I had the pleasure of attending a meeting of transportation professionals and policy-makers yesterday, with an agenda devoted to new technologies.  Including autonomous vehicles, of course.

If there was a consensus, it was that AVs aren’t ready for prime time – and may never be in some conditions, like complicated urban environments.  Or under adverse conditions.

That’s confirmed by a guy who should really know.

From CNET:

It’ll be decades before autonomous cars are widespread on the roads — and even then, they won’t be able to drive themselves in certain conditions, the CEO of Waymo said Tuesday.

John Krafcik, head of the self-driving car unit of Google parent company Alphabet, said that though driverless cars are “truly here,” they’re not yet ubiquitous. And he doesn’t think the industry will ever achieve the highest driving rating of being able to drive at any time of year in any weather and any condition …

Let’s translate: he means snow.  Or a rainy dirt road when the car and its sensors are covered in mud.  That means: it’s blind.

But there is one place where AVs could thrive, and soon.  I’d predict the inside lanes of fully separated freeways that could be wired, maintained and used exclusively for trucks and other fleet vehicles.  That would work for the inter-city portions, connected to intermodal yards and hubs, which could then be used to transfer goods to delivery vehicles with drivers for short-haul trips. (I’d imagine that Amazon would build their own, essentially creating proprietorial ports.)

The Waymo guy agrees:

Krafcik on Tuesday said trucking is one area where self-driving vehicles could soon appear in the next couple of years. The US currently lacks about 50,000 truck drivers required for logistics, and that’ll grow to a shortage of about 275,000 over the next couple of years, he said.

“The trucking shortage is now,” Krafcik said. “Moving goods on freeways to hub to hub is fairly straightforward.”

Comments

  1. I think it’s a bit early to say never. In fact say that Gordon you’ve succumbed to posting with a clickbaity headline.

    I think it will just take longer for autonomous vehicles to operate in snow. Someone will find a way to make it work. Also, these things are designed with redundancy. If some pieces don’t work (sensors being blocked), other componentss can pick up the slack.

  2. I always contended Vancouver’s wet dark winters would be a problem for AV. If a human driver can;t see the lines on the road, can a camera?

    1. I have found that when paying attention, pedestrians and cyclists are more visible than we might think. Add in infra-red and other sensors and a robot car will have the same if not better sensory input than a human.

      Futurist predictions are largely a mug’s game at this point, beyond the obvious reality that change is coming fast, in unexpected places, with unforeseen results.

      Nonetheless, the blueprint for the future is largely a combo of Huxley’s Brave New World, a dash of 1984, but a lot of Vonnegut’s Player Piano — namely a largely unemployed population, in need of diversion in a post-scarcity scenario where daily needs are (barely) met for an underclass, and professionals et al continue to monopolize resources and opportunity.

      TL;DR? Same as it ever was, but different.

  3. To finish the thought… and in a world like that, we will only need enough infrastructure and bandwidth to service a small number of autonomous vehicles.

  4. This seems to support the idea that Vancouver’s climate would be particularly challenging for AVs:

    ..While MSU’s findings will soon appear in a study, researchers gave the skinny to Automotive News. Basically, autonomous car systems need a lot more work before companies can be assured of reliability outside the temperate Southwest.

    The worst culprit when it comes to pedestrian and cyclist safety and driverless cars is rain. Raindrops confuse the algorithms used to detect such objects, claims Hayder Radha, the MSU professor of electrical and computer engineering who oversaw the study. As radar and lidar can’t do all the seeing, cameras are also used to guide a vehicle’s path. What the camera sees must then be interpreted.

    “When we run these algorithms, we see very noticeable, tangible degradation in detection,” Radha said. “Even low-intensity rain can really create some serious problems, and as you increase the intensity, the performance of what we consider state-of-the-art mechanisms can almost become paralyzed.”..
    https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2018/11/michigan-testing-shows-fairly-innocuous-weather-baffles-self-driving-car-systems/#more-1651150

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