Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Technology We Can't Do Without

I have posted several times in the past about self-driving autonomous vehicles and the benefits of this technology.  Following is a real world situation captured on the dashcam of a Tesla Motors vehicle equipped with its Autopilot Forward Collision Avoidance Radar.  One of the main features enabled by the new radar processing capacity is the ability for the system to see ahead of the car in front of you and basically track two cars ahead on the road. The radar is able to bounce underneath or around the vehicle in front and see where the driver potentially cannot because the leading vehicle is obstructing the view.

In the video below, you can hear the Tesla Autopilot’s Forward Collision Warning sending out an alert for seemingly no reason, but a fraction of a second later you understand why when the vehicle in front of the Tesla crashes into an SUV that wasn’t visible from the standpoint of the Tesla driver, but apparently it was for the Autopilot’s radar.

What is most impressive is that fact that you can clearly hear the Forward Collision Warning alert before the lead vehicle even applied the brake, which shows that the Autopilot wasn’t only using the lead vehicle to plan the path, but also the vehicle in front of it – the black SUV.

The driver of the Tesla also reported that Autopilot started braking before he could apply the brakes himself.

Thank you "Electrek"

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Slick Willie Ain't Got No Class

Lots of chatter today about Bill Clinton not having any class.  Seems as though he was in a book store the other day and someone asked if he thought President-elect Trump was smart.  Clinton responded, "he doesn't know much.

When was the last time you heard that from a former President of the United States say that about a soon-to-be President of the United States.  I've read a lot of history books in my time and never heard of such a comment, or even one that comes close to it.

Nope, Slick Willie ain't got no class.  And even if he ever did it went out the window the day he instructed a White House aide to take a knee in the Oval Office.   

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Seeing What You Can't See

For the past year or so I have been trying to convince you folks that a self-driving autonomous vehicle will be parked in your yard sooner rather than later. So, here’s my latest attempt to convince you that riding down the road in the near future without your hands on the steering wheel is going to be much safer than with your hands on the steering wheel.

Perhaps one of the most annoying and nerve racking experiences we encounter on the highway is going 60 mph in bumper-to-bumper traffic following a tractor-trailer that’s blocking our view and we can’t see what’s going on up ahead. Now imagine you’re in this same situation and you’re in an autonomous self-driving car, your hands are not on the steering wheel, and you’re not annoyed or nervous at all. Here’s why.

Tesla Motors is an American automaker that build self-driving autonomous vehicles with “Autopilot”. Their cars are equipped with cameras, radars and other sensors that allows a driver to drive hands free under most open road situations. And it’s the radar that’s really interesting. Tesla’s original Autopilot radar could only see a car in front which it would then render on the instrument cluster screen in the car (see below). However, this radar has recently been ungraded to what Tesla is calling version 8.0.

One of the most impressive features of the radar processing capacity is the ability for the system to see ahead of the car in front of you and basically track two cars ahead on the road. The radar is able to bounce underneath or around the vehicle in front and see where the driver potentially can not because the leading vehicle is obstructing the view.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk explains the new technology this way:

“In fact, an additional level of sophistication – we are confident that we can use the radar to look beyond the car in front of you by bouncing the radar signal off the road and around the car. We are able to process that echo by using the unique signature of each radar pulse as well as the time of flight of the photon to determine that what we are seeing is in fact an echo in front of the car that’s in front of you.”

Owners can see the difference directly from their instrument cluster where the Autopilot now renders more than one car ahead. Here’s an example before and after v8.0:

Obviously, there are several safety advantages to this technology, and it has apparently already been useful to some owners.

In a post on the Tesla Motors Club forum, a Model S owner in Florida explained how the system managed to engage the automatic emergency braking to avoid a potential accident that he couldn’t see:

“The traffic pace was about 60 mph with moderate to heavy traffic. I was driving in the far right lane with Autopilot engaged and a 2 on the TACC spacing.”

That’s the setting for the following distance for the Autopilot to follow the vehicle in front of the Tesla. He continued:

“I was following a truck which was large enough to obstruct my view of the car ahead. But I did note that AP [Autopilot] was registering the car in front of my lead car just fine despite me not having a view. Suddenly, full emergency braking was activated on my car, which startled me because the lead car was still moving at a normal speed and I could not detect a problem. A split second later the car directly in front of me veered into the shoulder to avoid hitting the car in front of him which had stopped abruptly for road debris. The AP [Autopilot] in my car managed to brake even before the car in front of me acted and was able to come to a full stop with a decent amount of room between me and what was the second car ahead of me. The original lead car was now stuck on the side of the road.”

He credited Tesla for “saving” him:

“This scenario perfectly demonstrated how the new AP car tracking system [under 8.0] works to make things safer. If I was driving manually, it is unlikely that I would have been able to stop in time, since I could not see the car that had stopped. The car reacted well before the car ahead of me reacted and that made the difference between a crash and a hard stop. Strong work Telsa, thanks for saving me.”

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Good Advice From A Genius

As a theoretical physicist based in Cambridge, I have lived my life in an extraordinarily privileged bubble. Cambridge is an unusual town, centred around one of the world’s great universities. Within that town, the scientific community that I became part of in my 20s is even more rarefied.

And within that scientific community, the small group of international theoretical physicists with whom I have spent my working life might sometimes be tempted to regard themselves as the pinnacle. In addition to this, with the celebrity that has come with my books, and the isolation imposed by my illness, I feel as though my ivory tower is getting taller.

So the recent apparent rejection of the elites in both America and Britain is surely aimed at me, as much as anyone. Whatever we might think about the decision by the British electorate to reject membership of the European Union and by the American public to embrace Donald Trump as their next president, there is no doubt in the minds of commentators that this was a cry of anger by people who felt they had been abandoned by their leaders.

It was, everyone seems to agree, the moment when the forgotten spoke, finding their voices to reject the advice and guidance of experts and the elite everywhere.

I am no exception to this rule. I warned before the Brexit vote that it would damage scientific research in Britain, that a vote to leave would be a step backward, and the electorate – or at least a sufficiently significant proportion of it – took no more notice of me than any of the other political leaders, trade unionists, artists, scientists, businessmen and celebrities who all gave the same unheeded advice to the rest of the country.

What matters now, far more than the choices made by these two electorates, is how the elites react. Should we, in turn, reject these votes as outpourings of crude populism that fail to take account of the facts, and attempt to circumvent or circumscribe the choices that they represent? I would argue that this would be a terrible mistake.

The concerns underlying these votes about the economic consequences of globalization and accelerating technological change are absolutely understandable. The automation of factories has already decimated jobs in traditional manufacturing, and the rise of artificial intelligence is likely to extend this job destruction deep into the middle classes, with only the most caring, creative or supervisory roles remaining.

This in turn will accelerate the already widening economic inequality around the world. The internet and the platforms that it makes possible allow very small groups of individuals to make enormous profits while employing very few people. This is inevitable, it is progress, but it is also socially destructive.

We need to put this alongside the financial crash, which brought home to people that a very few individuals working in the financial sector can accrue huge rewards and that the rest of us underwrite that success and pick up the bill when their greed leads us astray. So taken together we are living in a world of widening, not diminishing, financial inequality, in which many people can see not just their standard of living, but their ability to earn a living at all, disappearing. It is no wonder then that they are searching for a new deal, which Trump and Brexit might have appeared to represent.

It is also the case that another unintended consequence of the global spread of the internet and social media is that the stark nature of these inequalities is far more apparent than it has been in the past. For me, the ability to use technology to communicate has been a liberating and positive experience. Without it, I would not have been able to continue working these many years past.

But it also means that the lives of the richest people in the most prosperous parts of the world are agonizingly visible to anyone, however poor, who has access to a phone. And since there are now more people with a telephone than access to clean water in sub-Saharan Africa, this will shortly mean nearly everyone on our increasingly crowded planet will not be able to escape the inequality.

The consequences of this are plain to see: the rural poor flock to cities, to shanty towns, driven by hope. And then often, finding that the Instagram nirvana is not available there, they seek it overseas, joining the ever greater numbers of economic migrants in search of a better life. These migrants in turn place new demands on the infrastructures and economies of the countries in which they arrive, undermining tolerance and further fuelling political populism.

For me, the really concerning aspect of this is that now, more than at any time in our history, our species needs to work together. We face awesome environmental challenges: climate change, food production, overpopulation, the decimation of other species, epidemic disease, acidification of the oceans.

Together, they are a reminder that we are at the most dangerous moment in the development of humanity. We now have the technology to destroy the planet on which we live, but have not yet developed the ability to escape it. Perhaps in a few hundred years, we will have established human colonies amid the stars, but right now we only have one planet, and we need to work together to protect it.

To do that, we need to break down, not build up, barriers within and between nations. If we are to stand a chance of doing that, the world’s leaders need to acknowledge that they have failed and are failing the many. With resources increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, we are going to have to learn to share far more than at present.

With not only jobs but entire industries disappearing, we must help people to retrain for a new world and support them financially while they do so. If communities and economies cannot cope with current levels of migration, we must do more to encourage global development, as that is the only way that the migratory millions will be persuaded to seek their future at home.

We can do this, I am an enormous optimist for my species; but it will require the elites, from London to Harvard, from Cambridge to Hollywood, to learn the lessons of the past year. To learn above all a measure of humility.