Tesla Self-Driving Cars and Waymo Taxis: Two Strategies for the Autonomous Vehicle

Last year witnessed a Jump in the number of car deathsEven as the pandemic has put many Americans off the roads. The number of deaths per 100 million miles driven grew 24 percent from the previous year. He was Biggest rise in one year On the record – and 2021 is on track to be just as bad. At the same time, the promise of self-driving cars has never been so close. Waymo and Tesla are constantly improving their autonomous capabilities, which paint the tantalizing prospect of significantly reducing human suffering. But getting to that future is complicated.

The decision to switch to self-driving vehicles represents a very recent idea of ​​an age-old moral dilemma: the famous buggy problem.

This thought experiment involves a trolley driver on a collision course with a group of pedestrians. The driver can do nothing and kill many people on the track in front of him or take action, changing lanes so that only one person dies. These days, doing nothing means that 1.3 million people Each year globally will die in ordinary car accidents, which are the leading cause of death among people under the age of 30. Switching lanes would involve faster development and adoption of self-driving vehicles, which could prevent thousands of deaths every day. The problem is that technology has a long way to go before it can drive people safely on its own in everyday conditions. In the meantime, it could lead to death at the hands of robots, if not humans.

Waymo and Tesla are at the forefront of driverless car driving and therefore have a front seat to this dilemma. They both have similar goals – to transport people safely in self-driving vehicles – but they operate with very different strategies.

Waymo, which partners with a parent company with Google, is slowly and methodically rolling out its autonomous vehicles in the form of an automated taxi service. The company is proud to have logged more than 20 million miles of self-driving without a single death. But for now, ordinary people can only ride one of several hundred Waymo cars, in sunny Phoenix. last week, the company has secured permission to launch a taxi service (with a human observer behind the wheel) in a second city – San Francisco – where important hills, weather and traffic hold. The company eventually plans to launch it in other cities and license its automated driving technology to car manufacturers. But Waymo doesn’t know when that will happen because, as co-CEO Tekedra Mawakana told Kara Swisher at the code conference in September 2021, the company is “in the process of learning.”

“I say it’s the engineering challenge of our generation. That’s what takes a long time,” Mwakana said. “Safety takes time.”

In the meantime, people will continue to die in car accidents, b 94% of fatal car accidents are caused by human error.

On the other hand, Tesla rolled out standalone features more quickly. In September, Tesla CEO Announced by Elon Musk Drivers with a history of safe driving and who have paid for this feature can request permission to pilot a “full autonomous driving” technology. Includes the most advanced driver assistance features From autopilot, Tesla’s current semi-autonomous feature, which helps drivers steer, brake, and accelerate into the lane. company Claims That the hardware – and not the software, which is still being tested – in the new Teslas is capable of “full autonomous driving in almost all conditions” and “designed to be able to make short and long trips without any action required by the person in the driver’s seat”. according to National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA), there are currently no fully automated or self-driving cars for sale, and this technology is still a long way off.

Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board He said Tesla must fix existing safety shortcomings before introducing the new technology. Meanwhile, other Tesla critics say names like “autopilot” and “full autonomous driving” are making people put Too much trust in technologyThey take their hands off the steering wheel by mistake or don’t notice.

This disharmony has led to tragedy. In August, the NHTSA opened a formal autopilot investigation after collisions between Teslas cars and emergency vehicles (12 so far). The agency also opened special investigations into suspected accidents while using advanced driver assistance systems, which resulted in 12 deaths.

Musk asserts that despite the deaths, so are these cars 10 times safer than normal cars.

“Even if, for the sake of argument, you reduce deaths by 90 percent by independence, the 10 percent who die by independence will still sue you,” Musk told Swisher at Code. “90 percent of those who live don’t even know that’s why they’re alive.”

There is some truth in that. By taking humans out of the equation, self-driving cars have the potential to save lives and mitigate countless social and economic losses. as NHTSA put itFully automated vehicles that can see more and operate faster than human drivers can greatly reduce errors, resulting accidents, and loss fees.

The key is to get to that receiver quickly without jeopardizing it by causing the damage you’re trying to stop.

Two ways have been cut off

If the goal is to get self-driving help for the masses, Tesla is closer. If the goal is to have cars that drive themselves safely, Waymo wins.

“Tesla takes high-altitude flights or close-space flights, and Waymo lands on the moon,” Mike Ramsay, vice president of research firm Gartner, told Recode. One is trying to achieve something much more difficult than the other. But this does not mean that high-altitude flights cannot continue to rise more and more.”

In other words, while Tesla likely won’t offer a fully self-driving car anytime soon – despite its misleading name – it may gradually get better and better assistive features that will eventually lead to true self-driving capabilities.

Tesla cars are Tier 2 on SAE International . Society of Engineering Automation Scale. This means that the Tesla system requires Constant supervision of the driver, even if the assistance features deal with some steering and braking. Waymo cars are level 4, which means the car can drive on its own under limited geographic conditions and does not need driver supervision. However, the technology that powers them is not ready for mass market use outside of its test areas.

Waymo’s hardware is much more powerful than Tesla’s. It uses several redundant sensor systems, including lidar, radar, and cameras, to create a real-time image of where it is working. The company also maps areas early by having human drivers drive vehicles manually through them. Meanwhile, Tesla cars rely exclusively on cameras and ultrasonic sensors.

“The more sensors you have, the more complex the system is, but it also makes it safer,” Ramsay said.

Cameras are not as accurate at measuring distance as lidar or radar, and Its ability to map an area may be affected by everyday hazards such as snow, dust, or darkness. However, cameras are a lot cheaper, and this is important when it comes to putting this technology in the hands of consumers.

You can buy a powered Model 3 Tesla for about $75,000. However, experts don’t believe Tesla cars can be fully autonomous with their current hardware, and will likely need to incorporate other technologies like lidar to get there. We don’t know the exact price of Waymo vehicles — Chrysler Pacificas and Jaguar I-Paces equipped with Waymo sensors and autonomous driver technology — but the company’s former CEO said earlier It “costs no more than a moderately equipped Mercedes S-Class,” which has a price tag of about $180,000. Waymo says to her Costs have dropped dramatically With the latest generation.

But by selling its cars to the general public, Tesla can collect a lot of real-world driving data that will be useful in helping solve self-driving challenges. Raj Rajkumar, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University and a pioneer of autonomous vehicles, calls collecting Tesla data an “amazing advantage” but cautions that the data is “part of the answer, but not the whole answer.” However, he thinks Waymo should collect more of it from normal drivers under normal conditions.

“We should lead them when they can drive themselves, and when they don’t, humans drive themselves,” Rajkumar said. “And for a while we gather experience. We understand what works and what doesn’t, and we refine it.”

Tesla’s relatively wide reach also means that rolling out a truly autonomous vehicle, when they finally make it, will be a lot easier.

“Tesla’s strategy is interesting because if it succeeds, it could be more scalable. They could launch more quickly in other cities than their competitors,” said Tasha Kenny, an analyst at Ark Invest, which owns a large stake in Tesla. Driving will precipitate a safer driving future, but it won’t be without cost.

“Are computers better than humans at driving? I think yes,” she said. “Will there be errors along the way? Yes.”

What’s next for self-driving vehicles?

Experts estimate that we could have Level 3 or 4 cars for sale within the next 10 years. But in the meantime, it’s important not to lose sight of the benefits that the pursuit of self-driving cars has already brought about. Cars will soon be able to reliably take charge in some cases, for example, on the highway – where lanes are clearly marked and the rules very clear – but humans may take over the city streets.

A number of advanced driver assistance features are already appearing on regular vehicles. Auto-emergency braking has been demonstrated, a technology that automatically slows or stops a vehicle before it hits an object. Reduce injuries and deaths It will be standard on most cars sold in the United States next year. Consumers can expect more of these features from the search for self-driving vehicles in the next few years.

“We should all stop thinking about something magical going to happen and all of a sudden cars will become self-driving,” Rajkumar said. Instead, the transformation will happen feature by feature, after many tests and improvements. “This last change will be so gradual that you won’t be able to realize that it has happened within the past five to ten years.”

As cars become fully autonomous, there are also benefits beyond safe driving. Kenny said that autonomous technology will also significantly reduce the cost of travel due to the increased use of cars as taxis, not counting the driver. “It will give a lot of people access to very inexpensive point-to-point travel, which could completely change our lives and how we get around.”

In the meantime, the way forward for self-driving cars is probably not a binary option at all. We will likely see a range of improvements from many car companies as they integrate more and more driver assistance features. And while the technology may not be the future of autonomous driving we were promised in the near term, it will be better than nothing.

“We must not lose sight of the benefits that technology can bring,” Rajkumar said. “It takes time, but we’ll get there eventually.”

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