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Canada They promised us driverless cars: Don Pittis

11:26  28 september  2020
11:26  28 september  2020 Source:   cbc.ca

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The driverless cars are simply so safe that "safety drivers" have become useless, Godsmark says. "I'm in Alberta and we get most of our fruit and vegetables from California. Can you imagine an autonomous truck comes all the Follow Don on Twitter @ don _ pittis . More analysis from Don Pittis .

Driverless cars are expected to be rolling into the streets within the next 20 years. The social and cultural impact of driverless cars could cause far more upheaval than any of us could imagine. Perhaps, it would be even greater than the impact the Internet had on commerce and communication.

a car driving on a road: An autonomous vehicle demonstrates delivery of medical supplies during the COVID-19 outbreak in California, but critics say don’t hold your breath that a driverless car will pull up in front of your Canadian home any time soon. © Mike Blake/Reuters An autonomous vehicle demonstrates delivery of medical supplies during the COVID-19 outbreak in California, but critics say don’t hold your breath that a driverless car will pull up in front of your Canadian home any time soon.

The name of the Scottish indie band We Were Promised Jetpacks alludes to disappointment that the future isn't all it was cracked up to be.

Well, you can now buy a functioning jet pack if you have a spare $600,000.

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For Don Pittis , who currently drives one of the VW TDI models facing recall, it's a stark reminder why deregulation is a great idea that doesn't work. I've driven lots of other cars over the years, including a reliable little Ford that took me back and forth from Oxford to London when I lived in England.

A self-driving taxi to pick you up at your Canadian home? That's still in the future. Some experts say the distant future.

That's certainly not what it felt like a few years ago, and enthusiasts who expected things to move much faster are beginning to sound discouraged.

When I wrote about robot taxis in 2015, I quoted experts from Google's self-driving car project — since spun off as a subsidiary under the name Waymo and still considered by people I spoke to as the one to beat — saying autonomous vehicles would be "available to the public in two to five years."

Now, five years later, Waymo driverless taxis do operate on the streets of Phoenix, Ariz., in a huge (130-square-kilometre) carefully monitored zone.

"Members of our early rider program are now being matched with these fully driverless cars when they hail a Waymo vehicle using our app," Waymo boasted in an email in response to my query, though the program was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“The day I buy me a driverless car … at’ll be a cold day in hell.” And then, the cars themselves. Eventually you find yourself riding in one, bewildered, wondering how the hell Yet, all those features and many more can be found in today’s cars , for the same reason we have any organized regulation

Follow Don on Twitter @ don _ pittis . More analysis by Don Pittis . Don Pittis was a forest firefighter, and a ranger in Canada's High Arctic islands. After moving into journalism, he was principal business reporter for Radio Television Hong Kong before the handover to China.

What's the delay?

But the company didn't answer the question: "What do you see as the current timeline to get Waymo-directed vehicles widely released for autonomous operation in the northern U.S. and Canada?"

There are good reasons why the company might be reluctant to say. Along with causing disappointment because the future may not be coming as quickly as we had hoped, the answer to that question has a direct bearing on the company's market valuation.

Only two years ago, financial giant Morgan Stanley declared Waymo was worth a notional $185 billion US, but a year later as the prize seemed to slip away, analysts cut that valuation to $105 billion.

This past spring, when Waymo CEO John Krafcik announced a $2.25 billion outside investment in the business, including participation from the Canada Pension Plan, it effectively valued the company at $30 billion.

CPP Investments sees its stake as a long-term investment, which may be a good thing.

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“ Driverless cars could revolutionize old age,” The Telegraph declared a few years ago, by “liberat Once driverless cars have reached their full potential—once they truly operate themselves—the Before we get there, we ’ll first have to go through a few baby steps. Researchers divide these into

Far from setting us free, driverless cars threaten to help enable new forms of surveillance and oppression. A driverless car is a computer on wheels, the ultimate internet-connected mobile device. Bristling with sensors, it provides a constant two-way flow of information.

That said, many companies, university research departments and governments continue to pour money into the driverless concept.

Just last week, Volkswagen took a stake in TuSimple, a U.S. company considered a leader in driverless trucking. The firm promises completely driverless capability by next year, and it is still hoping to begin building a driverless network on specialized routes by 2024.

Raquel Urtasun, a high-flyer and co-founder of Canada's Vector Institute for Artificial Intelligence, lists herself as head of Uber Advanced Technologies Group in Toronto, but neither she nor Uber were able to answer questions by deadline about why autonomous road service has been delayed.

Disruptive but disappointing

Driverless vehicle enthusiast and engineer Paul Godsmark told me three years ago that the arrival of driverless trucks was imminent. He still thinks they will be disruptive when they finally get here and said he is not the only one to have been disappointed that things haven't moved faster.

Godsmark points out that for Uber, being a leader in self-driving technology was seen as critical to its future. As the company continues to struggle with its expensive human drivers — unlike other tech companies that have been soaring — Uber's shares trade below their early highs.

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"I think it is still an existential threat to Uber," said Godsmark, an engineer with the Canadian autonomous vehicle consultancy CAVCOE.

Godsmark sees driverless cars following the path of Gartner's Hype Cycle, where a frenzy of expectations is followed by disillusionment — in this case partly because of the problem of human safety.

"You could create a vehicle that was 99 per cent safe eight, nine years ago, but no one wants to go in a vehicle that would kill you every hundred rides," he said.

Automotive consultant and engineer Matthew Klippenstein described it to me as the tyranny of nines, as engineers increase safety levels from 99.9 per cent to 99.99 and so on, unsure when it is safe enough.

Mary Wells, dean of engineering at the University of Waterloo, is one of those who thinks robot-driven cars and trucks mixed with normal traffic on Canadian roads remain a long way off. When it comes to basic engineering in self-driving vehicles — where, she said, Waterloo is a global leader — proponents often say we are already there.

"But they haven't looked at it with the lens of the other complicating factors," Wells said.

Among the complications, she lists things like computer security, Canadian winter weather, the legal and insurance regime, artificial intelligence ethics and the astounding unpredictability of human behaviour — such as the recent case of a Tesla travelling more than 140 km/h on an Alberta highway while the driver had a nap.

Even more basic, Wells said, is the question of how much responsibility we want to wrench out of the hands of humans and turn over to AI.

Wells sees enormous value in the quest for autonomous vehicles. The technology is creating many spinoffs and is already widely used in specialized environments, such as warehouses, mines and automated trains that don't have to contend with quirky human drivers.

Certainly one technique, Wells said, might be to designate some areas as autonomous-only, where the vehicles all follow the same rules without the presence of pesky humans.

She sees the technology expanding into places like agriculture, driverless shuttles and autonomous-exclusive truck lanes — and only much later going into everyday use on Canadian public roads. And as for the high expectation still being expressed by some proponents, the Waterloo engineer remains dubious.

"In my lifetime, are we going to see widespread use of autonomous vehicles? I'm not sure."

Follow Don Pittis on Twitter: @don_pittis

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