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Transportation Software Hardware Technology

Uber Expands Driverless-Car Push With Deal For 24,000 Volvos (bloomberg.com) 176

Uber agreed to buy 24,000 sport utility vehicles from Volvo to form a fleet of driverless autos. According to Bloomberg, "The XC90s, priced from $46,900 at U.S. dealers, will be delivered from 2019 to 2021 in the first commercial purchase by a ride-hailing provider." Uber will add its own sensors and software to permit pilot-less driving. From the report: Uber's order steps up efforts to replace human drivers, the biggest cost in its on-demand taxi service. The autonomous fleet is small compared with the more than 2 million people who drive for Uber but reflects dedication to the company's strategy of developing self-driving cars. "This new agreement puts us on a path toward mass-produced, self-driving vehicles at scale," Jeff Miller, Uber's head of auto alliances, told Bloomberg News. "The more people working on the problem, we'll get there faster and with better, safer, more reliable systems."
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Uber Expands Driverless-Car Push With Deal For 24,000 Volvos

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  • 2021? Maybe. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by b0s0z0ku ( 752509 )

    I don't see self-driving cars without a "check driver" being legal in any (US) city where rideshare is popular by 2019 (in a year and 2 months). Still a lot of unanswered questions:
    (1) How to get them to deal with snow
    (2) Cyclists/pedestrians -- none of which behave like normal vehicles obeying traffic laws exactly.
    (3) Construction areas

    They also currently require very detailed mapping to work -- any truly autonomous vehicle should be able to take info from GPS, a general map of the street network, visu

    • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      by b0s0z0ku ( 752509 )

      Not to mention whom to hit in a pinch. The child crossing the street, the ambulance, a lamp post, or the school bus?

      The obstacles are legal as well as engineering -- the above is a valid question. Humans can be assigned responsibility as the courts see fit. Autonomous cars will need specific rules of some type.

      Also, why Volvo XC-90s? Seems a waste to have a 300 hp guzzle-wagon in an application that will primarily require it to obey traffic laws in a city religiously. Better off with Priuses or even st

      • by guruevi ( 827432 )

        In the first case, you brake, how many times have you had to make that decision in traffic and what would you do? In the few cases I've been in life-threatening situations in car, I try to brake first and then aim for the lightest/smallest object or anywhere that has more open space - you don't really get to think about the repercussions of a moral decision when your car is doing 360's on a frozen highway.

        Most likely because Volvo is the only manufacturer that seems to actually working on useful sensors in

        • Whatever happens, happens, and the courts ascribe liability -- to the driver. The little guy, generally with shallow pockets.

          The equation changes when large companies with deep pockets need to make that decision ahead of time, and they (or their insurers) take over liability.

          • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

            What ever happens, Uber go BOOM. Smells like running up cash flows and propaganda whilst planning to financially bail out. "We don't knwo what happened and all of a sudden it went bankrupt, yep, uh huh".

          • Almost every time I have had a dispute with a customer, Uber and Lyft have both ruled in my favor.

            Of course I have a dash cam in my car so that probably helps.
        • In the first case, you brake ...

          ... and the SDC will apply the brakes 1500ms sooner, which will make a huge difference: 130 feet at 60 mph. In these sort of "panic" situations, the SDC will almost always outperform a human. Reaction time is more important than contemplative analysis.

          • by jeremyp ( 130771 )

            If your reaction time is more than 1,500 milliseconds, please never get behind the wheel of a car.

            • by guruevi ( 827432 )

              What is your reaction time? The average human eye-brain is ~100-200ms up to 500ms in low-contrast conditions (like night driving) and then it's another 80-200ms to actually respond with a large muscle movement and then there is the time delay to actually have your leg move down the shaft.

              Driver reaction times average ~2.3s in controlled environments although this could potentially be less in adrenaline-pumped situations.

      • Quick, count the last times you have ever run into a child crossing the street while an ambulance was bearing down on you with a school bus?

        Whom to hit in a pinch? A celebrity, an asteroid, a school bus full of nuns or a tumble weed in downtown NYC?

        • No, but I've been in the following situation.
          (1) hit the deer, possibly damaging my car and ending up with a buck through the windshield
          (2) cross the center line on a hill with poor visibility.

          • So what did you do?

            Because as a human you're slow, you think you only had those 2 options.

            Hard brake and swerve to the right onto the shoulder and only take out a front quarter panel.

            Hard brake and avoid the hit completely since it didn't waste an extra half a second to decide. Brake 3 wheels and accelerate one and have the car whip around the buck. Feather brake & accelerator to time no collision.

            • No shoulder on that road. Would crossing the centerline (putting other traffic/cyclists/pedestrians at risk) be acceptable if you were an autonomous car?
              • I can't speak for deer, but the official line for kangaroos is: Hit the thing. You're far less likely to be killed.... Don't swerve. Ever.
                • The line is elk/horse/cow (depending on how high your vehicle is), elk and larger are likely to bounce once on the hood and then go through the windshield, smegging the occupants hard.

                  You still don't cross into traffic, but any daylight is an escape route, even if it puts you in the woods.

                  Big deer can total the car, but you can get another.

              • 1. What did you chose to do?
                2. Why would an autonomous car make a worse decision than a human?
                3. It's a strawman because you made the decision based on very limited data and sample rate. It's a scenario that the car would have avoided completely. The car would have seen the deer on FLIR or LIDAR. The car would have had more reaction time to stop completely.

                • It wouldn't make a worse decision than a human. But the "driver" will have deeper pockets and more to lose, so there will need to be a legal structure as to what to do in such a case (and others).
                  • >>It wouldn't make a worse decision than a human. But the "driver" will have deeper pockets and more to lose, so there will need to be a legal structure as to what to do in such a case (and others). THat's what insurance is for (even for large companies like that... Although they might self insure) Also, road injuries and fatalities are expected to plummet... Which should make insurance far more affordable.
        • This is a stupid argument. We're not talking about one driver, we're talking about possibly the same self-driving program in millions of cars. You ask millions of drivers if anyone has been in this position and you're going to get at least one. That's really all that matters.
      • Not to mention whom to hit in a pinch. The child crossing the street, the ambulance, a lamp post, or the school bus?

        How about you hit no one. The areas they've deployed to already limit their speed at 25 MPH. If something goes wrong at 25 MPH, you stop. That's not rocket science.

        Plus, you speak like it knows the difference between a child, a raccoon, or a lamp post. Computer vision (disconnected from the cloud) is nowhere near that advanced yet. For a car to drive itself, it needs to know where the road is and if there is an obstacle. That's basically it

        What you're speaking about may come into play 10 or 20 years from no

        • Is a paper bag in the road an obstacle?

          What about one with half a cinder block hidden in it? (Kids are assholes)

          On the surface analysis, clutter that moves, leaves and such? Drive over it or grind to a halt in fall. Same for blowing snow.

          Kids moving toy? OK build an AI that identifies kids toys in an image. Humans will infer the kid chasing the toy. Think about doing that with AI.

          • Or a ball.

            Another example -- will A.I. know to increase following distance (dramatically) if something is about to fall off the vehicle ahead of it? Or if the vehicle ahead is a truck whose tire is starting to smoke and is about to throw chunks.

      • The technology is such these days that all the examples you site would be probably better detected by computers than they would by human beings. Driving a car safely is actually a very deterministic process, it a simple process of data collection and applying very simple rules e.g... While approach child on side of road, decrease speed by 10% ...

        How many times have you seen some idiot in a car get in the way of an ambulance or driving through an intersection and nearly colliding with an ambulance? Well the

        • Creeper, _crawling_ past the group of 200 kids on the playground (0.9^200=7E-10). Going to get arrested, weirdo.

      • Actually, your second question answers the first one :

        Not to mention whom to hit in a pinch. The child crossing the street, the ambulance, a lamp post, or the school bus?
        Also, why Volvo XC-90s? {...} Better off with Priuses or even straight electric cars.

        That's why the Volvo (as opposed to one of the current popular electric car brands).
        The current fleet of Volvos actually on the streets (which are already street-legal, in production, and driving around your city) have among the best forward collision avoidance systems (FCAS) currently on the market, and have been for quite a few years.

        In case of child/ambulance/lamp/post/school bus, FCAS will slam the break in time and try to stop before hitting the obs

      • Probably because Volvo will accept liability for self-driving cars. https://www.forbes.com/sites/j... [forbes.com]
    • They also currently require very detailed mapping to work -- any truly autonomous vehicle should be able to take info from GPS, a general map of the street network, visual/IR/mmWave sensors, and street markings/signs in order to operate safely. Details of roads change too frequently (by the hour, sometimes) to be reliable.

      This is one of the problems of GPS maps. None of them can take construction work and the chance of a possible road-closure and/or detour into consideration, much less deal with the fact that there may be no right/left turn in some intersections at different times of the day.

      All this information needs to be updated constantly.

      • by guruevi ( 827432 )

        My GPS system does get live traffic updates including road closures and detours. There's this thing called cell phone modems, they allow you to exchange data on mobile devices.

        • No -- it gets updates as they're updated, not as they happen.

          Also, how detailed will the info the cars hold be? Example -- I grew up in a town that flooded. One underpass had a dip in the road that could hold 3 to 4 feet of water, more than enough to stop a car and possibly harm the occupants.

          Would an autonomous car stop at any amount of water detected on a road? (Not necessarily correct.) Would it try to drive through? (Not correct either.) Will it know the depth of the bridge and the flooding behavi

          • >>No -- it gets updates as they're updated, not as they happen.>Also, how detailed will the info the cars hold be? Example -- I grew up in a town that flooded. One underpass had a dip in the road that could hold 3 to 4 feet of water, more than enough to stop a car and possibly harm the occupants.>Would an autonomous car stop at any amount of water detected on a road? (Not necessarily correct.) Would it try to drive through? (Not correct either.) Will it know the depth of the bridge and the flood
          • Driving in anything but perfect conditions isn't simple.

            Running a steam engine in anything but perfect conditions isn't simple: 1600s.

            Running an internal combustion engine in anything but perfect conditions isn't simple: Late 1800s.

            Flying an airplane in anything but perfect conditions isn't simple: Early 1900s.

            Driving a horseless carriage in anything but perfect conditions isn't simple: Early 1900s.

            Communicating over wireless in anything but perfect conditions isn't simple: Early 1900s.

            Running a computer in anything but perfect conditions isn't simple: Mid 1900s

            • Predictions generally outpace reality, though.

              In the 60s, we were supposed to be living on the Moon and going to Mars by the 1990s. Self-guiding (maybe flying!) cars were 10 years away in 1965. In the 70s, anyone would be able to buy a ticket on a supersonic jet by 1985. We were supposed to get our (snail) mail by missile...

              • You're right. We have reached the pinnacle of human technological achievement. Pack it up. New stuff takes too long.

                But I repeat myself: I wonder where we would be technology wise if everyone listened to your type.

            • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

              by stabiesoft ( 733417 )

              In 1972 the Lockheed L10-11 flew from Dallas to Palmdale (including takeoff and landing) with no pilot. I still don't see an airline without pilots. If anything I'd think trains would run without a pilot and yet they have them too, and they run on fixed tracks. I think self-drive cars may be further out than anyone expects.

              • Compare the relative value of a pilot's salary with the contents of a plane and a taxi driver's salary with the contents of his taxi.
                • Umm, except everyone is telling me autonomous cars are safer than people. Wouldn't the same be true for airlines and with that assumption, the airlines would be more likely to go with autonomous since the cargo is more valuable.

              • by jeremyp ( 130771 )

                If something goes wrong in an automated car e.g. sensor failure, the software has the option to pull over and stop, or, in extreme circumstances, just stop. Not an option on an aeroplane.

        • You should know that if you take a different route than Google Maps suggests you don't get paid for that extra time/mileage.

          Uber uses Google Maps' API to estimate how long you should spend driving for a dropoff and pays you based on that.

          In fact if you go off route a lot they will eventually suspend your account.
      • And computers are already doing exactly this. Such information is already available in google maps with real time data collection they know where the congestion is and the traffic hazards are.

    • (1) How to get them to deal with snow

      Why does every self-driving car denier tout this out as "IT'LL NEVER HAPPEN" evidence?

      Humans can drive on snow with 2 EM sensors that are limited to the 'visible spectrum' and an IMU that gets messed up rather easily? Especially when on snow?

      With the range of sensors and their sampling rate I expect them to be much, much better on snow.

      • Yeah.... Lots of places don't get snow. I'm a Queenslander (Australia) I didn't see snow until I was 20. I've also lived in England..... Humans are pretty bad at dealing with snow as well. I mean, they're just terrible.
        • Humans are extremely good in dealing with snow -- think about it: A slow CPU with four main sensors is currently doing better at a task than many faster CPUs with a dozen or more sensors.
          • Humans, as a whole, are terrible on snow. Their knowledge isn't collectively cumulative. Every year you have to train a new fleet of drivers at 16. What is the rate of

            On the other hand autonomous mini rally cars [ieee.org] have taught themselves to power slide. With a software update every vehicle going forward could all know how to do that.

            Generally, this is a very computationally intensive approach, but AutoRally can calculate an optimized trajectory from the weighted average of 2,560 different trajectory possibilities, all simulated in parallel on to the monster onboard GPU. Each of these trajectories represents the oncoming 2.5 seconds of vehicle motion, and AutoRally recomputes this entire optimization process 60 times every second.

            That's better than any human can currently do and will only continue to get better.

          • The number of traffic jams and accidents I saw makes me treat that statement with extreme suspicion. Also: Lots of places don't have snow. Huge amounts of them. Even those that do only have snow at particular times of the year (Y'know... Winter) - The exceptions obviously being the arctic and antarctic. Neither of which are known for their heavy traffic. Key word there is also "Currently" - This has a historical tendency to change.
      • Er, it's not just the hardware. Its *never* just the hardware. It's the intelligence in the software that makes or breaks a system. The software isn't there yet.

        Will a driverless car take instructions from a cop in the middle of the road, directing traffic in an emergency?

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Google's vehicles can already deal with cyclists, pedestrians and construction areas. In fact they do it better than most humans.

      They are now starting to test in poor weather, including snow. They actually have some advantages over human drivers in snow, for example because lidar can see the wrinkle where the curb is buried better than human eyes.

  • I think it's great that Uber is investing all this money into creating an autonomous driving fleet but I don't see how this will make money for the company in the long (not to mention the short) term. Along with the $1B+ for the Volvos at list price I think it would be fair to add at least another $1B for sensors and software.

    So how does this make sense for a company that $6.6B as of June (https://venturebeat.com/2017/08/23/uber-is-still-burning-cash-at-a-rate-of-2-billion-a-year/) and is burning cash at a

    • I suspect this isn't being paid for right now -- more of an option to buy at a specific price/quantity over time.

      This being said, when the economy goes sour (not if, but when -- we're overdue for a recession), a lot of tech firms will burn through their cash, crash, and burn.

    • Uber's market cap is about 50 billion. A 2% move is a cool billion.

      That said: If they aren't completely autonomous and require an 'emergency human', they will move the stock a lot more than 2%, but not in the direction they want.

      If I was Uber, I'd try and get Volvo to accept stock for the mall utility vehicles, or carry the note in Volvo financial (don't know if it exists).

    • If your exit strategy is an IPO, then that strategy makes perfect sense.

      The grander the promise, the more money you'll need for your IPO.

    • 1 billion dollars will look like very cheap compared to the value of the market they'll have when the only way for an average joe to get from A to B is via Uber .

  • Jokes about Volvo drivers

    • Staid, conservative types. :)

      If only Volvos were still dirt-simple, solidly reliable, and child's play to fix, as well as capable of running to 300,000 miles.

      Any Volvo made after the mid-2000s is just an iDevice with wheels and an engine. Ugh.

    • by quenda ( 644621 )

      Good choice! There is no other vehicle that would benefit more from autonomous driving than the Volvo.

      • by Plammox ( 717738 )
        I'm pretty sure you mean BMWs, here. All the driving-skill Dunning-Krugers seem to flock around them....
  • by Darkling-MHCN ( 222524 ) on Monday November 20, 2017 @10:07PM (#55592331)

    Seriously reading through the majority of the comments that list inane things like "what about children crossing the road?", "what about cats and dogs?", "what if there's an ambulance?", "what if the road is blocked and there's construction work, how does GPS work then?"

    I mean seriously do you guys have no understanding of information systems?

    To those of you think driverless cars are too hard, and they can't possibly work, just watch, the only issues driverless cars will have will be trust, in the same way people trusted a horse and cart over a car 100 years ago.... The technology is already all here and those who understand it know that driverless cars will be safer and result in less congestion than roads filled with cars driven by people.

    Welcome to the 21st century.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The technology is all here already, really? Where's any video of a driverless car in bad weather? In a city? On a road torn up by construction? On a road with dual line markings per lane because it's been shifted due to construction? At an intersection with 50 other driverless cars? At an intersection with a damaged light? The arguments about kids, animals, and hitting one thing to avoid another are bullshit but the other arguments aren't. You're putting blind trust into corporations, corporations t

      • Yep. More sprawl, more energy use! On the plus side, older cities might become affordable again for those who want to live closer to other humans.
    • Its not like they have the best track record:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com] - it was the kind of driving error humans rarely make (at least not this human).

      Another one of a google car hitting a bus in motion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com] - again not a common accident if you simply checked your mirrors before changing lanes (busses are not hard to see) - not to mention at least where I live - it was a moving violation too - you can't turn left from a right turn only lane at an intersection.

      https://ww [youtube.com]

    • I mean seriously do you guys have no understanding of information systems?

      Welcome to Slashdot 2017. Assume ignorance and be pleasantly surprised when someone has a clue. Then be disappointed again when the immediate next comment blames it on some partisan policy while the next guy tries to get you to block everything via a hosts file.

    • by houghi ( 78078 )

      To be fair, the people that trusted horses and distrusted cars where not all wrong. Getting home drunk on a horse is no issue. Doing that in a car is a disaster waiting for a disaster.
      It would also interesting to see a comparison between death per mile between horse and car.

      And I am not even talking about the output. Sure, that from the horse smells worse, but I think it might be healthier than what comes out of a car.

    • by mjwx ( 966435 ) on Tuesday November 21, 2017 @08:24AM (#55594011)

      Seriously reading through the majority of the comments that list inane things like "what about children crossing the road?", "what about cats and dogs?", "what if there's an ambulance?", "what if the road is blocked and there's construction work, how does GPS work then?"

      These are not inane things. They are real issues that we already have to deal with and wont be going anywhere in 2 years.

      It continually astounds me that people think that these cars will automagically fix themselves in 2 years and be perfect and safe and give you all sunshine and fucking unicorns.

      And the best excuse that they can come up with is:

      I mean seriously do you guys have no understanding of information systems?

      With zero context... Information Systems covers a lot of technologies.

      I do have some knowledge of the technologies involved as I've worked in remote sensing for a number of years. RADAR and LIDAR are great technologies that fall victim to a few common problems, namely bad weather. LIDAR is terrible when it rains or snows because rain and snow have a high refractive index, LIDAR being based on light, tends to have issues with that. RADAR cant tell the difference between a leaf and a bollard. The state of the art systems installed into high end Mercs and BMW's are easily fooled by an overhanging branch.

      The problem you've got is sensory processing. It takes real processing power to take all these disparate sensing method (Image, IR, LIDAR/RADAR) and produce a clear picture of what is going on. Right now, to read features on a face against a grey background takes minutes with high speed computers, thats looking at something with a clear picture and a very narrow set of parameters. The thing Autonomous cars need to do to be at level 4 (we're currently at level 2) is to be able to make split second decisions on incomplete data. The car hasn't got time to process, cross-check and verify data. Thats why the classic dog/child running out on the road is used as an example, its something that is unpredictable but also needs to be fully expected to happen in real life.

      Computers, AI in particular is very good at handling great volumes of predictable data, a car with it's steeringwheel attendant glued to its phone is going to need to deal with unpredictable data. So by the time AI is advanced enough to let dopey Doris have an autonomus car, a great many other changes will have occurred first. The autonomous car is a long way off, in fact it may end up being this generations "flying car", however AI is far more likely to take over jobs that are based solely in applying rules to data, like legal and accounting services long before then. In fact we're going to see robot doctors long before robot cars.

      Now finally, there's a reason that these cars haven't been tested here in sunny Berkshire (that's in England), its because it rains for half the year, roads are narrow and overhanging branches are common. For your average Skinny Latte sipping California hipster marveling at how close autonomous cars are... this environment is unimaginable, they would describe it as hostile to life and wonder how anyone survives in such a cold and rainy environment (and for those Cali hipsters, this is sarcasm, Berkshire is tame to anything north of the Tyne... and we are nae even in Scotland yet).

      To those of you think driverless cars are too hard, and they can't possibly work, just watch,

      I will, I'll watch you become more and more disappointed that your fabled self-driving car remains "just a few years away".

      Now Volvo, they're some smart cookies, I'm sure they've gotten a contract where they don't actually have to deliver a level 5 car... or even a level 4 one and would even have crunched the numbers on Uber not even existing by then (so why not grab a slice of that sweet, sweet VC cash before the VC's realise they've been had).

    • the only issues driverless cars will have will be trust

      I agree - and an Uber self-driving car is probably the one I'd trust the least of the handful of household names currently working on them.

  • so many problems (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ixidor ( 996844 ) on Tuesday November 21, 2017 @04:07AM (#55593397) Homepage
    oh man so many problems with this. i drove uber "part time" 20-40 hours a week for 3 years, and with over 2500 rides, i have seen some shit. Like the drunk guy who got in, did not put in a home address, mumbled something that sounded like the name of a neighborhood, and passed out. when i got to what i thought was his neighborhood, woke him up for directions, how is an AI car going to do that. Had 3 people vomit in back seat, how do you monitor that? several times a group would get in, argue over where to go for dinner, and wound our way to what seemed like 3rd or 4th possible destination. or the times the passenger is 50-100 ft down the wrong way on a 1 way street, trying to get them to walk to the car could be comical, when they have absolutely no idea where they are or sense of direction. Will this new system have something to guide the cars on where to go when have downtime, to try to be in best spot for a pickup, or will system strive for a coverage map. or just knowing the city, and which way is best, even when gps says go another way. so much human element trying to get people places when they have no idea where to go. will need at a minimum live voice chat to a human to help running 24/7.
  • So, how many of you still think that Uber is about providing good opportunities for people to earn extra money driving for Uber?

    Uber is about making as much money as possible for a few people (the executives and the other shareholders) and nothing else.

    All those people who have given up some other line of paid work to drive for Uber are going to be doomed.

    Think about that before taking out that multi-year car lease that you'll pay for by driving for Uber.

  • They're guessing their tactic of "it's easier to get forgiveness than permission" extends to dumping self-driving cars on the road and hoping no-one has the gumption to tell them to do one. I'd say it's a Hail Mary but it's all they've got at this stage.
  • by Rhipf ( 525263 ) on Tuesday November 21, 2017 @12:15PM (#55595919)

    a ride share program/app/company? It hasn't been about ride sharing in ages.

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