Has the self-driving car at last arrived?
by Burkhard Bilger November 25, 2013
Human beings make terrible drivers. They talk on the phone and run red lights, signal to the left and turn to the right. They drink too much beer and plow into trees or veer into traffic as they swat at their kids. They have blind spots, leg cramps, seizures, and heart attacks. They rubberneck, hotdog, and take pity on turtles, cause fender benders, pileups, and head-on collisions. They nod off at the wheel, wrestle with maps, fiddle with knobs, have marital spats, take the curve too late, take the curve too hard, spill coffee in their laps, and flip over their cars. Of the ten million accidents that Americans are in every year, nine and a half million are their own damn fault.
A case in point: The driver in the lane to my right. He’s twisted halfway around in his seat, taking a picture of the Lexus that I’m riding in with an engineer named Anthony Levandowski. Both cars are heading south on Highway 880 in Oakland, going more than seventy miles an hour, yet the man takes his time. He holds his phone up to the window with both hands until the car is framed just so. Then he snaps the picture, checks it onscreen, and taps out a lengthy text message with his thumbs. By the time he puts his hands back on the wheel and glances up at the road, half a minute has passed.
Levandowski shakes his head. He’s used to this sort of thing. His Lexus is what you might call a custom model. It’s surmounted by a spinning laser turret and knobbed with cameras, radar, antennas, and G.P.S. It looks a little like an ice-cream truck, lightly weaponized for inner-city work. Levandowski used to tell people that the car was designed to chase tornadoes or to track mosquitoes, or that he belonged to an élite team of ghost hunters. But nowadays the vehicle is clearly marked: “Self-Driving Car.”
Every week for the past year and a half…[ more ]
Published on Mar 28, 2012
We announced our self-driving car project in 2010 to make driving safer, more enjoyable, and more efficient.
Having safely completed over 200,000 miles of computer-led driving, we wanted to share one of our favorite moments. Here’s Steve, who joined us for a special drive on a carefully programmed route to experience being behind the wheel in a whole new way.
We organized this test as a technical experiment, but we think it’s also a promising look at what autonomous technology may one day deliver if rigorous technology and safety standards can be met.
Mercedes-Benz TV: Autonomous long-distance drive
Published on Sep 8, 2013
With its S 500 INTELLIGENT DRIVE research vehicle, Mercedes-Benz in August 2013 became the world’s first automobile manufacturer to demonstrate that autonomous driving in rural and urban traffic is possible.
Mercedes-Benz reveals recent test of self-driving car
By David Undercoffler – September 10, 2013
In yet another sign that self-driving cars are rapidly approaching reality, Mercedes-Benz announced Monday that it had successfully driven an autonomous S-Class sedan 62 miles on German city streets.
The test, which happened at the end of August, used a full-size 2014 S500 with only slight modifications beyond what is available on the production car. The route took the car from Mannheim to Pforzheim, Germany, and traveled through both city and highway conditions on open city roads.
“For us, autonomous vehicles are an important step on the way to accident-free driving,” said Dieter Zetsche, chief executive of Daimler AG and head of Mercedes-Benz. “They will bring greater comfort and safety for all road users.”
Mercedes isn’t the only company taking a serious look at self-driving cars. Nissan, Volvo, Audi, General Motors, Ford and Toyota are among the automakers working to bring the technology to the road. Many say they will do so before 2020.
Many luxury cars available today come with features that will serve as the underlying technology for these vehicles. Lane departure warning and assist systems keep vehicles in their lanes, adaptive cruise control can take cars from zero mph up to cruising speed without driver assistance and proactive braking systems will slow the vehicle before the driver has time to react.
Since the 2014 S-Class (which will go on sale in the U.S. in October as the S550) is available with many of these features, upgrading the test vehicle was a straightforward process.
Mercedes added two long-range radar systems to the front and one to the rear of the car, four short-range radar systems for the corners of the vehicle, a camera to detect traffic lights, and an additional camera aimed out the rear window to scan the surroundings and compare them to a previously installed 3-D digital map.
By using this final camera, Mercedes said it was possible to determine the car’s specific location more accurately than is possible with just GPS. Mercedes created these digital maps with the help of a division of Nokia, with the automaker saying the two would continue to develop 3-D maps for future autonomous cars.
Despite Mercedes’ preparation for the route, the automaker admitted that there were still kinks in the system to work out. Among these are how to communicate with other vehicles on the road, such as at intersections where another car or pedestrian waves the autonomous vehicle through.
“This sometimes results in comical situations,” said Ralf Herrtwich, head of driver assistance and suspension systems at Daimler. He pointed out that there were situation where “the vehicle gets waved through by the pedestrian — yet our car stoically continues to wait, because we failed to anticipate such politeness when we programmed the system.”
Other hurdles for self-driving cars include being allowed on public roads. In the U.S., only California, Nevada and Florida currently allow driverless cars. In Europe, the laws allow “corrective steering functions” but not automated steering above 6.2 mph, Mercedes said.
Furthermore, European Union law dictates that a driver be in constant control of the vehicle and able to override the autonomous system at any time, the automaker said.
“As autonomous vehicles were still out of the question at the time this convention was adopted, clarification is needed with regard to what this means for highly or fully automated vehicles,” Mercedes said.
BMW Autonomous Car Future Hands Free Driving
NEVADA APPROVES SELF-DRIVING CARS
Nevada embraces the future, approves self-driving cars
The state that makes its livelihood off gambling is making a safe bet that self-driving cars won’t cause mayhem on the highways of Nevada. The Silver State just set up rules for driverless cars after the legislature approved the concept last year. Among the rules: Self-driving cars get red license plates in Nevada if they’re test vehicles, and there still has to be a driver behind the wheel. Right now it’s a pro-business move, to entice automakers to test autonomous driving vehicles in wide-open Nevada as they already do for mainstream cars. Down the road, the rules will be in place when they go on sale to the public.
How safe are self-driving cars? Google wants to rack up 1 million test miles, and so far its fleet of cars has suffered one fender-bender accident, and that was with the self-driving car under the control of a human.
Since 2000, the idea of a self-driving car has gone from never, to maybe-in-our-lifetime, to end-of-the-decade. Sensor technology is moving ahead at a Moore’s law pace. It picked up steam when newcomers (Google) got in the game played previously by automakers and a handful of research universities (Stanford and Carnegie-Mellon as the main players, along with Cornell, MIT, and Virginia Tech).
Google’s self-driving car, with Schmidt, Page, and BrinEven now, passenger cars have enough technology to be self-driving on non-twisty rural interstates by combining adaptive cruise control (ACC) that paces you with the car in front and slows or stops when it does, and lane keep assist (LKA) or lane departure warning that watches via a single on-board camera to see if you’re centered between the lane markings and steers you back into lane if you let the car drift. Automakers that have both are adding features to keep you from trying to make the car self-driving, typically by looking for the constant small corrections a driver makes even when driving along an arrow-straight road. If there are none and the driver is probably trying to create a self-driving car ahead of its time, the car turns off lane keep assist and beeps to say, “Bad boy.”
Cars sold as self-driving would have to be an order of magnitude more complex than ACC-LKA cars, with multiple cameras, radars and sensors to help negotiate curves, sense traffic lights, and avoid cars cutting in front. But they’ve come a long way from the early DARPA challenges when they were stalling, crashing, and mostly getting overwhelmed in simple desert settings. Now a self-driving Audi TT (pictured above) has climbed Pikes Peak and dealt with negative obstacles, such as a cliff with no guardrail. It’s hard for sensors to register something that’s not there. The direction of self-driving cars is that they’re autonomous. The idea of them being guided by sensors in the roadbed is pretty much ancient history.
Warm weather states such as Nevada and Arizona are popular for testing because test drivers encounter less traffic and potentially fewer spy photographers. The wide-open states have also attracted individuals doing private testing at super-legal speeds, much to the annoyance of authorities.