Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Where is an industry consortium when you need one? More manufacturers promising autonomous vehicles

Besides Google, others are working hard at self-driving vehicles. Nissan has big plans:

The car maker promised to have "revolutionary," commercially viable self-driving technology in multiple vehicles within seven years.
"Nissan Motor Company's willingness to question conventional thinking and to drive progress — is what sets us apart," CEO Carlos Ghosn said in a statement.
He pointed to a 2007 pledge in which he said that by 2010 Nissan would mass market a zero-emission vehicle, adding that today, the Nissan Leaf is the best-selling electric vehicle in history.
"Now I am committing to be ready to introduce a new ground-breaking technology, Autonomous Drive, by 2020, and we are on track to realize it," Ghosn said.

Of course, in these pages we have reported on Google's efforts, even as far back as 2010 information was flowing:

Our automated cars use video cameras, radar sensors and a laser range finder to “see” other traffic, as well as detailed maps (which we collect using manually driven vehicles) to navigate the road ahead. This is all made possible by Google’s data centers, which can process the enormous amounts of information gathered by our cars when mapping their terrain.

To develop this technology, we gathered some of the very best engineers from the DARPA Challenges, a series of autonomous vehicle races organized by the U.S. Government. Chris Urmson was the technical team leader of the CMU team that won the 2007 Urban Challenge. Mike Montemerlo was the software lead for the Stanford team that won the 2005 Grand Challenge. Also on the team is Anthony Levandowski, who built the world’s first autonomous motorcycle that participated in a DARPA Grand Challenge, and who also built a modified Prius that delivered pizza without a person inside. The work of these and other engineers on the team is on display in the National Museum of American History.

A consortium of all these great minds would make headway. In the 1990s, there was some impulse towards this, but it stalled. There was efforts like this. Here's an excerpt, reporting on "progress:"

The National Automated Highway System Research Program was begun in 1992 in response to a legislative mandate for the development of an auto- mated highway system prototype and test track by 1997. To assist it in carrying out this mandate, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) created the National Automated Highway System Consortium (NAHSC) in 1994, enlisting the participation of nine leading organizations from academe and the motor vehicle, highway, electronics, and communications industries. Envisioning a fully automated, “hands-off, feet-off” system that would greatly enhance highway safety and capacity, DOT charged NAHSC with staging a public demonstration of automation concepts and technologies within 3 years. The demonstration, held in San Diego, California, in August 1997, fulfilled this mandate. DOT also charged NAHSC with specifying a pre- ferred automated highway system for future development and deployment. This goal was to be accomplished within 7 years.
Three years into the program, DOT asked the Transportation Research Board to convene an independent study committee to review the overall vision and mission of the National Automated Highway System Research Program, as well as the findings, performance, and future role of NAHSC. During the course of the committee’s 71⁄2-month assessment, DOT withdrew financial support from NAHSC. This decision apparently was driven by a de- sire on the part of the DOT to shift its priorities to encouraging adoption of nearer-term, safety-oriented technologies; it was hastened by a shortfall in research funds caused when the Intermodal Surface Transportation Effi- ciency Act expired in late 1997 and was extended temporarily by Congress. After critically examining the vision, mission, and approach of the National Automated Highway System Research Program in general, the study com- mittee concurs with this decision.

Time will tell if Nissan and Google can succeed where others failed.

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