Traffic Cop or Inflatable Wacky Waving Tube Man – Autonomous Vehicle has no idea.
With autonomous vehicles, also known as self-driving cars, it seems that we could be on the threshold of a cleaner and safer highway system, but are the obstacles too much to overcome?
As we’ve discussed, there are plenty of questions regarding the implementation of autonomous vehicles, such as “Who’s at fault in case of an accident?” or “Will autonomous vehicles share the road with human drivers?” for which regulators are still working out the answers. Additionally, there are limitations, since even the best computers in the world fall far short of the human brain’s capacity to think.
In general, autonomous vehicles use satellite positioning for a rough idea of their location, then fine-tune their position using maps and sophisticated camera and ranging systems.
The onboard computers need to constantly distinguish between pedestrians and Inflatable Wacky Waving Tube Man, for example, or between a rock and an errant fast-food bag. Additionally, bad weather can be a big problem for autonomous vehicles.
Rain interferes with camera and ranging equipment, and snow can obscure road markings, which the car needs to navigate. Add in construction zones, road changes, deer crossings, and stick-ball, and the results range from simple delay to catastrophe.
The problem is that autonomous vehicle computers still fail miserably when it comes to reproducing human brain activity. Even the fastest supercomputers in the world are hopelessly outmatched by the human brain.
The K Computer, in Japan, is the world’s fourth-fastest supercomputer, capable of 8.192 petaflops (8,192 quadrillion operations per second), and was recently used to model human brain activity. Using 705,024 processor cores, 1.4 million GB RAM, and approximately 9.9 MW power, K Computer was able to model one percent of the human brain for one second.
It took forty minutes to accomplish the task. Autonomous vehicles don’t carry nearly the same computing power, so it’s a long road ahead before they’ll be ready to tackle the everyday driving situations that human beings have been managing for over a century.
Granted, we’re not expecting autonomous vehicles to write a sonnet or contemplate the universe, but can they successfully navigate in an ever-changing and uncertain traffic world?