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Helicopter Crashes While Filming Autonomous Audi 218

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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  • Surreal? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Karganeth ( 1017580 ) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @09:30AM (#33626764)
    Since when is a helicopter crash surreal?
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Uber-silly (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Ancient_Hacker ( 751168 ) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @09:45AM (#33626850)

    The concept of autonomous autos is just plain silly. There is no way they would ever be approved for use on public roads. Several times a day you make some complex judgement while driving, a judgement that will always be beyond the ability of a computer. Just yesterday: (1) Oh crap, that old lady in the '78 Buick, better give her a wide berth, her eyesight is none too good. (2) A clapped-out minivan full of small kids unloading -- better slow down, they're likely to jump out without looking. (3) In heavy freeway traffic-- what's that ahead, a child crawling across the road?, Nope, looks like one, but it's just a wino's paper bag that slipped off his bottle of wine. No need to slam on the brakes. (4) Whoa, what's that? Oh, of course, nothing to worry about, it's just the shadows of planes landing at the airport a mile ahead.

    I don't think your ambulatory computers will ever be clever enough to figure out those situations.

  • Re:Uber-silly (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CarpetShark ( 865376 ) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @09:48AM (#33626864)

    There is no way they would ever be approved for use on public roads.

    Oh, they will, but the roads might need a few upgrades. As soon as it can be proven that a car can drive better than a person when the person is trying their best to drive safely, cars will be favoured, since we know people sometimes deliberately drive wrecklessly.

    Unfortunately one of the upgrades will probably mean no unpredictable human drivers allowed on the same roads.

  • Re:Uber-silly (Score:2, Insightful)

    by thegreatemu ( 1457577 ) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @09:54AM (#33626902)

    And this is "unfortunate" why, exactly?

  • 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.

  • Re:Uber-silly (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Copley ( 726927 ) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @10:05AM (#33626968)

    I think you're over-estimating the attention that many people pay to what's going on. For some drivers, your above list would be more like (1) Oh crap, I can't find the track I want on my iPod. (2) Just got to text my BF. (3) How does my hair look in the mirror? (4) Whoops, almost hit that cyclist when I pulled out without looking - better wind down my window and call him a dick.

    I think the research into these autonomous systems will never lead to entirely self-driving cars, but instead will lead to driver-assist type systems where dangers ahead (e.g. approaching a corner too fast) that aren't being heeded by the driver, will cause the car to react instead.

  • 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 :(


  • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Sunday September 19, 2010 @10:51AM (#33627336) Homepage Journal

    I'm not big on the whole "pilot error" thing. Too often it just amounts to blaming somebody for the inevitable.

    You have a choice on whether you will put yourself in that situation. That makes it not inevitable by definition.

  • by ultranova ( 717540 ) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @11:12AM (#33627496)

    You have a choice on whether you will put yourself in that situation. That makes it not inevitable by definition.

    Oh, sure: you can choose to take the risk and do it, or refuse to do it, get fired and be unable to find a new job because you got a reputation for not doing risky jobs. Given the permanent high unemployment caused by modern technology making more and more jobs redundant, you've better be prepared to live in abject poverty the rest of your life.

    Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

  • by magarity ( 164372 ) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @11:38AM (#33627668)

    I thought it was unpredictable winds around a mountain
    While the problem is related to air, it is not the movement of air but rather the lack of it. Pike's Peak tops out over 14,000 feet and the thin air makes a helicopter's responses much slower than at lower levels. If the pilot is having to track the moving car on the ground then his attention was divided, making the situation even more dangerous, so it's easy to understand how a crash could occur.

  • The opposite (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 19, 2010 @12:57PM (#33628274)

    Actually, it's the opposite. Thicker air dampens control responses, thin air amplifies them. It's a bit like walking in water versus walking in air. The surrounding medium helps cushion the movement. In thinner air, a helicopter slices more in banking and cyclic control feels looser. In any case, thin air is not the norm for most pilots and takes extra fine control.

    There are also specific maneuvers related to flying NOE (nap of the earth) on varying terrain that could have caused the crash. A rapid ascent/descent at a low advance ratio could have induced a vortex ring state, a pushover might have produced an unexpectedly high rate of descent that the pilot couldn't handle. These accidents aren't simple, and there's much we don't know.

    I am a rotorcraft engineer (and if this turns out to be one of my company's helicopters, I'll probably be working on this incident...).

  • Re:GPS? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @03:16PM (#33629244)

    Provided all other cars were robotical, how could this happen?

    The leprechauns riding bicycles and fairies riding unicorns would still get in the way.

    Seriously, getting 'all the other cars robotical' is a fairy tale.

    1) The roads are literally full of cars 2 - 10 years old, with cars up to 100 years old still rolling around. There is absolutely no way you can mandate a 'switch-over' date from human to robotic... any plan would -have- to be gradual which would give you at least a decade or more of robotic cars alongside human drivers.

    2) There would be serious resistance to giving up human control in our car centric culture. (at least in North America) Political resistance would be immense. We have a society that still loves to drive, that values classic cars. There isn't enough political capital in the world to push something like that through.

    3) The comment about unicorns and leprachauns was more than just sarcastic... pedestrians and cyclists aren't going away.

    Provided all other cars were robotical, how could this happen? A traffic jam creates when vehicles reaching a point are faster than vehicles at that point. Provided our car is respecting security distance from a car that was at top legal speed, it would go at top legal speed as well as those after it. No traffic jam is possible. And with regards to speed change and wave effect since robots would have faster and finer-grained reactions, those would be minimized too.

    Traffic jams still occur even in idealized situations. Just look at the internet for an example of how congestion and wave effects can still easily accumulate and propogate despite being completely computer controlled. And the internet has the luxury of being able to drop packets to cope... something that isn't going to work out on the highway system.

    1) bicyclists and pedestrians are an actual concern

Doubt isn't the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith. - Paul Tillich, German theologian and historian