Posts Tagged ‘self-driving car’

Uber has been sending self-driving trucks on delivery runs across Arizona since November, the first step in what promises to be a freight transportation revolution that could radically reshape the jobs of long-haul truckers.

After testing its technology earlier in 2017, Uber began contracting with trucking companies to use its own autonomous Volvo big rigs to take over loads as they traverse the state, it disclosed.

In Uber’s current program, a trucker meets the self-driving truck at the Arizona state border, which then takes the load across the state before handing it off to a second conventional trucker for the short-haul trip. During the autonomous trip, an Uber employee rides in the driver seat of the autonomous truck to monitor — but not to drive.

If one day both the technology and regulations play out in favor of self-driving trucks, two scenarios emerge.

The first would find self-driving trucks handling long-haul highway legs with no one at the wheel as they meet up with conventional truckers, who then drive the deliveries into city centers. The other possibility is Uber could sell its technology to trucking owner-operators, who then use it to sleep while the truck handles the bulk of long-distance driving.

Truckers make their money only when their rigs are on the road. They are also limited by law in terms of how much time they can spend behind the wheel, something a self-driving truck could impact positively. It could also introduce more round-trip hauls that find a driver back home at the end of the day’s journey.

“The big step for us recently is that we can plan to haul goods in both directions, using Uber Freight to coordinate load pickups and dropoffs with local truckers,” said Alden Woodrow, who leads Uber’s self-driving truck effort. “Keeping trucking local allows these drivers to make money while staying closer to home.”

Uber Freight, which launched last May, is an app that matches shippers with loads using technology drawn from Uber’s ride-hailing app. Typically such trucking logistics have been coordinated through phone calls and emails.

The San Francisco-based company isn’t alone in its pursuit of self-driving truck technology, with start-ups such as Embark joining companies such as Tesla and its new Tesla Semi to carve out a slice of a $700 billion industry that moves 70% of all domestic freight, according to the American Trucking Association.

“Today we’re operating our own trucks, but in the future it remains to be seen what happens,” he says. “Trucking is a very large and sophisticated business with a lot of companies in the value chain who are good at what they do. So our desire is to partner.”

Uber’s trucks stick to the highway

Uber’s current Arizona pilot program does not feature trucks making end-to-end runs from pickup to delivery because it’s tough to make huge trucks navigate urban traffic on their own.

Instead, Uber’s Volvo trucks receive loads at state border weigh stations. These trucks are equipped with hardware, software and an array of sensors developed by Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group that help the truck make what amounts to a glorified cruise-control run across the state. Uber ATG also is behind ongoing self-driving car testing in Arizona, Pennsylvania and San Francisco.

Uber did not disclose what items it is transporting for which companies.

Once the Uber trucks exit at the next highway hub near the Arizona border, they are met by a different set of truckers who hitch the trailer to own their cab to finish the delivery.

The idea is that truckers get to go home to their families instead of being on the road. In a video Uber created to tout the program, the company showcases a California trucker who, once at the Arizona border, hands his trailer over to an Uber self-driving truck for its trip east, while picking up a different load that needs to head back to California.

Autonomous vehicles are being pursued by dozens of companies ranging from large automakers to technology start-ups. Slowly, states are adapting their rules to try to be on the front lines of a potential transportation shift.

Michigan, California and Arizona, for example, have been constantly updating their autonomous car testing laws in order to court companies working on such tech. California recently joined Arizona in announcing that it would allow self-driving cars to be tested without a driver at the wheel.

Skeptics of the self-driving gold rush include the Consumer Watchdog Group’s John Simpson, who in a recent letter to lawmakers said “any autonomous vehicle legislation should require a human driver behind a steering wheel capable of taking control.”


Uber refocuses after lawsuit

Uber’s announcement aims to cast a positive light on the company’s trucking efforts and comes a few weeks after it settled a contentious year-old lawsuit brought by Waymo, the name of Google’s self-driving car program.

Waymo’s suit argued that Uber was building light detection and ranging sensors — roof-top lasers that help vehicles interpret their surroundings — based on trade secrets stolen by Anthony Levandowski, who left Waymo to start a self-driving truck company called Otto. Months after its creation in early 2016, Uber bought Otto for around $680 million.

Last year, Travis Kalanick, the Uber CEO who negotiated the deal with Levandowski, was ousted from the company he co-founded after a rash of bad publicity surrounding charges that Uber ran a sexist operation that often skirted the law. Levandowski was fired by Uber after he repeatedly declined to answer questions from Waymo’s lawyers.

In settling the suit, Uber had to give Waymo $245 million in equity, but it did not admit guilt. Uber has long maintained that its LiDAR was built with its own engineering know-how.

“Our trucks do not run on the same self-driving (technology) as Otto trucks did,” says Woodrow. “It’s Uber tech, and we’re improving on it all the time.”

https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2018/03/06/uber-trucks-start-shuttling-goods-arizona-no-drivers/397123002/

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.

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Uber’s self-driving cars are making the move to San Francisco, in a new expansion of its pilot project with autonomous vehicles that will see Volvo SUVs outfitted with sensors and supercomputers begin picking up passengers in the city.

The autonomous cars won’t operate completely driverless, for the time being – as in Pittsburgh, where Uber launched self-driving Ford Focus vehicles this fall, each SUV will have a safety driver and Uber test engineer onboard to handle manual driving when needed and monitor progress with the tests. But the cars will still be picking up ordinary passengers – any customers who request uberX using the standard consumer-facing mobile app are eligible for a ride in one of the new XC90s operated by Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group (ATG).

There’s a difference here beyond the geography; this is the third generation of Uber’s autonomous vehicle, which is distinct from the second-generation Fords that were used in the Pittsburgh pilot. Uber has a more direct relationship with Volvo in turning its new XC90s into cars with autonomous capabilities; the Fords were essentially purchased stock off the line, while Uber’s partnership with Volvo means it can do more in terms of integrating its own sensor array into the ones available on board the vehicle already.

Uber ATG Head of Product Matt Sweeney told me in an interview that this third-generation vehicle actually uses fewer sensors than the Fords that are on the roads in Pittsburgh, though the loadout still includes a full complement of traditional optical cameras, radar, LiDAR and ultrasonic detectors. He said that fewer sensors are required in part because of the lessons learned from the Pittsburgh rollout, and from their work studying previous generation vehicles; with autonomy, you typically start by throwing everything you can think of at the problem, and then you narrow based on what’s specifically useful, and what turns out not to be so necessary. Still, the fused image of the world that results from data gathered from the Volvo’s sensor suite does not lack for detail.

“You combine [images and LiDAR] together you end up with an image which you know very explicitly distance information about, so it’s like this beautiful object that you can detect as you’re moving through,” Sweeney explained to me. “And with some of the better engineered integration here, we have some radars in the front and rear bumpers behind the facades.”

Those radar arrays provide more than just the ability to see even in conditions it might be difficult to do so optically, as in poor weather; Sweeney notes that the radar units they’re using can actually bounce signal off the surface of the road, underneath or around vehicles in front, in order to look for and report back information on potential accidents or hazards not immediately in front of the autonomous Uber itself.

“The car is one of the reasons we’re really excited about this partnership, it’s a really tremendous vehicle,” Sweeney said. “It’s Volvo’s new SPA, the scalable platform architecture – the first car on their brand new, built from the ground up vehicle architecture, so you get all new mechanical, all new electrical, all new compute.”

Uber didn’t pick a partner blindly – Sweeney says they found a company with a reputation for nearly a hundred years of solid engineering, manufacturing and a commitment to iterating improvement in those areas.

“The vehicle that we’re building on top of, we’re very intentional about it,” Sweeney said, noting that cars like this one are engineered specifically for safety, which is not the main failure point when it comes to most automobile accidents today – that role is reserved for the human drivers behind the wheel.

Uber’s contributions are mainly in the sensor pod, and in the compute stack in the trunk, which takes up about half the surface area of the storage space and which Sweeney said is “a blade architecture, a whole bunch of CPUs and GPUs that we can swap out under there,” though he wouldn’t speak to who’s supplying those components specifically. The tremendous computing power it represents taken together is the key identifying objects, doing so in higher volume, and doing better pathfinding in complex city street environments.

For the actual rider, there’s an iPad-based interactive display in the rear of the vehicle, which takes over for the mobile app once you’ve actually entered the vehicle and are ready to start your ride. The display guides you through the steps of starting your trip, including ensuring your seat belt is fastened, checking your destination and then setting off on the ride itself.

During our demo, the act of actually leaving the curb and merging into traffic was handled by the safety driver on board, but in eventual full deployment of these cars the vehicles will handle even that tricky task. The iPad shows you when you’re in active self-driving mode, and also when it’s been disengaged and steering is being handled by the actual person behind the wheel instead. The screen also shows you a simplified version of what the autonomous car itself “sees,” displaying on a white background color-coded point- and line-based rudimentary versions of the objects and the world surrounding the vehicle. Objects in motion display trails as they move through this real-time virtual world.

The iPad-based display also lets you take a selfie and share the image from your ride, which definitely helps Uber promote its efforts, while also helping with the other key goal that the iPad itself seeks to achieve – making riders feel like this tech is both knowable and normal. Public perception remains one of autonomous driving’s highest bars to overcome, along with the tech problem and regulation, and selfies are one seemingly shallow way to legitimately address that.

So how did I feel during my ride? About as excited as I typically feel during any Uber ride, after the initial thrill wore off – which is to say mostly bored. The vehicle I was in had to negotiate some heavy traffic, a lot of construction and very unpredictable south-of-Market San Francisco drivers, and as such did disengage with fair frequency. but it also handled long open stretches of road at speed with aplomb, and kept distance in more dense traffic well in stop-and-go situations. It felt overall like a system that is making good progress in terms of learning – but one that also still has a long way to go before it can do without its human minders up front.

My companion for the ride in the backseat was Uber Chief of Watch Rachel Maran, who has been a driver in Uber’s self-driving pilot in Pittsburgh previously. She explained that the unpredictability and variety in any new driving environment is going to be one of the biggest challenges Uber’s autonomous driving systems have to overcome.

Uber’s pilot in San Francisco will be limited to the downtown area to start, and will involve “a handful” of vehicles to start, with the intent of ramping up from there according to the company. The autonomous vehicles in Pittsburgh will also continue to run concurrently with the San Francisco deployment. Where Pittsburgh offers a range of weather conditions and other environmental variables for testing, San Francisco will provide new challenges for Uber’s self-driving tech, including denser, often more chaotic traffic, plus narrower lanes and roads.

The company doesn’t require a permit from the California DMV to operate in the state, it says, because the cars don’t qualify as fully autonomous as defined by state law because of the always present onboard safety operator. Legally, it’s more akin to a Tesla with Autopilot than to a self-driving Waymo car, under current regulatory rules.

Ultimately, the goal for Uber in autonomy is to create safer roads, according to Sweeney, while at the same time improving urban planning and space problems stemming from a vehicle ownership model that sees most cars sitting idle and unused somewhere near 95 percent of the time. I asked Sweeney about concerns from drivers and members of the public who can be very vocal about autonomous tech’s safety on real roads.

“This car has got centimeter-level distance measurements 360-degrees around the vehicle constantly, 20 meters front and 20 meters back constantly,” Sweeney said, noting that even though the autonomous decision-making remains “a really big challenge,” the advances achieved by the sensors themselves and “their continuous attention and superhuman perception […] sets us up for the first really marked decrease in automotive fatalities since the airbag.”

“I think this is where we really push it down to zero,” Sweeney added. “People treat it as though it’s a fact of life; it’s only because we’re used to it. We can do way better than this.”

Uber’s self-driving cars start picking up passengers in San Francisco

Thanks to Kebmodee for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.

by Max Chafkin

Near the end of 2014, Uber co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick flew to Pittsburgh on a mission: to hire dozens of the world’s experts in autonomous vehicles. The city is home to Carnegie Mellon University’s robotics department, which has produced many of the biggest names in the newly hot field. Sebastian Thrun, the creator of Google’s self-driving car project, spent seven years researching autonomous robots at CMU, and the project’s former director, Chris Urmson, was a CMU grad student.

“Travis had an idea that he wanted to do self-driving,” says John Bares, who had run CMU’s National Robotics Engineering Center for 13 years before founding Carnegie Robotics, a Pittsburgh-based company that makes components for self-driving industrial robots used in mining, farming, and the military. “I turned him down three times. But the case was pretty compelling.” Bares joined Uber in January 2015 and by early 2016 had recruited hundreds of engineers, robotics experts, and even a few car mechanics to join the venture. The goal: to replace Uber’s more than 1 million human drivers with robot drivers—as quickly as possible.

The plan seemed audacious, even reckless. And according to most analysts, true self-driving cars are years or decades away. Kalanick begs to differ. “We are going commercial,” he says in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek. “This can’t just be about science.”

Starting later this month, Uber will allow customers in downtown Pittsburgh to summon self-driving cars from their phones, crossing an important milestone that no automotive or technology company has yet achieved. Google, widely regarded as the leader in the field, has been testing its fleet for several years, and Tesla Motors offers Autopilot, essentially a souped-up cruise control that drives the car on the highway. Earlier this week, Ford announced plans for an autonomous ride-sharing service. But none of these companies has yet brought a self-driving car-sharing service to market.

Uber’s Pittsburgh fleet, which will be supervised by humans in the driver’s seat for the time being, consists of specially modified Volvo XC90 sport-utility vehicles outfitted with dozens of sensors that use cameras, lasers, radar, and GPS receivers. Volvo Cars has so far delivered a handful of vehicles out of a total of 100 due by the end of the year. The two companies signed a pact earlier this year to spend $300 million to develop a fully autonomous car that will be ready for the road by 2021.

The Volvo deal isn’t exclusive; Uber plans to partner with other automakers as it races to recruit more engineers. In July the company reached an agreement to buy Otto, a 91-employee driverless truck startup that was founded earlier this year and includes engineers from a number of high-profile tech companies attempting to bring driverless cars to market, including Google, Apple, and Tesla. Uber declined to disclose the terms of the arrangement, but a person familiar with the deal says that if targets are met, it would be worth 1 percent of Uber’s most recent valuation. That would imply a price of about $680 million. Otto’s current employees will also collectively receive 20 percent of any profits Uber earns from building an autonomous trucking business.

Otto has developed a kit that allows big-rig trucks to steer themselves on highways, in theory freeing up the driver to nap in the back of the cabin. The system is being tested on highways around San Francisco. Aspects of the technology will be incorporated into Uber’s robot livery cabs and will be used to start an Uber-like service for long-haul trucking in the U.S., building on the intracity delivery services, like Uber Eats, that the company already offers.

The Otto deal is a coup for Uber in its simmering battle with Google, which has been plotting its own ride-sharing service using self-driving cars. Otto’s founders were key members of Google’s operation who decamped in January, because, according to Otto co-founder Anthony Levandowski, “We were really excited about building something that could be launched early.”

Levandowski, one of the original engineers on the self-driving team at Google, started Otto with Lior Ron, who served as the head of product for Google Maps for five years; Claire Delaunay, a Google robotics lead; and Don Burnette, another veteran Google engineer. Google suffered another departure earlier this month when Urmson announced that he, too, was leaving.

“The minute it was clear to us that our friends in Mountain View were going to be getting in the ride-sharing space, we needed to make sure there is an alternative [self-driving car],” says Kalanick. “Because if there is not, we’re not going to have any business.” Developing an autonomous vehicle, he adds, “is basically existential for us.” (Google also invests in Uber through Alphabet’s venture capital division, GV.)

Unlike Google and Tesla, Uber has no intention of manufacturing its own cars, Kalanick says. Instead, the company will strike deals with auto manufacturers, starting with Volvo Cars, and will develop kits for other models. The Otto deal will help; the company makes its own laser detection, or lidar, system, used in many self-driving cars. Kalanick believes that Uber can use the data collected from its app, where human drivers and riders are logging roughly 100 million miles per day, to quickly improve its self-driving mapping and navigation systems. “Nobody has set up software that can reliably drive a car safely without a human,” Kalanick says. “We are focusing on that.”

In Pittsburgh, customers will request cars the normal way, via Uber’s app, and will be paired with a driverless car at random. Trips will be free for the time being, rather than the standard local rate of $1.05 per mile. In the long run, Kalanick says, prices will fall so low that the per-mile cost of travel, even for long trips in rural areas, will be cheaper in a driverless Uber than in a private car. “That could be seen as a threat,” says Volvo Cars CEO Hakan Samuelsson. “We see it as an opportunity.”

Although Kalanick and other self-driving car advocates say the vehicles will ultimately save lives, they face harsh scrutiny for now. In July a driver using Tesla’s Autopilot service died after colliding with a tractor-trailer, apparently because both the driver and the car’s computers didn’t see it. (The crash is currently being investigated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.) Google has seen a handful of accidents, but they’ve been less severe, in part because it limits its prototype cars to 25 miles per hour. Uber’s cars haven’t had any fender benders since they began road-testing in Pittsburgh in May, but at some point something will go wrong, according to Raffi Krikorian, the company’s engineering director. “We’re interacting with reality every day,” he says. “It’s coming.”

For now, Uber’s test cars travel with safety drivers, as common sense and the law dictate. These professionally trained engineers sit with their fingertips on the wheel, ready to take control if the car encounters an unexpected obstacle. A co-pilot, in the front passenger seat, takes notes on a laptop, and everything that happens is recorded by cameras inside and outside the car so that any glitches can be ironed out. Each car is also equipped with a tablet computer in the back seat, designed to tell riders that they’re in an autonomous car and to explain what’s happening. “The goal is to wean us off of having drivers in the car, so we don’t want the public talking to our safety drivers,” Krikorian says.

On a recent weekday test drive, the safety drivers were still an essential part of the experience, as Uber’s autonomous car briefly turned un-autonomous, while crossing the Allegheny River. A chime sounded, a signal to the driver to take the wheel. A second ding a few seconds later indicated that the car was back under computer control. “Bridges are really hard,” Krikorian says. “And there are like 500 bridges in Pittsburgh.”

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2016-08-18/uber-s-first-self-driving-fleet-arrives-in-pittsburgh-this-month-is06r7on


Joshua Neally had only been driving his Tesla Model X for a week when he found himself suffering a medical emergency.

Joshua Neally says he suffered a pulmonary embolism late last month while behind the wheel of the Tesla Model X, which features auto-driving technology, that he had purchased a week earlier.

“It was kinda getting scary. I called my wife and just said, ‘something’s wrong,’ and I couldn’t breathe, I was gasping, kind of hyperventilating,” the attorney from Springfield, Missouri, told KY3 News. “I just knew I had to get there, to the ER.”

Instead of pulling over to call 911 and wait for an ambulance, the 37-year-old father said he was able to direct his car to the nearest hospital.

Neally told Slate he doesn’t remember much after that. He said he’s fully aware, however, that the blockage in his lungs could have killed him or caused him to pass out behind the wheel.

Roughly one-third of people with an untreated or undiagnosed pulmonary embolism don’t survive, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Neally’s health scare occurred about three months after a Tesla driver in Florida was killed when his self-driving car crashed into a semi truck. The incident inspired a federal investigation into the company’s auto-piloting technology.

Neally knows about that accident, but is still grateful for his experience with the vehicle.

“It’s not going to be perfect, there’s no technology that’s perfect, but I think the measure is that it’s better and safer,” he said.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/tesla-drives-man-to-hospital_us_57a8aee8e4b0b770b1a38886

Thanks to Michael Lutter for bringing this to the It’s Interesting community.