Self driving cars are way more complex than popular media would have you believe, at least 10 years…
Tom Goodwin

I’ve got a little expertise here; I founded Seegrid with Hans Moravec, and with generous support from Ray Kurzweil, who was on our Board up until he started at Google.

In robotics, you have to look for the “hidden limitations”. They are there, but the robotocists and the press both don’t want to talk about them. And the civilians don’t even know to ask about them.

For self-driving cars, there are at least three giant hidden limitations.

  1. Lidar — all the currrent prototypes are dependant on Lidar sensors to know where they are and to understand objects. Lidar’s shoot laser light at objects. When it bounces back, you know something is there. This works magically. Except when it bounces off of a raindrop, or a snowflake, or fog, or perhaps even smog. In these conditions, when there is something physical in the air, the Lidar is pretty much blind. Other sensors can help muddle along, but that currently is far beyond the state of the art. Probably the furthest along is, but it doesn’t look like anyone is actually using it in the field yet for full autonomy — that is code for: it doesn’t work reliably. If it worked reliably people would use it.
  2. Maps — realtime and historic. This is a very complicated topic. You need both kinds. Only Google is doing any real work on maps for self-driving cars. They are spending alot of money, and have some of the top people in the world working on it. Everyone else is just burning corporate R&D dollars for press coverage and vanity. Here’s some candid info on this:
  3. Insurance — Who will get sued when a child dies in an accident with a self-driving car? The answer is every associated party, with the focus on the company with the most cash. So even if the Google car is parked, if it gets hit, and someone gets hurt or killed, then Google will be sued. There is no established insurance or liability law for this. And this is going to take a *long time* to solve. The only way through this is for the government to give the self-drivng car industry a full waiver of all liability. This is possible. Nixon did it for the HMO industry. Not only was it required to launch the HMO industry to control healthcare costs, but it allowed the HMO industry to grow and thrive.

FWIW, none of these problems exist for flying cars. The technology that ships in $800 drones is just about good enough to launch the self-flying car industry. For flying cars, it’s about energy. So people, keep on working.

Neil Armstrong, my favorite engineer, gives us inspiration: “There are great ideas undiscovered, breakthroughs available to those who can remove one of truth’s protective layers.”

And just because it’s Sunday, here’s Neil on Engineering: