Autonomous or Driverless Cars! (Part I)

 

 

For some time, I had in mind to read and write something about Autonomous or Driverless Cars! I started reading about these sometime back; I am really fascinated by the technology involved. From whatever little I have understood; I feel that these cars will have higher technology involvement compared to EVs. ( Electric Vehicles) Anyway, making the drivetrain in IC Engines is technology wise more complicated than the making EV drivetrain. (EV drivetrain might feel complex today because it is new) I will keep on sharing with you the information (not knowledge) I will acquire over time. My initial attempt will be a little scattered as there many things to understand and absorb.

A self-driving car (sometimes called an autonomous car or driverless car) is a vehicle that uses a combination of sensors, cameras, radar and artificial intelligence (AI) to travel between destinations without a human operator. To qualify to be called fully autonomous, a vehicle must be able to navigate without human intervention to a predetermined destination over roads that have not been adapted for its use.

The companies which are already in this field are Google’s Waymo, Apple, Volvo, General Motors, Tesla, Volkswagen, Nissan, to name a few! Many of these companies are NOT into car manufacture but are developing this technology as they have the wherewithal! As usual, who will end up at the top in the race only time can tell. There will be mergers and acquisitions. To my understanding, only Apple and Google have the money to manufacture the cars too! But I have my serious doubts if they will get into car making.

Driverless1

The above graph is showing data from 10 companies. It shows the number of miles driven before the manual intervention is needed while driving autonomous cars. Waymo needed manual intervention after every eleven thousand miles, whereas Apple needed manual intervention after every 1.1 miles. It indicates that Waymo and GM Cruise are way ahead of others in this technology. It also shows the safety aspect too! If I have to buy a car, I will buy a car using Waymo technology.

Which other aspects need to be checked and discussed? To start with, I am going to deal with the type of automation that is available in these cars. I used to visualise that an autonomous car means there is no steering wheel, one sits in the car, punch the destination and start chatting with your flame. But, that is not what it is. There are five stages of automation.

  • Zero level starts with humans doing the driving.
  • Level 1 is an Advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) to aid the human driver with either steering, braking, or accelerating, though not simultaneously. ADAS includes rearview cameras and features like a vibrating seat warning to alert drivers when they drift out of the travelling lane. It means some automation starts at this stage. Currently, an automated clutch change system is available (not the Automatic-transmission) which changes gears based on the car speed, without human intervention. Clutch in the car is operated automatically, but there is no clutch pedal.
  • Level 2 is an ADAS that can steer and either brake or accelerate simultaneously while the driver remains fully aware behind the wheel and continues to act as the driver.
  • Level 3 is an automated driving system (ADS) that can perform all driving tasks under certain circumstances, such as parking the car. (Parking assist) In these circumstances, the human driver must be ready to re-take control and is still required to be the main driver of the vehicle.
  • Level 4 is an ADS that can perform all driving tasks and monitor the driving environment in certain circumstances. In those circumstances, the ADS is reliable enough that the human driver needn’t pay attention to driving.
  • Level 5 is the vehicle’s ADS that acts as a virtual chauffeur and does all the driving in all circumstances. The human occupants are passengers and are never expected to drive the car.

From the current information available the Level 5 is far away from reality. It is not about the autonomous system. But the new system will need changes in insurance policies and laws, legal aspects of driving and responsibilities in case of an accident.

Each of the companies has their vision for autonomous cars. I was surprised to find that Nissan Leaf, the Nissan EV is one of the leading Electric Vehicle, which also has added autonomous systems to some extent. What are those?

Driverless3

This button is called de-stress button. When you press this during driving on the highway, it does the following things.

  • It allows you to set a distance between the car ahead of you.
  • If required it comes to a full stop
  • When the traffic restarts, it starts driving back on its own!
  • It keeps the car at the centre of the lane while driving, and this is also done when there is a smooth curve, controlling the speed if required.

driverless4

The picture above is E-pedal. You can theoretically accelerate and brake with the same pedal. You press it; it goes boom! You start reducing pressure, it starts braking. But there is brake pedal available too, just in case! Even on the hilly roads, one can drive with a single pedal, if required.

There are many such features on these cars, but we will discuss them over a period. How are autonomous vehicles going to change many things? What benefit will they offer to humanity?

First and foremost is that the number of accidents can reduce. Accidental deaths will come down over a period. But there will be many legal changes needed. Laws will have to be made and passed by the highest authorities.

Another technical change is that these cars will generate significant and vital data. This data will have to be stored and processed online many times. It will develop a new field of data science. How this will change the car driving is anybody’s guess. Will it eliminate the jobs of many drivers? Only time will tell. One thing it has done. One company in Pune, a multinational, has hired several hundred people to process the visual data captured during testing by autonomous vehicles. The data is treated and uploaded into the database. So, some new types of jobs will get generated.

One new problem could come up. Both husband and wife will be relatively less stressed when they reach home in autonomous cars. So, they will have enough energy to restart the argument which had to be stopped as both went to office! But on a serious note, life on roads will be simpler over a period.

Value of Ignorance!

 

Ignorance is bliss translates to “ignorantia sit beatitudo” in Latin! But is it true? Unless we humans accept that we do not know many things in this world we cannot become smarter, knowledgeable and wise! 

Everybody in the world is “blessed” with lack of knowledge! The list includes Einstein, Mozart, Chanakya, Tesla and all greats in their field. Ok, I am still sane but I wanted to make a sensational statement. What I am trying to say is that the greats in their field have terrific subject knowledge, maybe the ultimate knowledge but it is limited to their own field. In other areas, their knowledge could be from limited to zero. I am a Metallurgist by training, worked in foundries, business development and marketing area in my career; did reasonable work in the software area. But my knowledge in these fields is limited and in all other fields closer to nil. I am not shy to talk about it. It’s a fact of life.

 

How much can one learn during the lifetime? After you learn something, unless it is tested in real life, you cannot be sure if the knowledge gained is deep enough! So, with exception of a few people, most have the knowledge or are well versed in one to three areas. Rarest of the rare persons will be highly knowledgeable about more than one areas. But what all this indicates or suggests? This suggests that all of us must be humble enough to realize that this is true status in life and have the humility to accept our general lack of knowledge about everything else!  

What could be a way to attempt to correct this situation? First and foremost is the accept this with humility. The second method, I read somewhere recently about it, and I liked it. Someone suggested that you buy as many books as you can, both physical or e-books. These can be on your favourite subject as well as other subjects which you like, but naturally, you are not an expert in. What does this do? This keeps on giving you reminders of how many things you don’t know, we remain humble! At the same time, should the need arise the books can be referred to readily and we will be able to improve our knowledge?

During your career period, you may not really get time to read books but you can always skim through them. But at the same time, a habit must be cultivated to read something every year, every month and every week! Unless you are 100% sure that you are never going to read any of the books that you buy, keep on buying. Till you develop this habit of reading, maybe joining a library can be a good idea!  

Lifelong learning will help you to be happier, and even stay healthier. Plus, plenty of the smartest names in the business, from Bill Gates to Elon Musk, insist that the best way to get smarter is to read. So, what do you do? You go out and buy books, lots of them. 

But life is busy, and intentions are one thing, actions another. Soon you find your shelves (or e-reader) overflowing with titles you intend to read one day, or books you flipped through once but then abandoned. Is this a disaster for your project to become a smarter, wiser person? 

You might want to read up on tricks to squeeze more reading into your hectic life and why it pays to commit a few hours every week to learning. To start the process why not buy a book which will teach you “how to do” about book reading? But after learning this, it is still possible that your book reading in no way keeps pace with your book buying. Your overstuffed library isn’t a sign of failure or ignorance, but it is a sign that you want and hope to delve in the knowledge bank you have with you. Yes! Your library or can it be called “Virtual library”! It is virtual because though it is there it is not there till you access it!  

Are you actually going to read all those books in your lifetime? Of course not, but that isn’t the point of surrounding yourself with so much potential but as-yet-unrealized knowledge. By providing a constant reminder of all the things you don’t know, your library will keep you intellectually hungry and perpetually curious. An ever-growing collection of books you haven’t yet read can do the same for you.  

A private library is not an ego-boosting extension but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as much as your pocket allows you.  You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books.  

The virtual library is a powerful reminder of your limitations — the vast quantity of things you don’t know, half-know, or will one day realize you’re wrong about. By living with that reminder daily you can nudge yourself toward the kind of intellectual humility that improves decision-making and drives learning. 

So, stop worrying yourself for buying too many books or for having a to-read list that you could never get through in three lifetimes. All those books you haven’t read are indeed a sign of your ignorance. But if you know how ignorant you are, you’re way ahead of the vast majority of other people. 

At two ends of the spectrum, there are “know all” people and there are “know nothing” people. You and I are in between. Like knowledge of different things, you will realize the real meaning of buying and keeping a large number of books on different subjects.  

“Curiosity killed the cat” is a proverb used to warn of the dangers of unnecessary investigation or experimentation. But in the case of a virtual library that we are talking about, this proverb is not true! Unless you are curious, you won’t feel the urge to know more about different things that we don’t know or areas where your knowledge is limited.

In the current scenario, it makes a lot of sense to understand and know the new things, that are mushrooming around us in IT/Digital area. If we don’t track these things for five years, you will be left far, far behind and will find it difficult to catch up; then you will tend to ignore the subject further because you are left behind. Whether we like it or not, we will have to know about these new things. The situation of being left out is not good. Knowledge about these new IT/Digital things is going to be essential and mandatory. It is going to be like learning of basic reading and writing, of yesterday.

Friends, in pre-modern IT/Digital era, knowledge was essential to remain smarter, knowledgeable and wiser and books have been a major source for that. But post IT/Digital era, this requirement of knowledge update is going to remain but it’s going to be mandatory to continuously update yourself to survive or you may perish! The virtual library in future will be needed to survive! So start downloading or buying those books!

 

 

 

 

 

  

Man and the Machine!

I read about a flight that was required to land in the Hudson River in New York. US Airways Flight 1549 was an Airbus A320-214 which, in the climb out after takeoff from New York City’s LaGuardia Airport on January 15, 2009, struck a flock of Canadian geese, just northeast of the George Washington Bridge and consequently, lost all engine power. Unable to reach an airport, pilots Chesley Sullenberger and Jeffrey Skiles glided the plane to a ditching in the Hudson River off Midtown Manhattan. All 155 people aboard were rescued by nearby boats and there were few serious injuries.

This is the animation video of the incident. While reading about the incident and after watching the video and the video clip from the movie Sully (2016), questions came to my mind how far can a machine (based on AI- Artificial Intelligence-) take over human jobs and are they good enough to interpret the tricky situations. In this case, the incident occurred at the height of 2800 feet which is considered very low to handle such incidents. The pilots showed fantastic skills and managed to land in the Hudson River in very chilly conditions.

When various parameters were analyzed by different agencies, they used data from the black box and created simulations based on the data retrieved. Initially, they concluded that there may have been a pilot error because the auto simulations proved that the pilots should have acted differently and could have landed on either of the two airports which were in the vicinity. Both these airports had cleared the flight for emergency landing. But the pilot declared that he could not make it to the airports. Then data was loaded on simulators and two pilots “flew” the aeroplane, based on data captured. About 13 such pairs “flew” the plane on the simulator. Seven pairs could not reach the airport.

But when the pilot Sully was being interviewed, he said that he did not agree with the findings because the findings were applied to the situation, immediately instructed the pilot to turn towards the airport. But when the actual bird hits happened, the pilots were stunned and by rough estimate did not react for 35 seconds. The plane ultimately landed in the river 218 seconds after the bird hit. Out of this, 218 seconds 35 seconds were lost in the pilots recovering from the shock. Another important aspect was that the procedure stipulated by the plane manufacturer Airbus had written it with the assumption that the flying height would be 33000 feet at such times. At this height, humans have enough time to react. But at 2800 feet height, time left to react was less than four minutes before either landing or crashing. When 35 seconds of “no action”  time were considered in the simulation tests, the results matched with the pilots’ actions in deciding that not enough time was left for them to go back to any of the airports. Both pilots were honoured by many authorities for their heroic efforts which saved all 155 lives. See this interesting clip below, from the Movie “Sully” based on the incident with Tom Hank in the lead road.

Now the question comes to mind who is better Man or Machine? Would machine have required 35 seconds of reaction time? Maybe no. But unless this real-life situation was available in the database for the AI system, how would a machine have reacted? The pilot could see that there was the river Hudson around, which he thought would have become a spot for “soft landing”. At any other place in New York or New Jersey, the aeroplane would have simply crashed into buildings and maybe exploded. Would an AI system have known at the time of the incident, the option for a soft landing? Another question that comes to mind is how many combinations would be required to be present in AI database, for the system to understand that combination of 2800 feet height, time remaining of (218-35=) 183 seconds, wide enough river Hudson being around and there were no taller buildings in the path etc, etc. By analyzing hundreds of such options, the AI system would have arrived at a conclusion, what would be the “safest” option to save lives and the aircraft. At least in this case, with the current level of technology, the human decision was a superior decision.

The way humans react, their mind thinks out of the box! AI system decides only based on what data is available with it. The human mind applies its thoughts and extrapolates to arrive at the correct conclusion. It automatically does the risk analysis and tries to take the best possible decision under the circumstances. How far AI systems will be able to extrapolate, it is difficult for us to judge. 50 years hence, who knows?

I will share another example from the Aviation field. The incident is known as “Gimli Glider”, this happened in 1983 and the plane was Boeing 767 used by Air Canada. There were series of errors in the measurement of fuel, manual, gauges, dip stick, at every stage. There was a transition going on from the FPS system to MKS system in Canada at that time. One thing led to another ending in the incident. See the link below.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gimli_Glider

Incident is too technical to be explained here. But the end result was all the fuel tanks were suddenly empty, half way to the destination. We can say that all these errors and complications probably could have been avoided by AI. Yes and no both because AI stuff takes time to “learn everything”! After many such incidents, AI would become “an expert” in this area. But what happened later is where human intervention will show us the limitations of AI over human intelligence. When the pilots felt some issue, they decided to do an emergency landing at Winnipeg. But when they realized that there was zero fuel, the copilot and the pilot started thinking fast. The pilot was a gliding expert and he calculated that the plane could glide 16 times the height at which the plane was flying. The copilot was from that area, and he had worked on a Royal Canadian Air Force Station in the area. He judged the parameters and decided to land at that Ex-air force station at Gimli. Only problem was that both the pilots and air traffic controllers were not aware that the station had become a racing track. But it was only because of the knowledge of the pilots and the way they applied it sensibly, the plane ultimately landed safely with no major injuries to anyone on the flight as well as on ground.

This brings out the same question, AI or Humans who are better? This discussion is going to go on forever but AI systems will become better and better but nobody really knows what is stored in the Human brain and what the humans will retrieve from their brain, is going to be really difficult to judge. But we should not forget one thing, humans are the ones who are creating an AI system!

I read somewhere about the movie Sully! The copilot  Skiles is asked in the end what you would have done differently if the same incident were to occur! He smiles and says, “I would make sure that we landed in Hudson River in July and not as we did in January!”