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Let’s Talk About Self-Driving Cars

Overview of a presentation by Andreessen Horowitz on the future of autonomous vehicles

Level by level or straight to level five?

The major assumption is that “Everything that moves will go autonomous”, and we are not only talking about cars, all the trucks on our roads, drones in the sky, shopping cars and even toys will move by itself to the extent that our involvement will become rudimentary, undesired or even illegal.

Level Zero: Driver Only

This one is simple, it’s when you completely drive yourself.

Level One: Assisted

Cars that we mostly drive today belong here, those are the ones that have anti-lock brakes and cruise-control, so they can take over some non-vital processes involved in driving.

Level Two: Partial Automation

When the system can take over control in some specific use cases but driver still has to monitor system all the time is here, it’s applicable to situations when the car is self-driving the highway and you just sit there and expect it to behave well.

Level Three: Conditional Automation

This level means that driver doesn’t have to monitor the system all the time but has to be in a position where the control can quickly be resumed by a human operator. That means no need to have hands on a steering wheel but you have to jump in at the sounds of the emergency situation, which system can recognize efficiently.

Level Four: High Automation

When your car drives you to the parking lot you get to the level four, when there is no need for a human operator for a specific use case or a part of a journey.

Level Five: Full Automation

The holy grail lies here and means that the system can cope with all the situations automatically during the whole journey and no driver is required to the point of not having controls at all, which means you have no choice.

What kind of sensors? LIDAR or not?

The next question is which hardware will allow us to get to the level five, whether it’s gonna be some new sensors or incremental improvements to the current ones?

New types of precomputed maps?

Everybody uses Google Maps, Waze, Apple Maps and they have an amazing level of resolution that make our movement across the city frictionless. But this resolution is still not enough for a car that wants to drive itself.

  • where are the traffic barrels
  • what time of the day do I get a glare in front of my camera that blinds me completely

What blend of software techniques?

Deep Learning is making a sound across the Silicon Valley but there are other accomplishments in the field of robotics and path finding that should not be forgotten. The major difference between those approaches is the ability of a system to learn from a previous experience/dataset or drive decision solely based on a hardwired logic or rules.

How much real world vs virtual world testing?

With machine learning you NEED to have giant datasets to learn from, the datasets of previous experience, examples of correct behavior and environments.

Will V2X radios play an important role?

V2X is a form of technology that allows vehicles to communicate with moving parts of the traffic system around them. And V2V technology, or vehicle to vehicle, allows vehicles to communicate with other vehicles.

Can we get rid of traffic lights?

Four-way lights suck and if the cars can talk to each other and are fully autonomous why can’t we get rid of lights. This may sound very chaotic at first but hey, aren’t internet packets moving the same way?

How will automakers “localize” their cars?

Who will win? Silicon Valley vs China vs Incumbents

Will we buy cars or transportation as a service?

If we as consumers will change our behavior from buying cars from manufacturers to buying transportation service from companies like Uber and Lyft, the whole load of money will start floating to the another direction.

How Will Insurance Change?

And one of such changes will be the insurance industry. Right now insurance prices are calculated as a function that takes you as a driver, your demographics, cost of the car that you own and where you live.

How Will Accident Rates Change?

If all cars become autonomous the accident rates will be zero since most, 24 of 25 causes of accidents are human error related. Things like speeding, distracted driving, drunk driving, running red lights are all causes of us sitting behind the wheel.

When will it become illegal to drive?

If it’s true that algorithms are statistically better than drivers then we shouldn’t let people to drive. But there are still a lot of people that love to drive. This can be a fun recreational activity but we just don’t need those people on the road.

How will commutes change?

One argument is that commute times will take longer because we will become indifferent to how long the commute will take. As we approach the state where all cars are fully autonomous, there are no traffic lights and there are no accidents, we should be able to do anything we want during the commute.

How will cities change?

When Will This Start and then how quickly will we switch to autonomous cars?



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