We confess to enjoying toilet humor, but there is a serious side to this.

Waymo has been in the news for all kinds of reasons in recent weeks, primarily due to the messy legal battle with Uber over stolen technology. The latest word as posted by Bloomberg Technology mentions new hardware being tested by the aspiring autonomous giant, as well as what amounts to a PR campaign designed to help people get comfortable with driverless life.

Instead, we’re somewhat captivated by Waymo’s 360-degree lidar sensor ridding itself of bird poop. Hey, we’re easily amused.

 

In all seriousness, this brings to light the bevy of difficulties in creating a properly reliable autonomous vehicle. When considering such technology our minds default to the main challenges faced by motorists in daily commutes, such as traffic, pedestrians, road conditions, and so forth. Hitting 90 percent readiness might be easy, but that last 10 percent could be a long time coming, if ever.

Things that people do intuitively, such as predicting road conditions or identifying potentially dangerous situations, may not translate to an autonomous driver. Could an autonomous system anticipate an ice-covered intersection before arriving? How about navigating a crowded downtown street where 40 kilometres per hour might be allowed, but only a fool would go over 25? Would a self-driven car make the decision to aggressively brake for a yellow light with a semi-truck just a few car lengths behind?

And yes, could the series of sensors and systems guiding the car be easily foiled by a seagull with loose bowels?

 

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Waymo is obviously addressing that last concern, and to some amusement we might add. The company is also working on solving the other concerns – situations sometimes called edge cases – where anticipating outcomes in unpredictable circumstances can mean the difference between a close-call or a crash. In all fairness to the machines, humans don’t always make the right choice. Then again, we’re accountable for our failings.

Some experts say we’re just a few years away from fully autonomous cars handling all the driving duties. Others say it will be decades, if ever. In the end, it all comes down to imagination – not in finding creative solutions, but in addressing the problems we’ve yet to realize.

 

Source: Bloomberg Technology

 

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