Robotics Feed

June 12, 2012

Self-Driving Cars: End of the Human Driving Era

It's 2030 and less than 1% of the current 190 million drivers in the U.S. can still legally drive. The reason: all 51 states (Puerto Rico was granted statehood in 2022) have prohibited human drivers from taking direct control of passenger vehicles while on public roads unless they are specifically trained and have a compelling reason. Farfetched?

The Case for Autonomous Cars

There are pressing reasons to get artificially intelligent, self-driving cars to market as quickly as it is safely possible to do so. Yet, while the idea of fleets of Google carbots delivering pizzas automatically is mesmerizing, the real justification to accelerate availability of this technology is the potential for a dramatic reduction in injury and fatality rates.

In the United States, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recognizes the impact that both alcohol use and distracted driving have on public safety. Recent data shows that:

However, statistics in the United States compare quite well to most of the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) lists traffic fatalities as the #10 cause of death worldwide, accounting for 1.2 million deaths in 2008.

With approximately 3 trillion miles logged each year in the United States, there is an average of 1 death per 88 million road miles. Although much more data is needed to accurately gauge the safety prospects of self-driving vehicles, the track record is very promising. Of the 250,000 miles logged by Google's autonomous cars so far, two accidents have been recorded and both were the fault of human operators. Two things are certain: self-driving vehicle software won't drink while driving, and it actually can keep its attention on the road while posting Facebook updates.

Industry analysts believe that this technology won't be ready for public consumption for 10 years, but signs point to a more rapid adoption. The attention that car manufacturers are investing indicates a desire to make this capability available quickly. Google project manager Anthony Levandowski states that their self-driving cars are already completing test courses faster than humans and he thinks that a better-than-human safety record will be shown much sooner than the next decade.

Industry Embraces Autonomous Technology

In 2008, General Motors stated that they would begin testing driverless cars by 2015, and that they could be on the road by 2018. More recently, General Motors chairman William Ford, Jr. talked about a connection revolution at the ITS 2011 conference in Orlando. Similarly, GM's Vice President for Global Research and Development Alan Taub promoted technologies such as vehicle-to-vehicle communications, but worried about the significant challenge of still having humans at the wheel. In 2011, Taub stated:

The technologies we’re developing will provide an added convenience by partially or even completely taking over the driving duties. The primary goal, though, is safety. Future generation safety systems will eliminate the crash altogether by interceding on behalf of drivers before they’re even aware of a hazardous situation.

The impact of intelligent vehicle systems can already be seen in declining fatality statistics in the U.S. - down nearly 58% from 1.73 (per 100 million) in 1995 to 1.14 in 2009.

Evolving Legal Status

Once legal hurdles, liability issues and public perception challenges are overcome, and autonomous vehicles cars begin driving with injury and fatality rates lower human-driven vehicles drivers, the liability burden will shift. Unless a compelling reason can be found, humans must yield to self-driving cars that have a better, proven track record. While Taub says that driving for humans is "fun", fun is no longer an option when lives are at stake and better alternatives exist.

The shift to self-driving cars is not something that has occurred overnight. Although this technology has received a lot of press in the past few years, we've actually been moving towards greater vehicle autonomy for decades with capabilities such as adaptive cruise control, electronic stability control, collision warning systems, and lane departure detection to name a few.

Self-driving technology will initially require a competent driver be able to take control at a moment's notice and many governments are racing to make changes in the law. These changes seem premature since the legal and liability issues presented by this type of augmentation should not be different than with today's intelligent technologies - the human driver is still ultimately responsible for the vehicle operation at all times.

However, the question of liability will become murky at the point when self-driving vehicles can fully assume control of the vehicle from start to finish, and not require that a human driver be capable of taking control. A second round of changes in laws will be required, and questions of legal liability must be decided. Although driving will be much safer overall, in any particular accident, an assumption of fault will fall on autonomous technology until proven otherwise. Manufacturers and the developers of such technologies cannot afford millions of dollars in settlements for each incident. We must eventually make decisions to offer legal protection to manufacturers and the developers of these technologies since the benefits to the public as a whole are clear.



September 10, 2008

Photo-Realistic Animated Model Emily - Impossible to Tell From Real Thing

Emily O'Brien

Keith Kleiner at Singularity Hub brings an incredible story and video of Emily, a photo-realistic computer animation created by Image Metrics. Emily was animated by a new video motion capture technique that allows facial movement to be captured without physical markers and then transferred to a character rigging for software animation and rendering.

Creating Emily

First, Image Metrics scanned actor Emily O’Brien to develop a custom template for her computer generated model. Then, eight animation artists built a custom rigging for her character in software. They captured O’Brien’s performance with video, motion tracked her facial movements, and then applied those tracked movements to the computer model. Because this process is more efficient than traditional methods, the 90-second animation took just one week to complete after the rigging was built.

The Uncanny Valley

This work definitely crosses the uncanny valley into photo-realistic animation that is nearly impossible to tell from the real thing. Check out the links above to Keith's site for additional behind-the-scenes video.


September 06, 2008

Incredible Book Scanning Robot

Awesom-o at the blog Artificial Intelligence and Robotics has an article about the ingenious book scanning robot ScanRobot® by the Austrian company Treventus.

The robot can scan up to 2500 pages per hour without human intervention - 8 times faster than manual methods. It can scan books produced from the 15th century to the present at 300 dpi and with 30-bit color depth. Cold light LED technology illuminates the pages without damage. A cradle which can be adjusted to open the book at an angle from 60 to 90 degrees prevents overstretching the spine and allows books to be scanned extremely gently, efficiently, and with no optical distortion.

Meta data can be entered at the time of operation, and the scanner can use OCR technology to recognize text in more than 170 languages, including Gothic script font and musical notations.


January 17, 2008

SciVestor Corporation launches Singularity-related technology research offerings

I spoke with Jonas Lamis, Executive Director of SciVestor Corporation regarding the launch of SciVestor this month. SciVestor is a research and advisory company focused on key Singularity technologies, and provides valuable insight as to the effects these emergent technologies will have on business, economic and societal models. SciVestor offers research reports that I believe are of value to investors who are looking to improve their investment strategies. Here is some key information that I have summarized from the SciVestor web site:

  • Robotics
    The robotics industry is expected to grow from $5B in 2007 to $50B in 2012. SciVestor believes the age of intelligent machines is at hand. From service robots to toys and teachers to companionship to war-fighting, the decade ahead will see a dramatic acceleration in human robot interaction (HRI).

  • Nanotechnology
    The rise of molecular manufacturing over the next decade portends a transformation across the supply and delivery chains. Traditional manufacturing enterprises could be displaced by distributed fabrication capabilities. Intellectual property rights for brands and designs will rise to the forefront when perfect replicas become commonplace.

  • Artificial Intelligence
    The software development marketplace is on a steady march to automation of more complex tasks and processes. In the decade ahead, we will see the rise of complex AI capabilities that will take ownership of virtually every repetitive digital task that could be automated. This shift will create significant disruptions in many career roles as well as with outsourcing companies that rely on human capital for efficiencies.

  • Life Extension
    At the intersection of genetics, biotechnology and Moore’s Law lies the new science of life extension. Over the next decade, we will see medical technologies deliver designer therapies targeting disease and degeneration on an individual basis. By 2015, we estimate that more than 10% of first world medical expenses will be devoted to life extension treatments, and many senior citizens in 2050 will have substantially lengthened, productive lifespans.

Jonas Lamis has extensive experience in corporate strategy, business development, and technology marketing with venture-backed enterprise software companies. He is Director of Partnerships at the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence. He is the founding editor of Architecture and Governance Magazine, authors the weblog Singularity U and co-launched Jonas received his MBA from The University of Texas at Austin, an MS in Systems Engineering and Optimization from Georgia Institute of Technology, and a BS in Industrial Engineering from Purdue University.

Chris K. Haley, Subscribe Get free RSS or email updates here. 

November 12, 2007

Investing for the Singularity

Being an active investor, it's natural for me to want to combine my two favorite pastimes and focus on investments in sectors that I think will benefit from technology advances in the coming years. Specifically, I think that robotics, artificial intelligence, genetics and nanotechnology will play pivotal roles in the coming decades. As such, I’d like to share with you a few of the investments that I have taken an interest in over the past year. Please be advised that I have personal investments in the companies listed below as of the time of this writing. In fact, I would not feel comfortable making a recommendation for a stock that I was not willing to personally invest in. It’s up to you to decide on an investing strategy that makes sense to you in regards to your own personal goals. Please make sure to do your own research, or consult with an investment advisor before making any investments.

Honda Motor Company (HMC) is certainly known for their automobiles, but if you look at their current research and development strategy, you'll also find that they are also focused on providing robotic solutions. Although too expensive for the mainstream market today, the ASIMO robot is well down the path toward being the automated home robot that we've all been expecting since watching the Jetsons cartoons. I find it fascinating that we are living in times where an autonomous robot has achieved fairly natural bipedal locomotion and can navigate obstacles while holding a drink tray or pushing a food cart.

iRobot (IRBT) is another favorite of mine. I gave two of the Roomba sweeper robots as Christmas presents several years ago to my extended family and kept a third for myself. I was simply amazed by the ability of these devices to keep up with the crumb trail that follows behind our children. We mercilessly forced it to clean up endless pet hair tumbleweeds, crayon shards and an uncountable number of Little Einstein cereal loops that had been pulverized into the carpet. While their domestic robot line has grown recently with the addition of floor washing, pool and gutter cleaning robots, you may not be aware that iRobot designs robots for the government and industrial sectors as well and has already delivered 1,000 of their PackBot robots. You can visit their web site at

Nuance Communications (NUAN) is a leader in the speech recognition market with their Dragon Naturally Speaking software for the desktop. Microsoft embedded this technology in the Vista release of Windows, but I personally find that the Dragon solution is more powerful and accurate. Nuance is positioned to do very well in the coming years with voice-activated telephone services, other technologies which permit the control of devices and applications by speaking and healthcare dictation and transcription services.

Happy investing!

Related Posts

The Singularity Summit 2008
Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence
What is the Singularity?
The Singularity Effect
Upcoming Artificial Intelligence Events

Chris K. Haley, Subscribe Get free RSS or email updates here. 

November 06, 2007

What is the Singularity?

What is the Singularity? Exponentially accelerating progress
© / Felix Mickel

The Singularity

The Singularity, also called the technological singularity, refers to the predicted accelerating progress of science and technology in coming years and the changes that will result. Several technologies will play key roles in this, including artificial intelligence software, computer hardware, nanotechnology, genetic engineering and robotics. A key principal in the theory is a demonstrated history, and predicted continuation of, accelerating progress in these areas that is measured not on linear scales, but exponential ones.

Greater Than Human Intelligence

One prediction is that artificial intelligence software that is more intelligent than a human being will be developed. If it is possible to develop this kind of software, it will be able to engineer something even more intelligent. A continued cycle of improvement will lead to an intelligence explosion, and the creation of superintelligence, beyond which accurate predictions of what will happen next begin to break down. The term singularity is an analogy taken from physics that refers to the lack of knowledge that happens at the center of a black hole - its singularity.

A Process

The term singularity can be misleading in some ways. It gives the impression that there is some particular event, or explosive activity that occurs at a point in time. Instead, most authors are referring to a process or sequence of activities that result in dramatic changes over time.

Here's an analogy in computer storage capabilities. Hard drives which are able to store terabytes of information have become more accessible in the mainstream marketplace recently. A quick check of several vendors shows that there are units available for around $150-200. Several years before, we saw 500 gigabyte drives - less than half of the storage space - for around the same price.

When looked at within the context of current events, that progress is notable, but not dramatic. However, a few decades ago, when the cost of a 10 megabyte drive was approximately the same, an announcement that a drive that was available that had 100,000 times the capacity of the standard drive on the market would have been seen as earth-shattering in what it would do for information technology of the time.

Dramatic Progress

In the same manner, we will experience dramatic progress over the coming decades, but it won't feel as dramatic while we are actually experiencing it.

If you're interested in the concept of the Singularity, Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, stick around and keep reading!