My task was to get into an Uber driverless car during my recent trip to San Francisco and write about the experience. I was excited at the prospect.
Here’s why: I live in a densely populated, urban city. Hardly a day goes by where I don’t see a car accident. Despite NYC lowering the speed limit on every street to 25 MPH, there are still too many distracted drivers and accidents.
Every time I get into the driver’s seat, I reluctantly accept the fact that I’m risking – literally my life – that every other driver has the ability to manage their multi-tasking extremely well. With the range of activities grabbing for a driver’s attention, it’s far too easy to get distracted. In a split second, road conditions can change to a situation where life and death decisions must immediately be made.
Not long ago, I was waiting at a crosswalk and noticed that the lead driver was texting during the entire green light. He just sat there, oblivious to the fact that he was supposed to drive. When the light turned red, I started walking across the street. The driver behind the texting driver let out his frustration in the form of a honk. The lead driver thought that honk indicated that the light just changed green. He hit the accelerator, narrowly missing me and other cars in the intersection.
It’s not just as a driver or pedestrian that I feel threatened. Having taken my fair share of riding services, the skills of many drivers leaves much to be desired, despite their positive ratings. Many drivers are particularly distracted with their GPS maps. To relax, I close my eyes and imagine the day when sensors and laser eyes will provide both navigation and protection.
So, it was with particular excitement that I looked forward to my first driverless taxi experience. With Uber, of course.
Unfortunately, it was not to be.
Soon after Uber first launched driverless cars in San Francisco, a video of one running a red light went viral. Uber asserted that it was human, not mechanical error. That means that the self-navigation system was turned off and the human driver was distracted. Or, ran the light intentionally. Uber hastily fired the driver.
But, the damage was done. San Francisco immediately outlawed driverless Ubers. And I couldn’t take my dream ride. As of this post, one still can’t hail a driverless Uber in San Francisco (though you can in Pittsburgh).
Uber – please fix this. I would suggest that, in order to prevent driverless car anxiety, they install a strong visible external indicator when the self-navigation system is enabled.
The Technology That Will Make It Happen:
The technology is, otherwise, all in place. Uber places a “Lidar” on top of its cars. Lidar is an acronym for light-sensing radar, a remote-sensing technology that uses lasers to map the world around the car so it can “see” obstacles. Lidar is capable of firing 1.4 million laser points per second, building a 3D view of the car’s surroundings. A camera under the giant Lidar box transforms that black-and-white 3D view into color, so it can sense things like traffic-light changes. In addition to the all-seeing Lidar, all Uber driverless cars are Volvo XC90s, known for their myriad of top safety features.
I’m hoping that Uber can now manage their much more difficult navigation task – getting the SF municipality to give them another shot and put their driverless cars on the street.
Article written by: Irving Weiss. Submitted: 3/20/17
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