Tag: Robotics

Clearly, Self Driving Cars are Just Around the Corner

Arizona is working very, very, hard to make itself the go to location, largely by subsidies and lax regulations.

It appears that these efforts are beginning to annoy the locals, who have come to hate the rolling roadblocks:

Alphabet’s Waymo unit is a worldwide leader in autonomous vehicle development for suburban environments. It has said it would launch a driverless robo-taxi service to suburban Phoenix residents this year. Yet its self-driving minivan prototypes have trouble crossing the T-intersection closest to the company’s Phoenix-area headquarters here.

Two weeks ago, Lisa Hargis, an administrative assistant who works at an office a stone’s throw from Waymo’s vehicle depot, said she nearly hit a Waymo Chrysler Pacifica minivan because it stopped abruptly while making a right turn at the intersection. “Go!” she shouted angrily, she said, after getting stuck in the intersection midway through her left turn. Cars that had been driving behind the Waymo van also stopped. “I was going to murder someone,” she said.

This is literally the most self-driving car corner in the world. It’s right next ti Waymo HQ, and it still does not work.*

The hesitation at the intersection is one of many flaws evident in Waymo’s technology, say five people with direct knowledge of the issues in Phoenix. More than a dozen local residents who frequently encounter one of the hundreds of Waymo test vehicles circulating in the area complained about sudden moves or stops. The company’s safety drivers—individuals who sit in the driver’s seat—regularly have to take control of the wheel to avoid a collision or potentially unsafe situation, the people said.

Suburban Phoenix, with its generally flat, straight roads and relatively light traffic, has been an ideal test location for Waymo and other developers of autonomous vehicles. Apple, which is working on its own self-driving car, recently set up a facility for testing prototype vehicles near Surprise, Ariz., west of Phoenix, according to a person briefed about the matter, a move that hasn’t previously been reported. (An Apple spokesman didn’t comment.) Uber was conducting tests in the area until it halted activity after a deadly collision in March.

But Waymo’s experience in the Phoenix surroundings is the latest evidence that it could be many years before fully autonomous vehicles replace human drivers, even in relatively easy driving environments, at any meaningful scale. While established automakers like Ford and GM, as well as startups like Aurora Innovation and Voyage, also are making incremental advances, the race to make such vehicles an everyday reality hasn’t progressed far beyond the starting line, say people in the field.

This is why self-driving car “experts” are suggesting things like basically banning pedestrians.

This stuff is not ready for prime time.

OK, I May Have Been Too Dismissive of AI

It appears that scientists have managed to create a machine that can assemble IKEA furniture in about 20 minutes.

Of course, it2 a few years to do the programming:

Singaporean scientists have asked the question: “Can robots assemble an IKEA chair?” and come back with enough of a “Yes” that The Register feels it time to call for robots to take this job away from humans. Pleeeease, robots. Take this job away from us!

The boffins behind this breakthrough, assistant professor Pham Quang Cuong and a team of students, all of Nanyang Technological University, were cognizant of previous attempts at unpacking flat-pack kit that had used bespoke kit. So they instead used off-the-shelf robots and open-source code like the Point cloud library and gave them the job of assembling a “STEFAN” chair.


The robots didn’t do all the work themselves – assistant professor Pham and his students laid out the parts for the bots to find. But once unleashed, the machines did the job in 20 minutes and 19 seconds with over half of that time spent on computing the required actions. Actual build time was nine minutes, a little less than the average human according to IKEA.

Success came only at the fourth attempt, a failure rate that would put IKEA out of business. Problems on early attempts included the bots breaking some parts.


The team’s paper is here.  (paid subscription required)


I’m feeling much better about the rise of the machines.

And Elon Musk is Overrated

After years of production problems resulting from automation issues that have been documented by legacy automobile manufacturers, Elon Musk has finally admitted that over-reliance robots and automation was a mistake, and has noted that “Humans are underrated“.

This is what happens when someone thinks that they are smart enough to ignore lessons leaned over decades from auto manufacturing across the world:

In a rare mea culpa for the mercurial billionaire, Tesla CEO Elon Musk acknowledged that the company has been too reliant on robots for production.

Yes, excessive automation at Tesla was a mistake. To be precise, my mistake. Humans are underrated.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 13, 2018

“Excessive automation at Tesla was a mistake,” Musk wrote, responding to a Wall Street Journal reporter’s tweet. “Humans are underrated.” He also talked about this with CBS News’ Gayle King, adding “we had this crazy, complex network of conveyor belts….And it was not working, so we got rid of that whole thing.”

You know, if humans are underrated, and you admit to over-automating your assembly line.

If you have REALLY have learned your lesson, how ending your policy of treating your assembly line workers like complete sh%$?

And Arizona Understands Why California Banned Uber’s Self-Driving Cars Now

Once again, Gov. Doug Ducey’s dislike for government regulation has resulted in injury to Arizona, this time with tragic result.

Ducey on Monday rescinded Uber’s ability to test its self- driving vehicles in Arizona, citing the video of last week’s fatal crash into a Tempe pedestrian.

“As governor, my top priority is public safety,” Ducey wrote, in a letter to the San Francisco-based company.

This from the same governor, who in 2015 signed an executive order aimed at enticing Uber to use Arizona’s roads as a guinea pig.

The same governor who in December 2016 crowed over Uber’s decision to bring hundreds of its driverless cars to Arizona for testing “due to California’s burdensome regulations.”


The Ducey administration actually bragged about its lack of oversight of driverless vehicles.


Earlier this month, Ducey went a step further, issuing a new executive order decreeing that self-driving cars no longer need a driver behind the wheel, as long as they follow all the traditional traffic laws and rules for cars and drivers.

“As technology advances, our policies and priorities must adapt to remain competitive in today’s economy,” Ducey said. “This executive order embraces new technologies by creating an environment that supports autonomous vehicle innovation and maintains a focus on public safety.”

Now Elaine Herzberg is dead.


It’s not the first time Ducey’s preoccupation with bypassing government has caused problems.

Remember Theranos?

Ducey and the Legislature in 2015 cleared the way for Theranos to operate in our state, pushing though a new law that allowed consumers to purchase lab tests from a company without a doctor’s orders.

California shut down Uber’s self driving car program because they refused to get permits or report to regulators.

Even if you think that self-driving cars are just around the corner (I don’t), and you feel that development of self driving cars should be accelerated (again, I don’t), and that self driving cars will create a transportation utopia, Uber is a bad actor in their space, and they have ALWAYS been a bad actor in their space.

Smoothing the way for Uber is irresponsible and reckless.

Of Course it was Uber

Why am I not surprised that the first self driving care that ran down a pedestrian was an Uber:

Arizona officials saw opportunity when Uber and other companies began testing driverless cars a few years ago. Promising to keep oversight light, they invited the companies to test their robotic vehicles on the state’s roads.

Then on Sunday night, an autonomous car operated by Uber — and with an emergency backup driver behind the wheel — struck and killed a woman on a street in Tempe, Ariz. It was believed to be the first pedestrian death associated with self-driving technology. The company quickly suspended testing in Tempe as well as in Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto.

The accident was a reminder that self-driving technology is still in the experimental stage, and governments are still trying to figure out how to regulate it.

Uber, Waymo and a long list of tech companies and automakers have begun to expand testing of their self-driving vehicles in cities around the country. The companies say the cars will be safer than regular cars simply because they take easily distracted humans out of the driving equation. But the technology is still only about a decade old, and just now starting to experience the unpredictable situations that drivers can face.

There will no doubt be an investigation, and unless I miss my guess, they will find that Uber cut some corners, and that this contributed to the accident.  It’s a core part of their corporate DNA.

It’s Called a Windshield Wiper

I saw an article talking about how Silicon Valley is a terrible place for testing self driving cars because the weather there is too good.

Of course there is not a whole bunch of snow there, but there are ski resorts about 100 miles away, and mountains, etc.

They also make the point that this is a tremendously difficult problem.

The truth is that it is not a big problem.  The solution is called a windshield wiper.

In fact, I spent nearly a year working on a windshield wiper system for the LIDAR sensor clear on the US Army’s now canceled MULE (Multifunction Utility/Logistics and Equipment ) program.

The windshield wiper was complex, because the sensor covered about 200 degrees, and the windows were faceted with sharp edges, and I had to design a linkage to make the wiper follow the profile, and EMI/RFI shielded cabling, and gas tight seals, etc. ………

This is not trivial, but the solutions are straightforward, and California can accommodate pretty much all of the environmental conditions with the exceptions of tropical rain forest and tundra.

The real problem with the self-driving cars being developed in Silicon Valley is that the Silicon Valley ethos simply does not work for things that have to work outside of a computer.

The debacles at Theranos and Juicero are classic examples as to what happens Silicon Valley tries to conquer the real world, it turns to complete sh%$.

There may be self-driving vehicles capable of driving on any road before I die, but they will not come from the minds of Google, or Tesla, or Uber.

It might come from the NSA, it might come from Detroit, but truly autonomous cars are not cute cat GIFs, so I don’t expect them to come from the Randian supermen of Silicon Valley.

Prank Turned Research Project

Not the test, just a a prank in the vid

At the Virginia Tech, researchers have dressed up a card seat to evaluate public responses to unmanned cars:

Tech blogs went crazy over the weekend after a new self-driving car was seen rolling around Arlington, Virginia.

Unlike vehicles from Google Waymo, Uber and others, the car didn’t have any obvious signs of a Lidar array, the chunky imaging technology most autonomous vehicles use to gauge the state of the road ahead. Instead, it had just a small bar mounted on the dashboard, which blinked red when it was at a stop light and green once the cost was clear.

Even more intriguingly, the car appeared to be genuinely autonomous: there was no-one sitting in the driver’s seat. Typically, a human overseer is required in the testing phase to make sure that the car doesn’t go wild and run over a marching band, but somehow this car had managed to find a loophole.


But still a question remained. Who was behind this breakthrough new technology? How were they solving the problems that had stymied even the mighty Alphabet/Google/Waymo megacorp?

You’ve read the headline. You know the answer: it was a bloke dressed up as a car seat.


But one aspect of the rumour mill was correct: the guy really was associated with Virginia Tech. According to the university’s transportation institute, he was engaged in research about autonomous vehicles, likely gathering data about the reaction of normal drivers to sharing road space with a self-driving car.

I’m not sure if this was a real study, or just an excuse for some researcher to f%$# with fellow drivers.

My money on the latter.