Autonomous Vehicles Even Farther Out in Time

Folks,

Readers of this blog will remember that I have been a skeptic of self-driving cars emerging in the near term. I am even less sanguine today. A recent article supports my perspective. Humans just do so many things effortlessly that sensors and computers cannot duplicate.

As an example, suppose there are five people at a street corner. These individuals non-verbally communicate intent that other humans easily pick-up on. If they are talking to each other and not facing the road, a human rightly concludes they are not planning on crossing. If they are facing the road and looking at the traffic, a human expects they plan to cross. This intuition is well beyond any AI’s ability to interpret and will be for decades to come.

Figure 1. A human recognizes that these students aren’t planning on crossing the street.

Autonomous vehicles are typically over designed to not cause accidents. Therefore, in some cases, if a pedestrian sticks their hand out into a road to wave at a self-driving car, it will stop. Whereas a human would recognize that the person is just goofing-off or being friendly.

All of this new information makes Elon Musk’s claim that Tesla will have a car on the road in 2022 without a steering wheel hard to accept.

To be fair, self-driving cars in controlled conditions, such as low traffic, well-marked routes, in good weather, will become more common in the decade ahead. However, an autonomous vehicle that can pick me up from my poorly marked 200 foot driveway, off an unmarked country road in Vermont, and then drive me to terminal C at Boston’s Logan airport is many decades away.

So, if you know someone who wants to be a truck driver, I feel that that will continue to be a fruitful career for a long time. In addition, those of us who manufacture electronics can take comfort in the fact that autonomous vehicles will need much more electronics than originally thought.

Cheers,

Dr. Ron

Wave of Innovation

Old friend Jeff Miller (some readers may remember him from his ACT and Wise days)

3D printed car

3D printed car

took this photo of a 3D printed car this week while at IMTS in Chicago.

Meanwhile, while at PCB West earlier this week, we saw the row of Tesla demo cars on display and waiting for test drives in San Jose. A designer from Telsa’s Palo Alto R&D center (the former HP semiconductor plant) was at the show and was visibly excited talking about the range of electronics he gets to work on.

No one will confuse Tesla’s elegance with the admittedly rough model at the right, but there are some amazing things happening with both board technology and form factors right now, and we are lucky to get a front row seat for this latest wave of innovation.