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There’s a spicy feature in the FT ($) today diving into the autonomous/self-driving vehicle arena.
- The piece highlights the quiet progression of advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS).
- These are showing signs that the path to a Robotaxi isn’t in one giant moonshot leap, in the way Waymo-Alphabet, Amazon, Microsoft, and possibly Apple, have been backing.
- Instead, it’s the ADAS players that might be winning by adding smaller breakthroughs for smaller elements at a time.
- Experts from companies in the field all chime in, though it’s worth noting they’re the ones who would be most enthusiastic about their own hopes.
ADAS right now:
- In a new car today, depending on make, model, and if you’re willing to pay for all the extras, you might well get a number of useful ADAS features: GM has Super Cruise, which offers hands-free driving on certain roads, more or less like very, very good cruise control. (It’s also $6,150 as part of a bundle of features when buying a new car.)
- Less exciting examples are things like adaptive headlights, blind-spot monitors self-parking, speed adaption, and so on.
- Per The Information, 25% of new cars have automatic emergency braking to prevent rear-end and other collisions, another amazing feature.
- What’s changed is that ADAS has been able to use huge realms of collected data via lidar and radar sensors to do things that previously weren’t thought possible.
- The argument is that if you string together enough of these systems, you start moving upwards in the six levels of vehicle autonomy, as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers.
- Tesla’s AutoPilot System is a Level 2 system. Level 3 systems allow drivers to take their eyes off the road, and liability is implied for the car manufacturer, not the driver. At Level 4, in most circumstances, the system drives itself and requires no input from passengers. Level 5 is full and complete automation.
- The problem that the FT article discusses is in the jump from Level 2, where assistance and partial automation takes place — and profitably, for those involved — to Level 4, where billions and billions have been invested.
- From the article: “Chris Urmson, Aurora chief executive, put it eloquently in 2015 when he was Google’s leading driverless engineer: ‘Conventional wisdom would say that we’ll just take these driver assistance systems and we’ll kind of push them and … over time, they’ll turn into self-driving cars,’ he said. ‘Well, that’s like me saying that if I work really hard at jumping, one day I’ll be able to fly.’”
- That logic made sense, until it didn’t. Karl Iagnemma, chief executive of Motional, the autonomous driving unit of Hyundai and Aptiv, is quoted as saying: “In 2015 I would have agreed with Chris [Urmson] … Every intelligent observer in the industry believed that was the right path forward. But what that failed to anticipate was the increase in performance, in part enabled by deep learning and other advances, that would allow us to do things with radars and cameras that I would not have thought possible in 2015.”
- And what matters is that ADAS keeps growing, because it never needs to do everything at once.
- “…if ADAS players get stuck at highway-only autonomy, they are not in crisis. But if Waymo, Cruise, Zoox, and Aurora delay their rollout, they don’t have a product.”
- As for Waymo pointing to its operation in Phoenix being proof of its Level 4 working just-fine-thank-you-very-much, the non-rollout to other cities seems to indicate that it’s very, very expensive to do, and societal acceptance isn’t there for driverless crashes.
- “It will take another 10 to 20 years until [Waymo] go from the suburbs of Phoenix to something that runs across the country,” says Jan Becker, chief executive of Apex.AI, an automotive software group.
Bottom line: The future is always surprising, and quotes from company reps are always going to be a very narrow point of view into that future.
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🍎 Twitter for iOS begins testing dislike button for some users. It’s not a public dislike, it’s data gathering for Twitter to find out which replies are valuable (and which aren’t) (9to5Mac).
🚀 Despite Tuesday’s flight, Jeff Bezos is running out of time to save Blue Origin: “Bezos still must pump more than $1 billion into Blue Origin annually to keep the lights on.” Great read. (Ars Technica).
📌 A priest was outed by his phone’s location data via Grindr, that said data was encrypted and unidentifiable. Anyone could be next. (Gizmodo).
⚖️ Activision Blizzard sued by California over ‘frat boy’ workplace culture (CNET).
🧶 12 fantastically complex and mostly pointless Lego Great Ball contraptions (Gizmodo).
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Have you ever mistyped gmail.com and gone to gail.com? Or sent an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, by mistake? Millions do: 1.8M visits a year, and 1.2M emails a week get sent to the wrong address.
How do we know? That’s because of the venerable gail.com, a lovely little place on the Internet that reminds us of where we came from, and is not for sale, thank-you-very-much.
- Cached versions of the site on the Wayback Machine show gail.com, first registered in 1996, was under-construction for 10 years, and went live as a digital CV, before scaling back to how it is today.
- It was defended from a copyright claim in 2006, by Gail and her husband Kevin Watson, who also owns kevin.org. Both have worked at NASA and come across as all very wholesome.
Tristan Rayner, Senior Editor.