The Driverless Blog ...

I see that the founder of Cruise Automation recently announced that they are ready to mass produce a "self-driving ready" vehicle, along with their partner, GM. This will be produced along the lines of the Chevrolet Bolt platform. Apparently this will have all the ingredients that an Autonomous vehicle will need to function, travel,  brake and steer etc. Around fifty vehicles have already been built, mostly for the Fleet market and production is expected to ramp up from here. Congratulations to them on this achievement. Withought wishing to sound too churlish, I do however feel that this announcement has something of the feeling of a race about it and is more about someone crossing the finishing line, rather than having a true production ready self-driving car.

cruise 27 09 17

To his credit, Doug Parks, GM’s VP of Autonomous Technology and Vehicle Execution, did say that "There's still a lot to be done yet" and there certainly is. I believe these cars will remain in a mechanically and electrically production "self-driving ready" state in the broadest sense for a long time yet, but certainly not in true Autonomous usability. The easy bit is getting all the required modules on a vehicle to turn it into an autonomous vehicle. This is meat and drink to any auto maker or even amateur enthusiast. These days. Sensors, Cameras, Lidar, Navigation and all the mechanical, steering and braking components, etc., are all readily available, even from the likes of Ebay and Amazon

The hard bit, isn’t just a bit; it is, as we all know, a huge shift. Firstly there are the regulatory problems, from Governments around the world to agree and approve. These alone will grind down the process in true, red tape bureaucratic fashion. Then there is the massive infrastructure requirements, the not insignificant "non-vehicle" side of things. Hugely important and a massive task. In fact we hear much about vehicle development, but in my view, not nearly so much about the technologies and activities involved in what could amount to the rebuilding of the entire infrastructure in many towns and cities.

But beyond all else, the biggest "obstacle" of all, involves tens of thousands of engineers, currently working across the globe for various companies, enterprises, or for themselves. They are all striving to achieve an understanding of what amounts to what has now become to be the very heart of the entire Autonomous project, Artificial Intelligence. They are all working to get the required level, understanding and deployment of AI to an acceptable controlled state. This of course is essential, vital, before anyone could ever contemplate any kind of safe, mass introduction of autonomous driving vehicles.

But "when", is the big question...
As the American AI researcher and writer, Eliezer Yudkowsky said:

“By far, the greatest danger of Artificial Intelligence is that people conclude too early that they understand it.” 


ai robot keyboard small

Whilst the other key players seem to wear their heart on their sleeve and we see all sorts of revelations, (Uber and Waymo - Locked Horns) Apple have been what seems to be like, quietly getting on with things. Tim Cook, Apples CEO, has now finally confirmed to Bloomberg, that they are steadily on track in developing their own autonomous technologies, with what seems like
a master intelligence solution, called Titan.

The end product is not 100% confirmed and no actual vehicle has been mentioned with their famous brand letter "i" in it. They have only advised that Titan represents huge activity in AI for autonomous "systems", Tim Cooks actual words being "We sort of see it as the Mother of all AI Projects", so surely transportation must be at least part of the end goal. But they also want to roll out their technology to other areas. If their venture in to AI powered products is as succesfull as that of the Smartphone, then we are all in for the "ride" of our lives, one way or another.

And, if a driverless vehicle is involved, the fact that Apple is not geared up to produce cars is surely not really an issue - I imagine that all the key Auto OEMs will be lining up to partner with the Apple Brand when the time is right.

AI small

AI - This innocuous two letter anacronym now seems more prevalent than any other phrase or word in the arena of hot cutting edge technological development, including “Driverless”, “Autonomous vehicles”, “SDC” (Self Driving Cars), “Smart cars” or “Connected cars”. It even has its own domain extension .ai.  When you search on LinkedIn for example, there are hundreds, if not thousands of people involved with Artificial Intelliegence (and deep learning / machine learning).

Why so many people?
The reason for the ai activity, initially at least, is surely the massive push and momentum behind Autonomous driving. The Automotive industry still seems to be where the money is. Quite simply withought ai, we will never see true autonomy, resulting in safe, effective self-driving vehicles, not in my humble opinion anyway. Vehicles will need far more than just expensive, electronic hardware, Lidar, cameras, sensors and servo motors to drive around by themselves safely. They will need a level of intelligence, that until now (and not quite yet) has not been possible.

A typical scenario
sat navJust take an example of an innocuous everyday situation, with a Sat Nav used with a regular non autonomous vehicle. The Navigation tells you to take the next right turn, but that right turn actually turns out to be someone’s private driveway. As human beings behind the wheel, we know almost immediately that this is just an occasional glitch of what is normally an excellent driving tool, with surprisingly few errors. What we do as human beings, is to quickly correct this erroneous instruction to turn into someone’s home and know that what the navigation probably means is to actually take the right turn that is just a few yards after the driveway. No harm done and we quickly correct this. But what lies behind this correction, done in a split second, is intelligence. It is simple for us to make this decision whether we have an IQ of 195 or just regular everyday folk. But the simplest of things like that small correction, which we do not think twice about as humans, would require a huge and powerful shift for a machine to do. It would require Artificial Intelligence.

So what is AI?
humans and machines

A good explanation of Artificial Intelligence is here on the BBC website with a short video

The Car or any machine doesn’t have this type of intelligence at present and until it does, the simplest of driving tasks would present constant challenges to the aspiring fully autonomous vehicle. The example above is a relatively simple, safe one. But what if the vehicle encounters a traffic police officer? Does it understand or obey the officers hand signals? Or will the Driverless vehicle see that broken glass in the road and will it then know to make the decision to drive through it very slowly, if it is unsafe to stop or swerve to avoid it? Or worse, will it know that a young child by the roadside may just run out at any minute, in the same way as a human may suspect that this could happen? These situations and an infinite number of similar ones currently need on the spot, instant human influence and decision making to ensure safe effective navigation. The word infinite is key, because that is the reality and by definition, solutions to these infinite possibilities of incidents and events cannot be programmed for up front. Only the ability to think and act like a human, would be able to truly tackle the day to day road traffic situations that are encountered. (This may even mean that AI will occasionally have to choose and even get it wrong like a human could, but I need to think that one out a bit further down the line...)

The outlook for the future
ai future
I believe that until we get Artificial Intelligence to a sufficient point where it becomes a safe pair of eyes and a safe pair of hands, we will only ever see semi-autonomous driving for a good few years yet. Some say that a mixture of semi-autonomous and fully autonomous driving will be with us by 2020, particularly for the Tokyo Olympics. Maybe that will be the case, within a predefined campus type situation. I tend to go with the 2025 view myself, which is still not that far away and I only think it may be as soon as this, based on the massive resource being channelled into ai and deep learning.

Do we want AI? As Steven Hawking said back in 2014, "Artificial Intelligence could spell the end of the Human Race"

Whether you fear it, or revere it, it is certainly an exciting future.

driverless future
Image: Paul Krueger / City of Vancouver, Transportation Planning

We often talk about or hear about amazing new innovations or breakthroughs, but many of us never get to see them as they are too far away, with long development and approval times. One particular example is cancer drugs and treatments, that can often be 20 years from when we hear about them before we see them being used.

Usually it's the next generation will benefit from these and thankfully so.

Occasionally things are developed and are with us much quicker than any of us can imagine. The word is that self-driving or autonomous vehicles are no longer just for the future that someone else has to deal with. They are imminent and for us to deal with. The development is that rapid. To illustrate the speed of growth, take Tesla Motors. This Electric vehicle manufacturer started out with nothing in 2003. Today it is Americas largest car brand, overtaking Ford who worked at leadership for 114 years compared to Tesla's mere 14 years. Tesla have done everything in comparatively quick succession, that would normally see gaps of a few years in between. They made the first commercial electric vehicle. They made the World's fastest electric vehicle. They produced the world's first commercial venture into Autonomous driving, with their Autopilot. And now, recent Tesla announcements include plans for the self-driving car sharing concept, where not everyone who rides an AV will own it, of which the logic and figures make it difficult to question (more on that soon ). They are also working on smaller cars, Trucks, Minibuses and a huge active Solar energy operation.

This pattern is now becoming true in general within the EV/AV (Electric Vehicle/Autonomous vehicle) industry. One announcement seems to cascade after another with little time to take it all in.

Although we can see that Autonomous vehicles are coming to us gradually, the target rollout year for mainstream take-up, that is in many people minds, is a frighteningly close 2020. Companies such as Alphabet and Ford have always aimed at the start of the next decade for the introduction of self-driving fleets, offering ride hailing services. This target is reinforced by the Japanese governments desire to have driverless vehicles, transporting athletes and officials around the Olympic Village for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

kids driving
Given the above, if and when I have grandchildren, I am convinced that when they come of "driving age", they will not need a driving licence, least of all own a car. Pundits claim that this picture of the future will lead to a 1 trillion dollar boost in disposable income for us, largely due to the corresponding resulting loss of revenue to the oil industry, new car sales, plus zero or reduced car repairs, zero or reduced insurance premiums, and other reductions in overall car related expenditure.

All in all, in the history of the World, this will surely all be looked back on and seen as an overnight sensation.


driverless car blog <<< How can this - replace this? >>> airlines

I was just looking back at a previous post, listing a number of things that will be seriously affected by the future deployment of Driverless vehicles.
This was by no means a definitive list and there will I am sure be many more things that will come out "in the wash" as things (rapidly) progress.

The one on the list that really hits me is largely due to its financial value. Money isn't everything of course, and one of the key reasons we look seriously at driverless cars and vehicles is due to the increased safety and the corresponding reduction in deaths and injuries. But the reason I am looking again at this topic is monetary, because the value concerned is so huge. It will be seriously looked at, if not already, by the big airlines and booking agencies, because of the massive lost revenue at stake. I am talking once again about the impact of the Self driving car on the domestic airline flight market.

Official statistics now show that every day, around 2 million passengers fly on a domestic type flight. Some of these flights can be less than 500 miles, for example. L.A. to San Francisco (300 miles), Denver to Salt lake City (375) Dallas to Kansas (490), Atlanta to Washington (520) These distances may be too long for some to consider driving in a normal car there and back in a day, (or over two days for some) as we would need a break in between, adding too much to the standard road journey time. But this type of journey is within easy striking distance of the driverless vehicle that doesn't need to rest, allowing us to eat and sleep during transportation. 

The other thing to consider is not just the journey time, but the travel time to the airport and the often lengthy check in time, security, baggage collection etc. All this already adds up to many hours, before you even get airborne.

And then there is the actual total cost to consider. A 500 mile car journey, would only cost about 75 USD in fuel. Additionally you would also save the airport charges of the Reservation fee $10, Baggage charge $15 and travel insurance $10 totalling another $35. (also you could take more baggage in your car). And a huge plus - the car will take 4 or 5 people at no extra cost per person.

A very rough estimate of the total Domestic Airline ticket value under threat worldwide by my humble calculation is:
2 Million passengers a day x a (low) average of 100 dollars a ticket = 6 Billion dollars a Month or over 72 
Billion dollars a year.

Of course nobody is suggesting this is all under threat. Some domestic flights in the USA may average a round trip of over 2000 miles, not your usual journey in any type of car, driverless or otherwise. But some of the shorter domestic flights are very much on the radar of the Self driving car journey.

The estimates used above may be just that, estimates, but the figures are still huge and it it begs the question: Will the Airline industry try to hinder the Autonomous vehicle era or invest in it?



Chinas Self Driving Roadmap for 2021

Is this the Autonomous vehicle industries' biggest plus sign yet?

driverless 3

Now that China has issued a long-term (but not too long!) roadmap about autonomous vehicles on sale by 2021, what message does this say to the World?

When the Worlds largest Automobile market makes a statement like this, surely that is the clearest signal to us all, that Driverless / Autonomous / Self Driving cars will happen. I admit, I am sure like many people, that every day I have, "will it" / "won't it" happen moments.

The Chinese 450 page roadmap, has been issued by the official Society of Automotive Engineers of China - The SAEC.
This document determines the development of every aspect of the Chinese automotive industry leading up to 2030.

It covers these developments in full co-operation and consensus with the Chinese Automotive industry for self driving cars. However it is clearly a Chinese Country led document and will not cover their rapid development target within Europe/USA and other Asian Regions.

The SAEC report has made it very clear that they want to act as quickly as possible to form a common understanding on all aspects of smart connected vehicle technology.

Their intent is that automated / assisted driving technology should be in every car by 2026 to 2030, in some form, but the first introduction will be in 2021.

We should not doubt the intent of China and this roadmap document. When China decide to do something, they do not hang about talking about it for decades.
In 2005, China decided to start planning for the use of renewable energy resource. Just 10 years later they now have the world’s largest solar and wind power installations.

Despite the economic decline over the last 2 years, China still has the investment and manpower resources to achieve massive project developments very quickly.

baidu car

Chinese Internet giant and Autonomous vehicle developer, Baidu, will be pleased, having done 30KM testing in Beijing last year with excellent results. This is despite the issue concerning the lack of mapping detail in China, which whilst being good in Beijing, is not so good outside of the larger main cities.

But, it isn’t all China in the lead however, more of a catch up.
In fact quite a few miles are needed to catch up with Google.
google car

Because detailed mapping is far more detailed in the majority of the U.S. and Western Europe, this has allowed Western manufacturers to develop their technology over the last 6 years. Google’s well known Driverless car program for example, has been tested for well over 1.5 million miles since 2009. Also the company expects to be selling cars by 2020, probably becoming the early leader.

Tesla has also announced this month that all their new vehicles will be equipped with equipment for autonomous driving, such as Radar/ Lidar / Cameras. 

tesla car
Tesla have experienced a tragic issue, but have addressed the causes and are now strongly aiming to be a leader of this emerging market.

But, we need to ask, who has the most to gain from the implication of Autonomous vehicles? Possibly China, who have massive road congestion problems, which will only ever be on the increase, plus a huge road death and accident rate.

So, is Chinas Self Driving Roadmap for 2021, the Autonomous vehicle industries biggest plus sign yet? Will China dominate this industry in the 2020s?
On balance, for my money, it looks like the USA, China and possibly Western Europe will all be in a similar place by that time and who knows, even talking to each other!

Let's hope.


driverless car blogDozens of well-known corporate brands are now developing and building their own Driverless vehicles.
But how will the future look when the Driverless era is actually with us?

For every action there is a reaction and the Driverless revolution is no exception.
The implementation of Driverless Autonomous vehicles, will change if not positively rock many other establishments and industries that have been with us for Centuries.
The change might not necessarilly be bad or negative in every case, but the change will certainly happen.
The question is, just how much change?

Remember we are not just talking about the effects for one Country below, we are talking about the effects on the entire world. 
The figures involved, in terms of People, Revenue, Jobs, are huge, almost incalculable.

Here are some thoughts on just 10 key areas that may be affected (there are certainly many, many more) :

1. The (Multi Billion) Insurance Industry

Everyone is agreed that Driverless Autonomous vehicles will make Car travel much safer, reducing accidents by as much as 85% to 90% according to experts. Will the amount of Insurance Company businesses therefore reduce by this high level?
Will Insurance Companies even be needed for the Auto theft side, as an Autonomous vehicle may just "refuse" to be operated or function in the wrong hands, due to its programming.

2. Auto Car Garage repair businesses
car repair

As above, in simple terms, less accidents mean less repairs. But there are more than 170,000 Auto Repair businesses in the USA alone, employing almost 700,000 people, mainly in Car repair. But, on the bright side, Driverless Cars will still need tyres, oil and servicing etc.
Or, will more Repair businesses also become vehicle dealers? That's a lot of dealers.

3. Auto parts
car parts

Driverless Vehicles will embrace ultra-efficient driving techniques, using smart modules and ground-breaking software. So this will all mean less Clutch, Brake pad, gearbox, engine wear and wear and tear in general. When coupled with the estimated 90% less accidents, that will also mean a dramatic change to the huge spares industry, estimated in 2013 to be worth 320 Billion USD, just in the USA alone.
The positive here is surely the huge reduction of the Worlds materials resource, but how will this affect us and by how much?

4. Hotels

Many of the low budget roadside hotel chains, you know the ones, gain a lot of passing trade from car drivers, business people, just needing an overnight break, because they are quite correctly too tired to continue driving. If driver fatigue was no longer the case, or put another way, the option was there to sleep whilst being driven during the night by an autonomous vehicle, then how many hotels would cease to exist? How many tens of thousands of rooms would no longer be needed Worldwide?
Or, would these Hotels and Motels become Driverless Hubs /Bases?

5. Truckers and Commercial drivers

There may be no requirement for professional drivers when the Driverless time comes in earnest.
Perhaps the lorry or truck will one day drive itself, but surely it will always need its one time driver, to oversee things at either end?
So a redeployment rather than a Job loss?

6. Airlines

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (, more than 1.75 million passengers fly in the world every day on a domestic type flight. (in fact this data is a few years old, the actual figure is certain to be much higher than this) Some of these short haul flights, especially to adjoining state cities, would certainly be at risk from driverless ground travel. New York to Boston, Manchester to Birmingham, Munich to Berlin, Tokyo to Nagoya, and so on. The travel time to the airport and the lengthy security check in time at either end, will surely just make the stress free driverless land journey option a no brainer.

So there will be many who would say - why Fly?
Would the resulting, not insignificant, reduction of Aviation fuel in the world help the environment?
Maybe so, especially if the Driverless car taking the ground level journey option, could be propelled in other ways, rather than burning diesel or petrol

7. Taxis / Minicabs

Uber has long been a force to be reckoned with when it comes to paid transport. Now they are talking about operating their own fleets of Driverless Taxis.
Another company, Lyft, is working with GM to develop similar business models.

Apart from huge concern about the tens of thousands of Taxi Drivers facing extinction, would this also mean that the majority of actual Driverless vehicle ownership will ultimately be with these types of companies?
Will we ever need to own a car in the future, or will we just call one up on our Smart phone when we need collecting?

8. Buses and other public transport

Will we ever even need Driverless buses, when we have the Uber, Lyft and the other future emerging small abundant vehicle taxi/hailing solutions?

9. Car Parking / Garaging

In the USA alone there is over 60 Billion square feet of ground, dedicated entirely to parking cars upon.
That is about the same size as the entire state of Delaware...
But will we need as many car parks? Driverless vehicles will be constantly, efficiently running, with planned collection and drop off journeys, plus there will also be far fewer vehicles in total, due to a decreased ownership as discussed previously. Therefore there will be far less demand for acres of car parks and a huge freeing up of land for other, perhaps greener developments.

10. Fuel / Energy usage
fuel pump

There is a theory that Autonomous vehicles may actually use more energy than at present, either Petroleum based or Electric
This is a prediction largely based on the convenience factor of having "transport on tap" and it remains to be seen if it will be the case.
More importantly, it remains to be seen whether the Driverless manufacturers and Developers sieze this opportunity to not just change over to Driverless vehicles, but to completely overhaul and rethink the entire transportation question and the big picture. This would of course then involve completely moving away from fossil fuels from the outset, or at least at the earliest possible technologically enabled opportunity.

Every one of the above questions begs even more questions. But nobody really knows until it happens.

"Driverless" is a huge, huge subject, and will probably remain in mainstream development long after many of us are long gone.


Sunday, 04 September 2016 11:05

Driverless Cars - A natural progression?

car side

A driverless or autonomous Car or Vehicle is possibly the biggest development since the invention of the very first car itself...

But there is no magic launch date or lead up for Driverless vehicles - The Cars and the production technologies are already there - and so also are many of the required Autonomous features. Indeed, some of these have already been with us for years - Radar Cruise Control to save driving too close to the vehicle in front - Automatic braking - Lane assist steering technology - Self parking - Satellite navigation - In Car Wireless. All these features when put together, form much of the basis that is needed for a driverless car and many of us now already use some or all of these features on a daily basis. Therefore a fully Driverless vehicle surely has to be the next natural step, spurned by the development of all the other things.

We could even say the Driverless industry has almost invented and developed itself from other technologies? Who could stop it? 
Maybe you have a different view? - Let us know what you think


driverless car blog

Welcome to - The New driverless vehicle products business directory

More, definitely more, to follow soon ....

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