October 31st, 2017 by Steve Hanley
When it comes to autonomous and electric cars, there is cognitive dissonance in the automotive world. Most major manufacturers — especially in the US — pooh pooh the idea of electric cars. They insist the internal combustion engine will be around until at least 2050. They moan that nobody wants to buy electric cars, the charging infrastructure needed is to support them is rudimentary, and that electric cars pollute just as much as conventional cars. On the other hand, every car maker in the world is rushing ahead with plans to bring self-driving cars to market. Do they think the world is desperate for self-driving Chevy Suburbans or Honda Civics that rely on old fashioned piston engines and 14 speed transmissions? Apparently so.
Waymo Invades The Heart Of Car Country
Google was among the first companies to invest heavily in self driving technology. Google reinvented itself a while back and is now called Alphabet and the self driving car program has been renamed Waymo. Google/Alphabet/Waymo has decided not to pursue the dream of manufacturing automobiles, perhaps as a result of watching Elon Musk and Tesla struggle to do so. Instead, Waymo is now concentrating on developing autonomous driving systems it can sell to legacy automakers.
In pursuit of that goal, it is moving some of its operations to Detroit — the spiritual home of the US auto industry — according to The Verge. Waymo established a beachhead in car country when it opened a 53,000 square foot autonomous driving technology center in Novi, Michigan last year. Part of the reason for the new location in Detroit is to test its self driving systems in winter conditions. Another reason may be to let the mainstream players know that Waymo is breathing down their necks. The message may be, “Why spend tons of money building your own self-driving systems when we can do it for you better and cheaper?”
“For human drivers, the mix of winter conditions can affect how well you can see, and the way your vehicle handles the road,” said John Krafcik, CEO of Waymo, in a blog post on Medium. “The same is true for self-driving cars. At Waymo, our ultimate goal is for our fully self-driving cars to operate safely and smoothly in all kinds of environments.” Waymo has already done some winter testing in and around Lake Tahoe.
Waymo is already testing self-driving cars in Mountain View, Austin, and Kirkland, Washington. In Phoenix, customers can sign up to use one of the specially equipped Chrysler Pacifica minivans for day trips. The latter city is also playing host to Waymo’s ride-hailing pilot, in which real people can sign up to use the minivans for daily trips. The Information reports Waymo’s first commercial ride hailing service featuring driverless cars could begin operations before the end of this year.
NVIDIA Predicts Autonomous Cars In Four Years
Self driving cars will need an enormous amount of computing power. Processing all the digital information available from digital sensors like radar, lidar, ultrasonic devices, GPS, and cameras requires trillions of calculations per second. NVIDIA is a leader in making computers for self-driving vehicles. According to Reuters, CEO Jensen Huang told an audience in Taipei recently, “It will take no more than 4 years to have fully autonomous cars on the road. How long it takes for the vast majority of cars on the road to become that, it really just depends.”
NVIDIA has worked closely with Tesla on its Autopilot technology and has developed it PX2, a self contained, liquid cooled “supercomputer in a box” the company says has the power that autonomous cars will need to achieve true Level Five self driving capability. It is continuing to develop its technology to make its products more powerful, energy efficient, and cost effective.
NVIDIA is also deeply involved in the field of artificial intelligence. “There are many tasks in companies that can be automated — the productivity of society will go up,” Huang claims. Not everyone is so optimistic, particularly those who predict computers and AI will soon be able to do most of the jobs human beings do today, leaving large swaths of society with no way to earn a living. Is the glass half full or half empty? To quote Jensen Huang, “It really just depends.”
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