For Now, Self-Driving Cars Still Need Humans

Jan 18, 2016

Photo credit: Elizabeth D. Herman for The New York Times

By John Markoff

Car enthusiasts, after hearing industry executives discussing the self-driving technology being built into their vehicles, might be forgiven for thinking robotic cars will soon drive themselves out of auto showrooms.

Carlos Ghosn, the chairman and chief executive of the Renault-Nissan Alliance, announced during a news media event on Jan. 7 at the company’s research laboratory in Silicon Valley that Nissan would introduce 10 new autonomous vehicles in the next four years.

Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla, upped the ante. In a conference call with reporters last week, he asserted that the so-called Autopilot feature introduced in the Tesla Model S last fall was “probably better than a person right now.”

Mr. Musk also said that within a year or two, it would be technically feasible to summon a Tesla from the opposite side of the country.

But there is a growing gap between what these executives are saying and what most people think of when they hear executives or scientists describing autonomous or driverless cars.

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9 comments on “For Now, Self-Driving Cars Still Need Humans

  • I heard someone fooled the Google cars laser with a Raspberry Pi (small $35 computer) and a cheap laser which fooled the car into thinking an object was there that was not. People need to consider the potential for hacking a autonomous car. Having said that, it can’t come soon enough, like electric cars I used to pride myself when I owned my Kombi van that I could double-declutch (which saved me a couple of times for example once when my clutch cable broke), frankly having driven now two CVT cars I’d never go back to a manual and can’t wait until there is no gearbox at all.

    Having an auto drive feature especially here in Australia where many roads are long and straight and boring. This will save many peoples lives, especially when they fall asleep at the wheel. I knew a pilot once who fell asleep on autopilot (a simple auto pilot just held the plane level), he woke up as his passenger woke and bluffed so as not to cause panic while he worked out where the hell he was.

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  • I wonder if anyone is testing driverless cars in the recent US snow storms?

    BTW: if any of out American friends are trying to dig themselves out, here’s a tip when using a steel shovel.

    Warm the shovel over a stove, with a hot-gun paint stripper, or with a hair dryer, and rub a candle all over the metal to coat it with wax.

    This stops snow sticking to the shovel and makes digging much easier!

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  • Whoever has money let him put it in circulation!” – H Miller.

    Popular option here is to hire someone > a professional company, or the teen-ager looking for extra cash.

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  • bonnie
    Jan 24, 2016 at 9:52 am

    Popular option here is to hire someone > a professional company, or the teen-ager looking for extra cash.

    That probably works for a driveway, but may well take longer than clearing it yourself.

    It definitely does not substitute for the shovel in the back of the car in case you get stuck!

    I also had another trick when I was driving rear-wheel drive cars.

    Take two hessian sacks with about ten foot of line tied to one of the the corners.
    If stuck, put them under the rear tyres and tie the lines to the back bumper so you don’t need to stop to pick them up after you have driven over them to get going!

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  • Yes. The candle has many uses. A little on a saw makes cutting wood easier and is great for cleaning irons. Once hot, rub the candle on the iron and then iron on an on cloth.

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  • It looks like these will be on city streets quite soon.
    The first driverless cars to be tested on the streets of London will resemble the electric passenger shuttles currently in use at Heathrow Airport.

    The group behind the project is currently adapting the pods for use on the roads.

    It has yet to unveil the exact design but confirmed that the adapted vehicles will not run on dedicated tracks.

    Greenwich is one of four places in the UK where driverless pods and public reaction to them are being tested.

    Trials will also take place in Bristol, Coventry and Milton Keynes. The £8m project is jointly funded by government agency Innovate UK and industry.

    The Greenwich Automated Transport Environment project – or Gateway – will see seven driverless pods tested on the pavements around the Greenwich Peninsula, where the O2 Arena is based, from July.

    Routes are still being worked out but are likely to include residential areas, the North Greenwich underground station and businesses around the arena.

    The so-called UltraPODs currently in service at Heathrow carry passengers between the car park and Terminal 5. In the five years they have been in use, they have carried 1.5 million passengers and travelled 1.8 million miles (three million kilometres).

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