Fully autonomous cars are still years away says the guy who holds the key

autonomous cars
Image by Jakub Jirsak | Bigstockphoto

Fully autonomous cars have been a dream for many years now. As with most dreams, the pitfalls, delays and failures are swept under the carpet as the whole concept gets swept up in a hype circus that leads to disappointment.

Leaving aside the obvious barriers and delays that regulation will throw up, one of the components missing from fully autonomous cars is a sensor that can see far enough away to provide that certainty.

The guy who holds the key to fully autonomous cars could well be one Austin Russell, a 25-year-old from California, who, having won an award from Peter Thiel, set up Luminar, a company that produces sensors that can sense everything around it, but 250 yards away, not just a few feet.

As this interview with him in The Verge shows, Russell is an interesting guy, but it is Russell himself who says in the interview that we are ‘years, if not decades, away from fully autonomous cars’.

RadioFreeMobile bears out these extended timescales. Even when Waymo publishes the results of how clever their autonomous cars are, the data is skewed towards the controlled experiments that Waymo carried out and did not reflect what actually happens on the road.

According to Richard Windsor, “this [research] is being touted as evidence that machines are safer drivers than humans, which one day will almost certainly be the case as 94% of accidents are caused by human error. However, I think that this is very far from being the case today and that reality is that machines are still far worse than humans at driving cars contrary to the conclusions that this study draws”.

One thing that the interview with Russell hints at is that we are now into the next generation of talent that will provide the game-changing technology and solutions for the next decades. But the important stuff is still years away.

While Russell spends his days and probably his nights working on his sensors for the fully autonomous car, there are other areas where young minds are building on current platforms, hoping to create step-changes in how we use technology.

One example is TikTok, the app that is best known for its abuse at the hands of a former US President.

Apparently, TikTok’s recommendation engine is so good as to be mesmerising (and therefore addictive). What is interesting about the design of the engine is not that it is new; it is that it takes a deliberately counter-intuitive approach. Most User Interfaces, conventional wisdom states, should be as user friendly as possible. TikTok designers said, screw that, we want to really understand what users really want to watch, so make it a bit more difficult to find content, so you really want to watch it. Then we can make genuine recommendations. It is algorithm friendly rather than user-friendly (probably based on the fact that its user base is techno-savvy).

While fully autonomous cars are ‘years if not decades away’, it seems as if a new generation of entrepreneurs are ready for action and willing to throw away the established rule books in all sorts of areas.

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