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How self-driving cars will cut accidents 90 percent

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http://www.cnet.com/news/how-self-driving-cars-will-cut-accidents-90-percent-q-a/

For Road Trip 2015, CNET talks with the University of Michigan's Peter Sweatman about the rapid merging of computers and cars, and the fake city in Ann Arbor where it's being put to the test ANN ARBOR, Michigan -- Peter Sweatman isn't in charge of the computing revolution that's sweeping the auto industry, but he's at the center of it.
As director of the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) in Ann Arbor, he's 30 miles west of Detroit and in the heart of car country. Ford, General Motors, Fiat's Chrysler and countless suppliers are all nearby, and they're getting even closer: a new project at the University of Michigan called Mcity will help carmakers develop the automated navigation systems of their self-driving vehicles.
Mcity is a 32-acre microcosm of motoring complete with faded stop signs, roundabouts, lousy weather and out-of-date traffic signals. There, automakers and others can test not just self-driving cars but also radio communications that link cars to each other and to road infrastructure.
By concentrating the work of many companies and academics, Mcity is an important facility for an auto industry embracing the powerful forces of the computing industry. It embodies not just Detroit's cooperation with Silicon Valley but also its competition with the tech hub for engineering talent and customer enthusiasm.
The Mcity effort unites the academic world of research -- such as UMTRI's study about how much self-driving cars could cut car ownership -- with real-world tests like the vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) study that's been under way in Ann Arbor since 2012. Backers include not just auto industry giants but also insurance company State Farm and high-tech companies like wireless chipmaker Qualcomm and network operator Verizon.
Sweatman, an Australian with a specialty in trucking safety who's worked in the public and private sector, has led UMTRI since 2004. He discussed the Mcity project with CNET News' Stephen Shankland. The following is an edited transcript of their discussion.
Q: Let's take it from the top. What is Mcity, and what is it going to accomplish for the industry?
Sweatman: Mcity is an environment for advancing connected and automated technologies. They're transformational and the public wants them, so we're going to have to move quickly. We created a Mobility Transformation Center (MTC) to concentrate on connected and automated technology, all its ramifications, and how we can move it faster into massive deployment. A key element of that is to have a safe off-roadway facility for testing automated vehicles. So we've created Mcity. It's a fake downtown -- a physical simulation of a dense, complex urban environment. It has many real situations packed into a 32-acre area -- city blocks, suburban streets, suburban arterials, rural roads, freeways and ramps, roundabouts, traffic circles and complex skewed intersections.
Click here for more Road Trip 2015 stories.
It's an interesting combination of thinking about human factors -- how the human interacts with vehicles and the infrastructure -- and about robotics -- how the machine behaves. We bring experts who understand these different worlds together at one test facility. The idea is to be able to reproduce the most challenging situations that vehicles find themselves in cities. We can keep repeating the same scenario so we can move forward quickly.
How many miles of roads are there?
Sweatman: We've got 4.2 miles.
What can you do at a place like this that General Motors or Toyota couldn't do on their own test tracks?
Sweatman: For one thing, we have different varieties of real traffic signals. There aren't too many test facilities that provide that. We have a range of lighting conditions. We've got building facades we can move around. We've got mechanized pedestrians and will have mechanized cyclists. We've got a range of roadway surfacing -- concrete, asphalt, simulated brick. It's not just a track, it's an environment. All that detail is important, because the sensors in an automatic vehicle are trying to recognize the situation.
Self-driving cars are one big piece of this. Another is vehicle-to-vehicle [V2V] communications and vehicle-to-infrastructure [V2I] communications. How will that be tested here?
Sweatman: We started with connected vehicles with dedicated short-range communication -- DSRC -- nearly three years ago. We've still got a large number of vehicles in Ann Arbor operating in that mode. We decided to bring together that DSRC connected technology with various levels of automation based on sensors in the vehicle. There's a huge power in doing that. You can think of DSRC as the ultimate sensor that you're adding to the vehicle: not only does the vehicle have machine vision, the other vehicles are talking to your vehicle and giving it info that it otherwise wouldn't have. We see that convergence of connectivity and automation as critical. That's one of the first things we'll be investigating at Mcity -- to see what additional benefit we get with combining DSRC with automation.
There's a plan to expand that V2V and V2I along Interstate 96 and 696 [in the Detroit area]. How many vehicles will be equipped, and how much infrastructure will there be?
Sweatman: As we move from Mcity to Ann Arbor and to southeast Michigan, we get more vehicles and get to a point where we can see crashes being avoided. The Michigan Department of Transportation [MDOT] announced a smart corridor on I-96 and I-696 last year. That's already being deployed to provide the wireless DSRC communication.
We need to get to a point where drivers know and appreciate every day that their vehicle is communicating with intersections, ramps and so on, and that the driver is benefiting every day. Safety is important, but safety incidents only happen infrequently. It's easy for someone to forget why they have that system in their vehicle.
It's important to have smart corridors, we're going broader across southeast Michigan with the Michigan Department of Transportation. We're going to put 500 radios in that infrastructure within southeastern Michigan. Then, with our partners which happen to have large company fleets located throughout that area, we're going to capitalize on that opportunity to deploy 20,000 or more equipped vehicles across southeastern Michigan. That reaches the scale of a real deployment, not just a model deployment.
Walk me through how it works. If you're driving a car equipped with this radio communication ability, it's talking to other cars, to the highway, to onramps and offramps, traffic lights -- what actually happens?
Sweatman: You're getting warnings and information presented to you as the driver. One we found to be very popular in Ann Arbor is the electronic brake light. Imagine a car two or three vehicles in front of you in the traffic stream is braking suddenly. You can't see their brake lights or the vehicle, but the signal coming from that vehicle is picked up by your vehicle, so you're able to preempt that sudden deceleration.
A LOOK AT MCITY, A TEST SITE FOR SELF-DRIVING... SEE FULL GALLERY
Michigan's Mcity from the air
Mcity's adaptable cityscape
Mcity roundabout intersection
University of Michigan roundabout
Mcity aerial view
Mcity intersection
University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute
Mcity entrance
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In some cases what's valued by the user is the knowledge that other vehicles know they're there. This applies to motorcyclists -- they're very happy to know the car or large freight truck that normally wouldn't see them knows they're there.
It's not trying to get your private information. It doesn't even know who you are, but it knows you're there, and you know other players around you. The computer in your car is constantly sifting through information looking for something unusual or a sudden change that would indicate someone's going to crash into you.
Do you need protected spectrum for V2V and V2I? There's this 5.9GHz radio-frequency band carved off for this in 1999.
Sweatman: We love the idea of protected spectrum, but we also understand that spectrum is very valuable. If it's going to be proved possible to have unrestricted and uninterfered-with safety messages still being sent while other uses are taking place, then we're willing to consider that. It would require a fair bit of testing. We'd like to test it in our facilities here.
Are you concerned about the Federal Communications Commission opening that to discussion -- that maybe these airwaves should be publicly usable for any wireless activity?
Sweatman: I wouldn't say we're concerned. We're very aware of it and involved in the process. We've got great faith in the FCC that they're doing an in-depth investigation. At some stage it's going to be important to know exactly what technology is available to reliably share the spectrum, so some movie being downloaded can be interrupted so your brake-light message from three vehicles ahead of you can get through. We need to make sure that happens every time in a reliable way. And we're going to need to know it'll work with a large number of vehicles in a small area. Those things need to be tested not just in a lab, but in a real environment.
A lot is happening in Silicon Valley with self-driving car technology. Google gets a lot of attention, Apple perhaps is noodling around with it and automakers have opened up labs there. Is there some concern that the intellectual center of this work is on the West Coast and not here at the center of the US car business?
Sweatman: Michigan is the global center of the automotive industry. The future of mobility -- particularly as it's influenced by connected and automated technologies -- is playing out here. The facilities and capabilities we're providing are helping the industry in this part of the world move forward quickly. A little bit of healthy competition is a good thing.
We recognize it's not just about automakers. It's a new ecosystem of companies who aren't used to working together. We've got the automakers and tier-one suppliers, we've got the traffic signal and traffic sensing community, we have insurance, we have telecommunications, we have big data, we have IT. We pull them all together here in Michigan. We deploy these technologies in a big enough representation that we can learn fast, then we can improve it and do an even bigger deployment. We call that rapid learning cycles. That's something the automotive industry has honed over many decades.
Vintage illustration of a futuristic three-wheeled self-driving "dream car," 1961.
Vintage illustration of a futuristic three-wheeled self-driving "dream car," 1961.
GraphicaArtis/Getty Images
What about testing in the real world? That seems to be Google's approach -- you build a car and see what it encounters, like a woman in an electric wheelchair chasing a duck in the street.
Sweatman: That kind of thing Google is doing is still testing. What we're trying to do with Mcity is to be able to produce unusual and challenging situations but then make them replicable so we can do them many, many times. To get just one episode of a particular situation isn't that helpful in quickly developing your algorithms and system. You want to say, "Let's re-run that again and change something," and get it right.
We want to get these vehicles on the roadway, operating with real users, as fast as we can. Google isn't doing that with real users, they're doing it with employees. What we're doing here, and what we're good at in Michigan, is doing these bigger deployments where we recruit volunteers. Then we learn much faster what people really want. What do people love about this?
It's going to be a revolution in safety. That's sufficient to get anybody to get this done as soon as possible.
It seems to me the way to build acceptance in the marketplace for self-driving cars is showing that although they might not necessarily be 100 percent safe, they are safer than human drivers. How well does that sales pitch hold up when the first kid playing street hockey is killed by a self-driving car?
Sweatman: When we get to high density of automation, serious crashes will reduce by an order of magnitude -- a factor of 10. There will still be crashes. We're going to have a mix of automation and conventionally driven vehicles, and we don't know how other drivers view other vehicles. Will they know that other vehicle is an automated vehicle and behave differently?
Humans cheat. They're pushing the envelope all the time, whether speeding or going through traffic signals. The machine does what it's programmed to do. It doesn't cheat.
There's no doubt the automated future, when we get to it, will be much much safer. Ninety percent of crashes are caused by human error. That's not going to happen with a machine, but there will be situations where the machine is confounded or something happens where there are crashes, but they will be far fewer. As soon as we see significant deployment, we're going to see crash rates going down. The people themselves are going to know it's safer.
What about sci-fi ideas like platooning [with multiple vehicles linking electronically into energy-efficient groups] or green waves where cities coordinate traffic into smooth traveling?
Sweatman: I'd call those applications, like you get on your computer or your phone. There are going to be endless applications. Platooning freight trucks on long journeys is one.
For years we've been trained by the auto industry that it's great to have a car because you get freedom, this autonomy. How comfortable will people be yielding that to a computer? People feel more worried about accidents when they're a passenger who's not in control, and they feel more secure when they are the driver who's in control. With self-driving cars, it's not the freedom of the open road on Route 66 anymore -- it's more like public transit.
Sweatman: I don't think people are going to be having this internal debate whether they should relinquish control. Americans more than anybody else around the world will leap at the chance to spend their time better. In the early stages, people who are nervous about it can resume control. That'll happen less and less frequently. The draw of using their time better will take over and people won't be so concerned.
There's a debate in the industry about whether self-driving cars are a complete break, with totally different technology, or whether there's a gradual shift to self-driving cars -- a continuum of steadily more sophisticated driver-assistance technology like cruise control on steroids.
Sweatman: I think it is a very steep continuum. It has to be. The reason the slope will be steep is the demand will be strong.

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I live in Michigan and I work in the auto industry. I still have mixed feeling regarding self driving cars. I see a lot of issues with software even in today's vehicles, and going fully self driving the software complexity increases greatly. Added to that all the questions regarding liability, insurance, cyber security, and what does a self driving car do when it encounters something that the software cannot handle. The other big question is how do we completely achieve a self driving world, does government mandate the change, then what happens to all the classic cars? In two weeks we will have another Woodward Deam Cruise, it would certainly be a shame to have only modern self driving cars cruising up and down Woodard Avenue.

Lastly, I for one enjoy driving, I wouldn't mind some added anti-collision advances, but I don't really want to have a full out self driving car.


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I live in Michigan and I work in the auto industry. I still have mixed feeling regarding self driving cars. I see a lot of issues with software even in today's vehicles, and going fully self driving the software complexity increases greatly. Added to that all the questions regarding liability, insurance, cyber security, and what does a self driving car do when it encounters something that the software cannot handle. The other big question is how do we completely achieve a self driving world, does government mandate the change, then what happens to all the classic cars? In two weeks we will have another Woodward Deam Cruise, it would certainly be a shame to have only modern self driving cars cruising up and down Woodard Avenue.

Lastly, I for one enjoy driving, I wouldn't mind some added anti-collision advances, but I don't really want to have a full out self driving car.

I see a lot of issues with software even in today's vehicles, and going fully self driving the software complexity increases greatly. Added to that all the questions regarding liability, insurance, cyber security, and what does a self driving car do when it encounters something that the software cannot handle.

test by google show that safety performance far out strips human abilities, it appears that we are now "there",

The other big question is how do we completely achieve a self driving world, does government mandate the change,

The market place will be far ahead of the government on this one.

then what happens to all the classic cars?

In two weeks we will have another Woodward Deam Cruise, it would certainly be a shame to have only modern self driving cars cruising up and down Woodard Avenue.

We will pull them out on parade day and enjoy them for the beauties they are, just like Model T's and Packard's today, no one drives those to work

More lives and property are saved

More folks who can't or shouldn't drive will have mobility

Total cost of ownership will drop


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I'm looking forward to the availability of self driving cars. I'm hoping our Fit lasts long enough that our next car can be self-driving.

I'm gambling they'll hit the mainstream market within the next ten years.


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I'm looking forward to the availability of self driving cars. I'm hoping our Fit lasts long enough that our next car can be self-driving.

I'm gambling they'll hit the mainstream market within the next ten years.

You must be better to your vehicles than I am :)


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You must be better to your vehicles than I am :)

The Fit is only two years old and the prior one was just shy of six when it died (a woman on a cell phone crashed into the car on the highway with my wife and dog in the car, totalling it) without a single mechanical issue. I figure we should get another seven to ten years out of it and that's about when I figure self-driving cars will be on the road. I'm really ####### about keeping up on maintenance and we drive less than 2000 miles a year on average. So unless we a) move intercontinentally or b) have too many children to fit well in the Fit, I'm confident that the car will be okay. I mean, my first car was a 1990 Mazda B2200--I was 3 in 1990, for the record. Cars can last a long time with good maintenance.


Met in 2010 on a forum for a mutual interest. Became friends.
2011: Realized we needed to evaluate our status as friends when we realized we were talking about raising children together.

2011/2012: Decided we were a couple sometime in, but no possibility of being together due to being same sex couple.

June 26, 2013: DOMA overturned. American married couples ALL have the same federal rights at last! We can be a family!

June-September, 2013: Discussion about being together begins.

November 13, 2013: Meet in person to see if this could work. It's perfect. We plan to elope to Boston, MA.

March 13, 2014 Married!

May 9, 2014: Petition mailed to USCIS

May 12, 2014: NOA1.
October 27, 2014: NOA2. (5 months, 2 weeks, 1 day after NOA1)
October 31, 2014: USCIS ships file to NVC (five days after NOA2) Happy Halloween for us!

November 18, 2014: NVC receives our case (22 days after NOA2)

December 17, 2014: NVC generates case number (50 days after NOA2)

December 19, 2014: Receive AOS bill, DS-261. Submit DS-261 (52 days after NOA2)

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If you can't have self driving trains, planes, or ships, how could you do cars?

We could have all those, but realistically, what's the profit margin?

Let's say that the required computational equipment to drive a thing is a finite amount. There's no reason whatsoever why a ship, train or car would require any different computational equipment--they're all moving on effectively two dimensional plane. Airplanes might be a different matter and need more equipment in cost, but the existence of drones makes me think you probably could easily make a more advanced piece of equipment to deal with them--and yes, I know drones are remote controlled.

So the difference is literally software, right? Because a boat has to deal with other boats, whales, sharks, waves and storms whereas a train just has to know where it is on a track and whether or not it's hittinganything. A car has to deal with other cars, birds, people, bicycles, things falling off of trucks, etc. You effectively need to program this one time for each type of vehicle, then do all the testing. After that, it's just updates which needs fewer software engineers. Your cost for each vehicle is going to be pretty similar. You need to build the program from the ground up, then maintain it.

So, then, your profitability comes down to how many copies' potential customers do you have for trains and how many copies' potential customers do you have for cars? You can sell way more copies of your software to car owners than you can for train owners. Car owners need more longterm support--train companies are likely to just get their own software engineers to keep the trains running as they tend to be large corporations, but car owners are going to be made up of about half '12:00 blinkers,' also known as the people who can't figure out how to program their microwave to display accurate time. You're going to make boatloads more money from 12:00 blinkers than you are people with their own software engineers, right?

So the profit for 'public transit' style vehicles is going to be a whole lot less than the profit for individual cars.

God bless the free market!

Edited by Not a Tailor

Met in 2010 on a forum for a mutual interest. Became friends.
2011: Realized we needed to evaluate our status as friends when we realized we were talking about raising children together.

2011/2012: Decided we were a couple sometime in, but no possibility of being together due to being same sex couple.

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November 13, 2013: Meet in person to see if this could work. It's perfect. We plan to elope to Boston, MA.

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December 20, 2014: Pay AOS Fee

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If you can't have self driving trains, planes, or ships, how could you do cars?

We have autopilot, even auto-landing passenger airplanes. the only way in foggy Alaska

We have unmanned aerial vehicles..Amazon wants to build a fleet

Unmanned surface vehicles ( boats) are new but developing


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It really depends on what you deem a self driving car. Are we talking about a car that requires no human intervention to get from one point to the other that someone blind, infirm, elderly, or drunk can get in and it gets there with no issues, or a car that still requires a human to take over in certain instances. Yes, we have auto pilot for planes, trains, and ships, but in all cases, a human is usually in place (not always in the case of trains) to take over in instances when the software cannot handle a situation. And that is really the rub here, software design. Current cars with today's technology has millions of lines of code to carry out the processes, and diagnostics necessary for cars. To have a truly self driving car that works in all conditions, the software code would need billions of lines to attempt to handle every potential situation. Then there is the availability question, what happens when the software goes down and needs a reboot? Even the best software today on computers, cell phones and tablets has issues occasionally. This is usually not a big deal for these devices, but with a car, you are talking about a potential life and death situation.

I can certainly see a big increase in the amount of autonomous features introduced in cars. Things that help park, take over in heavy traffic, brake or accelerate to avoid an accident, but I don't really see a truly self driving car requiring no human intervention anytime soon.


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Such negativity. Notice human actors aren't allowed.

Self driving cars? Better than putting your hands into the life of a taxi driver.

I'm tired of machines running my life, I need to exercise my brain.

Does your little island have Uber? I rarely take taxis lately, I can almost always get an Uber car in less than 5 minutes and they don't smell like butt crack.

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