How to Make Self-Driving Cars See the World Like Humans, and Other News From the Week in Cars
Amidst the robocar hype, it’s easy to forget that for all their powers, computers are still lousy drivers compared to humans. This week, Eric Adams introduced us to the people working to interpret hominid behavior for driving robots. Turns out perception is a remarkable, variegated thing, and cars need to learn how to do all the cool stuff we the fleshy can before performing seamlessly on the road. The same goes for companies. Google parent company Alphabet announced this week it will construct a techified neighborhood in Toronto. But can data build a functioning human place, one that actually feels like home?
Stories you might have missed from WIRED this week
If Polestar sounds familiar, it might be because Volvo once used the brand to build its race-ready cars. No longer. Polestar is a mean, green Tesla competitor now, and Volvo just gave the world its first peek at the Polestar 1. Jack’s got all the deets on the two-door, four-seat plug-in hybrid, available in 2019 and meant to give Volvo a one-up in the hot Chinese electric market.
Ridehailing companies like Uber and Lyft have long promised a future where you don’t need to own a car. That future isn’t here yet. I take you through new research out of UC Davis, which shows only 9 percent of riders have sold their vehicles, and that the companies may be taking business away from public transit.
Another thing that’s not here yet? Fully functioning autonomous vehicles. Eric takes us through the distinctively human traits that stand in their way. For example, the ability to divine that woman will be getting into her car, not crossing the street, or that the car decelerating next to you is exiting the highway, not getting ready to merge into your lane.
Meanwhile, the Alphabet company Sidewalk Labs announced it will be developing a portion of the Toronto waterfront, and I took a close look at the plans. The company will bring its distinctively Google-y perspective to bear on the neighborhood it will build there, collecting data on everything from the function of the robocars inside to how well canopies protect pedestrians from the brutal Canadian winters.
Brewing Robofight of the Week
On Tuesday, General Motors declared it will be the first company to test fully self-driving cars in Manhattan. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was definitely on board. New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio, not so much. “The City wasn’t given much notice of this idea and we certainly weren’t consulted. We have very real safety concerns,” a de Blasio spokesman told The Wall Street Journal. As legislation that would give the federal government oversight over how autonomous vehicles get tested wends its way through Congress, expect to see more city-centered clashes.
News from elsewhere on the internet.
More on that General Motors testing in New York: It will happen somewhere in downtown Manhattan starting in early 2018, and a safety operator will sit behind the wheel of each vehicle to ensure nothing goes wrong.
How to know when a robocar is fully safe, or at least not wreaking havoc on the road? Amnon Shashua, the CEO of sensor-maker Mobileye and now a senior VP at Intel, says he has come up with a formula that assigns blame in AV crashes. Now he just wants the entire industry to adopt a similar standard.
Most experts agree lidar sensors are a key ingredient in the recipe for making driverless cars possible. The Verge hangs with David Hall, the dude who helped bring the laser scanning technique to prominence in self-driving circles, and runs Velodyne, the most powerful lidar company of all.
Amidst its Model 3 production ramp up, Tesla fired up to 700 people in the past week. The company says the firings are linked to performance reviews, but some of the laid off employees said they had gotten good feedback.
Elon Musk’s electric car company did not fare so well in the latest Consumer Reports ranking of reliable brands. The Tesla Model 3 placed 21st, above the Cadillac Escalade, Dodge Journey, and Volvo XC90, but well below the Kia Sportage, Lexus GX, and Toyota Tacoma.
Alphabet’s venture arm poured $1 billion into Lyft, upping the ridehail company’s valuation to $11 billion and shoving it in the face of another investment—Uber.