Self-Driving Cars Are Coming Whether You Like It or Not


Sorry, Lou (Frenzel). We are not going to be able to forget this self-driving car nonsense (see “Forget this Self-Driving Car Nonsense” on It is coming whether we like it or not. We can only hope that it winds up being safe enough to live with.

A couple of items have cropped up recently that highlight the trend. The first is Uber’s use of self-driving cars in a commercial setting. The second is the now familiar Tesla Autopilot. The third is’s add-on autopilot.

Uber’s Pittsburgh Experiment

In this case, a fleet of self-driving cars is running in Pittsburgh (Fig. 1), albeit with standby drivers. In 2014, Uber set up the Advanced Technologies Center (ATC) in the city, making it an ideal place to run a trial of its self-driving car service.

Uber is not replacing its drivers in Pittsburgh yet, so if you call for a car you will probably not wind up with one of these self-driving platforms. It will be using the cars for a select few in the downtown and Strip District of Pittsburgh. It will give Uber’s engineers hundreds of test miles to analyze.

Uber’s modified hybrid Ford Fusion is rather obvious, given the sensor suite mounted on the roof. It includes a collection of radar, laser scanner, and high-resolution cameras. The sensor suite delivers a massive amount of information to a computational system that Uber is keeping under wraps. It is running a range of software including artificial intelligence (AI) support that is likely to improve with more input (shades of Number 5 in the 1968 movie, Short Circuit). Neural network-based deep learning systems typically require a large collection of information for training (see “Is It Time to Learn About Deep Learning?” on

The testing is occurring in the summertime when the weather tends to be the best. I suspect that winter weather, especially in Pittsburgh, will be a challenge that may not be attempted in the near term, although the area currently being used would have its roads cleared quickly and they are relatively flat compared to some of Pittsburgh’s other neighborhoods. Also, the area covered has more limited speed restrictions, well-marked roads, and a well-mapped layout.

Still, the results of Uber’s tests will be invaluable to developers. This is obviously just a first step in the direction of driverless vehicles.

Tesla Autopilot

Of course, Elon Musk’s Tesla (Fig. 2) Autopilot is readily available on somewhat costly vehicles. It does make sense though, as self-driving technology is not cheap and even the minimal requirements exceed any low or mid-range vehicle on the road today. That said, the standard engine control unit (ECU) and antilock-braking system that is standard these days would have been found only on high-end vehicles of the past.

Tesla’s offering tends to be more advanced than most, but many of its features, sensors (camera, radar, ultrasonic), and software (from a high level view) are the same as that found in competing high-end vehicles. This includes radar and camera sensors coupled with traffic-aware cruise control. A basic version of this cruise control simply adjusts the speed of the vehicle while more advanced versions can adjust the steering.

Tesla drivers are supposed to keep their hands on the steering wheel and remain active in driving the car, but the ability of the system to handle all driving functions for an extended period of time can easily cause drivers to be distracted by other activities.’s $999 Add-On Autopilot is a relatively new entrant to the self-driving arena. It was started by George Hotz, who is a noted iPhone hacker, but machine learning and self-driving vehicles are part of his background as well. You can check out his paper entitled “Learning a Driving Simulator,” written with Eder Santana of the University of Florida. Hotz wants to provide “ghost riding for the masses.” I wonder if that is a really a reference to KITT and the 1980s “Knight Rider” television series.

The initial $999 offering works with only with an Acura ILX 2016/2017 with the Lane Keeping Assist System. There is also a $24/month software fee that keeps the system up to date. Support for Honda and other Acura models with the Lane Keeping Assist System are in the works. The company is open-sourcing its software. A limited number of systems will be available initially, although the system is designed for installation by a technically adept owner.

It will be interesting to see whether after-market solutions will be viable in the future, given the limitations of many security measures coming into play on vehicles. Hacked vehicles (see “Car-Hacked! Flaw in Jeep Revealed” on are one reason to improve security and limit access to all but the manufacturer and its dealers. Preventing owners and third parties from making any changes is another.

Many discount the need for self-driving cars and many seem oblivious to the high number of fatalities related to vehicles. The numbers are in the millions per year and thousands per day. Half are attributed to young adults. Liability issues are likely to limit self-driving features more than the technology although that is still in need of major improvements. The difference is that technology continues to advance and costs to use technology continue to drop.


Discuss this Blog Entry 31

on Sep 17, 2016

Hey I really like it

on Sep 21, 2016

Why do you like it? It will be slower because it won't be able to speed, it won't be any fun because it won't let you do corners fast. It won't be safe or reliable because computers can't do image recognition nearly fast enough, and GPS is unreliable, does not work in tunnels or with sunspots, etc. You will have no privacy at all, and where ever you have driven to will be public record.

on Sep 22, 2016

It may not be fun but...Moores law says that computers are going to be fast enough soon to more than handle the processing load. The Military knows how to handle GPS in tunnels and in big cities. If I am not doing anything wrong, why would I care if my driving route is public record?

on Sep 23, 2016

Ahhh, the old "if I'm not doing anything wrong" argument. Are you sure you've never done anything wrong? Ever go home with an employer-provided ballpoint pen your shirt pocket? Ever driven even 1MPH over the limit, or failed to use a directional signal? Ever paid a bill late (even one day)?

A major feature of a free society, with individual rights, is the right to remain anonymous. The whole EU thinks so. Why you want to remain anonymous is your business. That's the point.

on Jan 16, 2017

Moore's law has been obsolete for over a decade. There have been almost no increases in computer speed because they hit quantum limits in miniaturization. Instead they are going parallel, but very few understand how to do parallel programming, so in a system with 8 cores, usually only 1 is functioning.
Even if you receive GPS, the mapping is still going to be out of date or at least be unaware of things like construction. Would you ever trust your NAV system completely? I see it make mistakes at least once a month. Do you mind dying once a month?
And I don't care if I am not doing anything wrong or not, I don't want my driving route to be public record or accessible to hackers. I don't want people to send me advertising based on where I drove, or assume I went to some strip club next to my actual destination. In fact, I don't want others to know my political, religious or other associations either.
But there is no business model for autonomous cars either. Most people not only like to drive, but Uber is cheaper for those who do not. And the eono boxes and lawsuit costs of a autonomous cars will not allow for any maker profits at all.

on Sep 20, 2016

I agree it is inevitable. My main concern, as stated in this article, is what happens in bad weather. A human should know so slow down (I live in Houston, not Detroit, so we have rain and not snow & ice, but the same thing happens). Once they solve this (and it is relatively easy once it is thought about), self-driving cars will be safer, although not as much fun.

on Sep 21, 2016

No, self driving cars will never be safer because they won't be able to recognize things we can see, such as patches of black ice on the road. They won't even be able to differentiate between a black plastic bag blowing in the wind, and a child. People who think this is a good idea, don't know much about programming.

on Sep 20, 2016

I still don't quite understand the push behind self-driving cars. So far, the majority public opinion is against them. Any marketing person faced with such data would not go ahead with product development, at least not to the degree that self-driving cars have been pushed. If ever there was time to believe in one of those "hidden conspiracies", this actually might be it. What is really behind all this? If we put half as much push and effort into curing cancer, say, or combatting climate change, we would be in far better shape.

on Sep 20, 2016

There is always an avant garde willing to adopt the new. Others follow inevitably when it's a proven thing. Read "Crossing the Chasm", it can explain it better than I can.

on Sep 21, 2016

No, it is false marketing hype, that people accept now because they like being thrilled by new things. But once they use them, they will all hate it. self driving cars make about as much sense as those flying cars they told us we would have in the 1960s. Its all hubris, that is over a century away from being practical.

on Sep 20, 2016

I have acquaintances who said that electric cars should be banned because they are nearly silent at low speeds. They were "sure" that there would be increased fatalities because people would be run over by cars they didn't hear coming. When I pointed out that you don't hear about deaf people being overly susceptible to being run down by automobiles (apparently they've learned to look both ways), I got no response. These folks aren't nearly as anit-EV as they are anti-change.

I'm a little wary of a $1000 self-driving add-on. Especially one with a software subscription requirement. They've apparently gone with the Microsoft business model: write half-assed software just to get it out the door then update it almost daily for the next thirty years. I'll wait, thanks anyway.

But I can't wait for mature, thoroughly vetted self-driving car designs. It's one of the few IoT/World-of-Tomorrow things I'm actually enthused about. Think of the reading I'll get done!

on Sep 21, 2016

Nonsense. You won't be able to read in a car. All you would do is get car sick. It is not like you imagine. It relies on GPS. How many times has your GPS been wrong? At least once a year. So once a year you are willing to die? It is all just silly hype. Humans can see and drive a thousand times better than computerized systems. They can't even do computerized planes, ships, or trains yet; so why do you think they can do cars?

on Dec 12, 2016

I personally don't get carsick or airsick (not even in a two-seater doing loops and rolls) and I love the feel of a lobster boat under my feet, so I doubt that's a universal problem. Self driving concept cars rely on GPS only for overall navigation. Obstacle avoidance, lane positioning and parking are accomplished with RADAR, LIDAR and video cameras. If your GPS failed, you might get dropped off at CVS instead of Walgreen's, but you wouldn't die.

The infamous Predator drone is already autonomous. The operator tells the plane where to go, but it flies there itself. The operator is required for target selection and munitions release, but afterward the plane flies itself back to base and lands. On modern aircraft carriers the pilot must show his/her hands to the launch crew chief before takeoff to assure that the pilot's hands are not on the controls. The pilot is not allowed to take control of the plane until it is safely off the carrier and in the air because the automatic controls are so much safer. And, don't tell anyone, but airliners, especially the big ones, have been landing themselves for years; the pilot is just a high level supervisor.

Autonomous vehicles are here; they're just not ubiquitous . . . yet.

on Jan 16, 2017

No, autonomous cars do NOT rely on sensors like LIDAR, RADAR, etc. for their position in a lane. They can't because sensors like that can't even see lane markers. They can only sense obstacles like trees and vehicles.
While some vision systems may be able to see lane markers, those are not at all reliable, if nothing else because not all roads have lane markers, and when it snows even an inch, no lane markers are visible.
Autonomous cars rely on GPS mapping for EVERYTHING.
And we all know how out of date GPS mapping can be.
And NO, the Predator drone is NOT at all autonomous.
They are under constant joystick control.
Airplanes do NOT land themselves, ever. They are landed under instrument flight rules where the system that controls them is on the GROUND, and it is the ground system that controls them. That is because only the ground system has the programs for all the flight paths at any particular airport. It can NOT be done by an in-plane system.
Autonomous vehicles are not here, and they will never be cheap enough to be reliable in an automobile. After a couple decades of success in planes, trains, and ships, then one could consider it. But cars are at least a century away, because it would require all vehicles to be networked and automated traffic controllers. Something one does not need at 20,000' over Afghanistan.

on Sep 25, 2016

We will have to see if the self-driving add-ons will catch on or if they wind up being licensed or certified. Hopefully at least the latter. If it is a free-for-all then you can expect spam and ransomware being touted as the latest and greatest.

on Jan 16, 2017

It is impossible for anyone to make a self driving add-on, because the servo controls could never be safely attacked to the steering, brakes, accelerator, etc. Not only are there too many different systems out there, but by law things like steering and brakes have to still function even if the battery cable were to come off. There is no way to do that with electronic servos.

on Sep 20, 2016

1/3 of traffic accidents are rear-end collisions, usually due to driver inattention. Adaptive cruise control, where the car tracks the car in front with radar and slows to a safe distance or applies the brakes to avoid a collision, is already available in some cars and will become standard eqpt just like seat belts and air bags did. The fully autonomous car is some years away, but new features every model year will make for an easy transition.

on Sep 21, 2016

Nonsense. The Google experimental autonomous cars have caused dozens of rear end accidents because their default when the software is confused, is to just slam on the brakes. These autonomous cars have a hundred times more accidents at least. I have never had an accident in my whole life. And by the way, air bags have killed hundreds of people. If you are leaning forward when they explode, it breaks your neck. These are horrible features.

on Sep 22, 2016

The driver following should keep distance from the car in front to stop under any road conditions. I have been on both ends of that.

on Sep 23, 2016

Then you HAVE done something wrong!

Well, the self-driving car will eliminate the need for lawyers and witnesses in rear end accidents. The car will testify on your behalf. If it's wrong due to a technical glitch or bad interpretation of data, too bad.

on Jan 16, 2017

So then after every single accident, the maker will be sued.
And since juries always go after the deepest pockets, makers will go out of business. There won't be any profit in autonomous econo boxes anyway, because no one will pay extra for hp or handling if the vehicle will never exceed speed limits or safety limits. In fact, renting per trip is more likely, and there is no maker profit in that.

on Sep 20, 2016

Adaptive cruise if fine but it did not save the life of the driver in the Tesla accident. Anybody who is not lazy and digs little below the surface of the media rushing to announce the imminent arrival of the driverless cars will find how many problems are still to be solved. So far there are no even test cars in Northeast or Canada and I think it would be several years before I see one during the winter. Moreover the testing methodology for the eventual certification of such cars simple does NOT exists, so how all relevant legislative bodies are going to react when they learn juts about that small detail? It took 50 years of progress to get the airplanes autopilots where they are now, maybe 30 or so for the automated rail transport. The car environment is ORDERS of magnitude more complicated. Only recently the massive progress made by the AI move the concept of the driver-less car from the science fiction to research. Research. Anybody familiar with a road from Research to public Deployment should know what I mean ...

on Sep 25, 2016

Car environments can be significantly more complicated than things like airplanes and trains. The challenge for legislators, engineers and everyone else is determining that a particular product will do. There is an entire range of automotive augmentation. Some can be done now, like adaptive cruise control, and some is being done now, like Tesla's autopilot, and some will be many years away, like self driving cars that work in snow storms.

on Sep 20, 2016

It seems once again that this is technology attempting to mascaraed as the "correct" solution. When there is a lack of STEM students we don't make robots to replace our kids, we as a society engage and train kids in math and science. We clearly have a lack of capable (newer) drivers, so we as society need to engage new drivers to be more responsible and comprehend the risks involved. We need to make new drivers prove they are truly mature enough to get behind the wheel (German licensing model comes to mind) before granting them a license and be more willing to deny them that privilege when they endanger others. No surprise that many supporters of driverless cars are also those who created the devices that contribute to distracted driving.
That said there is a place for driverless cars but the target should not be self absorbed twentysomethings but seniors and handicapped who still need to get around but are not (or should not be) able to drive. That is a true need worthy of our engineering efforts. In the meantime, I'm on a motorcycle so put down that stinking iPhone!!

on Sep 29, 2016

My wife's Toyota has adaptive cruise control. Whenever it slows the car down I start scanning the instruments to see what is wrong. It is such an unsettling feeling that I quit using the cruise control altogether. On the other hand the cruise control in my 96 Chevy Cheyenne will run right over anything in its way (up to a certain size) if I don't stop it, so I still have to pay attention to my driving. I use that cruise control all the time because it allows me to relax my (lead) foot for a more comfortable driving experience. I never use it in heavy traffic because I'd always be getting on the brakes, but once the traffic thins out, on it goes. Cadillac had an automatic headlight dimmer in the 1950's. All cars ought to have that feature in my mind. Some cars out there have headlights so bright that approaching cars drivers eyes are blinded and they can't see where they are going. It gets worse in inclement weather. Let's forget the self driving car until we can solve problems like too bright headlights first. Excessively bright headlights will exceed the dynamic range of most video cameras, effectively blinding the "driver" of a "driverless" car.. How about something that senses when tire tread wear has gone too far? First indication of trouble while driving would be a sudden unexpected spin-out when the auto pilot's learned expectation of tire adhesion suddenly is found to be invalid. I could go on... For example, who says that the programmers that are writing the code for these things actually have any driving skill of their own to teach their stupid machines????

on Sep 30, 2016


on Sep 30, 2016

Self Driving Cars are very good and they have good scope in future.

on Jan 16, 2017

Nonsense. Any maker foolish enough to try to market self driving cars will go broke. Voters and other drivers will not allow them. They will be run off the road and made illegal.

on Jan 16, 2017

Autonomous cars are clearly the future!

on Jan 16, 2017

Ridiculous. People would always have been using mass transit if they wanted savings or safety. People spend a lot on cars because they LIKE to drive. And no one is going to spend a lot of money on something that won't even exceed the speed limit. Not to mention any profits makers do get, will be eaten up by huge lawsuits with every fender bender. Not to mention hackers, privacy invasion, deliberate accident scams, etc.

on Feb 28, 2017

I just bought a new car. My 1st requirements - No adaptive cruise control & No lane change control (warnings are fine but I will remain in control of my car). If you want to stop this nonsense - just don't buy a new car that has them (even if it means driving your old one longer). If enough people vote with their spending, the financial pressure will change it back (government requirements or not, an industry wide business loss tends to fix the problem).

I also didn't want my location tracked so I disconnected both the receiving & broadcast antennas (I can always reconnect them when I chose to sell the car.) Government can only make the changes that people will tolerate. In our country, we can also vote with our dollars.

If you want safer drivers (paying attention to driving), disable cell phone texting when in the car.(The car knows when I'm in it with a key fob so the engine starts with a push button, cell phones could respond to a car's output too, say when car is not in Park - no texting or receiving texts, perhaps that should also be true of talking on the phone too.) After all, the only reason to have braking assist or adaptive cruise control is because some drivers are too busy to be paying attention to driving while behind the wheel. So solve the root cause, not the symptom.

Some of us actually like to drive!

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