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Autonomous cars are so close to reality

When I declared automated cars to be on our roads within 5 years and highly adopted in 10 years with private transportation becoming obsolete in 15-20 years, my friends looked at me like I was nuts and an overoptimistic technologist.

Mark my words, a transportation revolution is happening and most people are completely unaware how fast it is coming.

Telsa has joined the ranks of autonomous vehicles: Tesla Testing Software For Autopilot Trips Between Seattle & San Francisco

Elon Musk’s promise to deliver a fully functional self-driving car within the near future appears to have some truth to it — it seems to have not been an exaggeration, in other words (despite his habit of overstating things). The company has reportedly begun testing software that will allow the Model S to “drive itself” all the way from San Francisco to Seattle.

[Source, Clean Technica]

I so welcome it. The ramifications of autonomous vehicles is huge! Think of the infrastructure changes alone:

  • No more parking lots. (turn mall parking lots into actual parks)
  • No more signage = prettier cities.
  • No more painted roads.
  • Narrower and fewer roads = less maintenance, less environmental impact.
  • No more DUIs.
  • No more road rage.
  • No more divided highways (the cars negotiate the number of lanes each direction as demand dictates)
  • No more stress of ownership (ie. no more insurance, unexpected repairs when payday is still weeks away, worry over other’s ruining your vehicle by running into you)
  • No more accidents.
  • The elderly can become mobile again.
  • Special needs (mentally, disabled, blind, etc) people who previously could not drive will have refound freedom.
  • Greater quality time on commutes. (Trips to work can be productive. You can sleep on the long commute to granny’s house. Practice guitar while passengering to that gig. Play cars with your child instead of demanding they play the alphabet game once more time.)
  • Moving vans delivered to your door. (Want to move a bedroom suite from Cincinnati to Knoxville? Have Penske autodeliver a truck to the house in Knox then let the truck take you to Cincinnati, load, and the truck returns you or better yet just send the truck to Cincinnati and have locals load it.)

So many possibilities!

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I welcome our robotic overlords!

Remember when I said that within 5 years (10 at the worst) we would see driverless vehicles on the road and the decline of private transportation? The side affects will be narrower roads, no traffic lights, no signage, interstates without barriers and numbers of lanes determined by need, and best of all no more parking lots.

My estimate of 5 years was a little conservative. Try 5 months.

The UK government has announced that driverless cars will be allowed on public roads from January next year.

[Source, BBC, News Technology

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What was your first robot experience?

Heathkit Hero II tinkered with many gadgets as a child but it was in high school when I was allowed to skip out of my English class (1985-86) to sneak off to the advanced shop class that I was really bowled over. See, the shop class had a Hero. I had the privilege of participating in its construction and it left a lasting impression on me. Although I have never pursued robotics, the desire to get into robotics has remained in the back of my mind.

HE-RobotFor 2008, Healthkit is reintroducing the Hero robot as HE-RObot! Our household so needs one of these! Noah has expressed interest in robotics and I think this is a golden opportunity to get him focused on a subject that could have him involved with the community (we have a club in town that competes at Lego Mindstorm designs), draw his attention in high school, focus him in college, and even possibly set him on a career path (provided he stays away from the iPix founders).

I also think this household needs a Lego Mindstorm and an iRobot Create. Yes, we have a hackable Roomba but the iRobot Create is intended for experimentation while our Roomba is intended for cleaning. We also need an iRobot ConnectIR (although I have a hard time looking at it and not thinking "the ultimate upskirt machine!" Who puts a camera on wheels at floor level?!)

The only problem with my desire to make 2008 the year of the robot for our house is that Evan is scared silly of anything electronic that moves on its own. He doesn’t like his own remote control car nor does he like the boys remote control cars. They elicit squeals. He is fascinated with the Roomba but the minute it turns on he can break into tears. This boy is going to have to adapt! Challenge one: Make robotics fun for the two year old…

Thanks to Tom Maszerowski for posting about the HE-RObot.

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I want to work for iRobot!

Since a child, I’ve had a fascination with lasers and robots. My path steered away from those. iRobot rocks! iRobot will bring us closer to the Jetsons much sooner than I could have hoped. They have now introduced the Looj gutter-cleaning robot! What a great reason to put guttering on the house!

Makezine explains that iRobot is also accepting applications to beta test their next robot which will have a web camera built into it allowing people on the Internet to control your robot and speak to you. It’s iRobot meets Nabaztag meets Childrenview meets Camstreams.

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Heathkit Hero I

I want to work for iRobot. I’ve had a fascination with lasers and robots since I was a child (thank you hands-on museums) but never pursued these interests beyond getting to play with a Hero I in high school. I used to be allowed to skip out of English class to hang in the advanced electronics class (ergo the fantastic grammar you read here).

The iRobot Verro 300 is designed for use on gunite or concrete and features a powerful hydro-jet system that power washes iRobot pool scrubberthe pool, deep cleaning pores, cracks and seams. The iRobot Verro 600 is ideal for vinyl, tile and fiberglass pool surfaces and features sturdy PVA brushes that scrub and clean the pool, while the powerful vacuum and self-contained filtration system picks up and traps debris and microscopic bacteria. [Source]

I foresee underwater/webcam hacks a plenty!

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Next Darpa Challenge Announced

I swore I was going to participate in the next Darpa Challenge. I actually had discussions with some people when the first one came out. I think we could have done well.

Teams will compete to build an autonomous vehicle able to complete a 60-mile urban course safely in less than 6 hours.

Not sure I can move fast enough. Need funding!

  • Urban Challenge Participants Conference will be held on Saturday, May 20, 2006
  • Track A proposals are due June 23, 2006.
  • Track B applications are due October 5, 2006.

More in the press release.