difficult than dodging potholes.

        • by nedlohs (1335013)

          That depends on what you mean by "taking over". If someone falls asleep or has a heart attack while driving, "taking over" can just mean bringing the vehicle to a controlled stop in a safe location and turning on the hazards. In that particular situation, there also won't be much room for suing anyone if something goes wrong -- because had the vehicle not done anything, the situation would've ended gravely anyway.

          I don't think you have a very good grasp on the workings of the "sue them all" legal system.

      • by mpeskett (1221084)

        Did you catch this quote from TFA? "If we can design a car that can autonomously go up Pikes Peak, we can design a car that can take over when a driver falls asleep," Kirstin Talvala, one of the students working on Shelley, told the AFP. Wow, no you can't. For one thing, you don't have to deal with other cars when you're making an exhibition run up Pikes. That was a stunningly stupid thing to say, Kirstin.

        Well, it's a necessary first step. A student working on a cool project like that, you can forgive a little optimism. Once you've got the thing driving along an empty road on it's own, it's not so very hard to imagine it negotiating traffic too.

  • Surreal (Score:2, Informative)

    It's a surreal story

    No, it's just a clever PR stunt by machines from the future.

  • I believe this to have been a joint false-flag operation conducted by Intel, the NSA and VW/Audi, to convince us that we should relinquish control of our Quattros to the machines. I knew there was something suspicious going on when they replaced the five-cylinder with a V6, but no one would listen...
  • Condolences (Score:4, Insightful)

    by gavron (1300111) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @10:35AM (#33627194)

    As a fellow helicopter pilot, I'm happy the pilot and three film-crew members survived.

    My condolences to the family and friends of a brand-new (to Air-Cam) Bell 212HP Helicopter.

    The world is now smaller by one less helicopter :(

    E

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by gavron (1300111)

      Correction... while the color scheme looks like their new Bell 212HP... it appears that this is actually an Aerospatiale Astar 355 ("Twinstar") dual turboshaft operated AS350 series aircraft.

      E

  • Hopefully everyone survives their injuries. It's treacherous flying up in the mountains; we have small planes crash regularly up there.
  • too bad for the crew (Score:2, Interesting)

    by quitte (1098453)

    but still I want to see the existing footage now. The teaser clip is pretty cool. Apparently this is not about getting up Pike's Peak but getting up fast. If there are ethical issues showing the helicopter footage at least show the footage from the cars onboard camera that surely exists.
    This is so much more exciting than the stupid soccer bots with their Robocup.

  • by Provocateur (133110) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @11:24AM (#33627572) Homepage

    ...is that the car called to report the accident.

  • Ironically... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by shrtcircuit (936357) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @11:32AM (#33627626)
    We were up on Pikes Peak last weekend staffing a charity hike event when the autonomous car itself also crashed, running off the road somewhere. The wrecker they sent up to fetch it also broke down blocking the road, so they had it shut down for a while getting yet another wrecker up the mountain to help relocate the first one, and get the car out of there.

    That thing has some sort of bad omen surrounding it. Everything mechanical around it, including itself, seems to break or crash! I'm amazed nobody has been killed yet, especially with the helo going down on the side of the mountain (that usually ends very badly, so my props go to the pilot for keeping everyone alive).
  • Physics is a bitch (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    The elevation at the crash site: 13,800ft

    Service ceiling of the helicopter 11,150ft

    The data is taken from Eurocopter AS355F2, the crashed one was a AS355F1.

    • by wjsteele (255130) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @12:29PM (#33628028)
      Wrong. Simply put, the elevation of the location and the service ceiling of the helicopter itself have nothing to do with each other.

      The actual "Service Ceiling" of any aircraft is dependent on the local "Density Altitude" and not the physical elevation of the ground. Depending on the temperature, humidity and other factors, the density altitude of a particular location can be several thousand feet under or above the actual local elevation. The pilot would take that information into account to determine how high they can safely fly the aircraft.

      Bill
      • by tweak13 (1171627) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @03:57PM (#33629534)
        Well, since we have historical weather data for the area available, it isn't hard to guess what the density altitude would be. Looking at weather reports for the 17th from stations in the area, temperature rose pretty quickly once the sun was up. The article says early morning, but without a more exact time the quick temperature swing makes it harder to pin down.

        At any point after 8am, the temperature profile looks to be quite a bit above standard atmosphere, meaning density altitudes were higher than pressure altitudes. Barring some unusual atmospheric conditions the density altitude at around 10,000 feet was probably closer to 12,000-14,000 depending on how high the temperature got at the time of the accident. The pilot underestimating the quickly rising temperature may have even been a factor.

        If 11,000 feet is in fact the correct value for the service ceiling of the aircraft, I would say this situation was caused by the decision to fly a heavily loaded aircraft outside of its performance envelope.
  • Will each individual autonomous car be required to take a driver's test, or will the FCC or DMV or whoever grant USA driving status to autonomous systems as part of their approval process?

    And after 21 years, will the car then be eligible to drink and vote (18 years to vote) and borrow money?

  • by srussia (884021)
    or it didn't happen.
  • by Animats (122034) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @01:17PM (#33628416) Homepage

    The helicopter crew is out of hospital. [jalopnik.com] All four of them.

  • I climb peaks as high as Pikes Peak frequently. You can walk around a corner and it can be 60 mph. The winds change by the hour as sun and shadow changes the temps. Lower flying in the mountatins is not for the inexperienced. And it kills many experienced as well.

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