Autonomous Driving Coming Soon

Recently Tesla announced that in the summer of 2015, Tesla cars would receive a software update to enable an autopilot feature (on highways) as well as a valet-like feature that could park the car for you and be summoned via a smartphone (on private property). This is going to change the world as we know it; the next step, fully autonomous cars.

“Tesla had been testing its autopilot on a route from San Francisco to Seattle, with company drivers letting the car navigate the West Coast largely unassisted.” – Elon Musk

As of right now everyone has a couple clear concerns. The main fears being “what if something were to go wrong with the autopilot feature” and “what if someone were to get into an accident while in the vehicle”. While this is a valid concern and certain regulations need to be in place to decide who would be responsible, there will obviously be rigorous testing and scrutiny on the new Tesla systems. Let’s not let our fear of the new and slightly unknown cloud our judgement.

These concerns will likely be similar to those expressed by the major news outlets in 2013 when a couple Tesla vehicles caught fire (all due to accidents). The statistics behind it tell the real story. According to the National Fire Protection Association

One vehicle fire per every 20 million miles driven by a conventional car vs. one vehicle fire per every 100 million miles in a Tesla.

If there is an option that we already have experience with, we are more likely to choose that option simply because of its familiarity. Sure there could be a robot uprising and our cars could drive us all off a cliff.. (woops I just added another scenario), but that would be unlikely.

“For consumers concerned about fire risk, there should be absolutely zero doubt that it is safer to power a car with a battery than a large tank of highly flammable liquid.” – Elon Musk

The main unsafe factor in normal driving is the person behind the wheel. In 2010, there were an estimated 5.4 million crashes! Imagine if you took the human element out of the equation. Autonomous cars would not speed, get distracted by phones, cut each other off, drive recklessly, or park like a** holes and leave you with two inches to squeeze your whole body out of your door. They would have faster reaction times, be better able to assess the situation, and even go a step further and provide services to people who could not drive themselves! Some of those scenarios are not ready currently due to the need to be tested vigorously under different situations. But the truth of the matter is that if done correctly, the cars would be safer than putting a human behind the wheel.

Back to current reality

How Tesla’s update could benefit us:

  • Autopilot during the commute home in traffic jams! Let the system auto-brake, speed up, stay within the lines and get you most of the way home safely without you ever having to lift a finger or foot.
  • Autopilot on road trips to relieve some of the stress when driving long distances
  • Reduce the number of car crashes and traffic jams as a result (tell the horrible drivers to get one)
  • Have a valet in your own home! You can get out of your car and let it park itself in the garage.
  • Make more people interested in an electric vehicle!
  • Paving the way for a new generation of automobiles that have the ability to drive for us.

Issues with the update:

  • What if regulations don’t allow the feature to be used in certain areas? The disparity could cause problems.
  • What if the software doesn’t live up to the expectation and actually causes accidents? (low chance of happening but is a possibility)
  • What if people who are driving their cars hit a Tesla and claim that it was the Tesla or Tesla driver’s fault? (easily fixed with cameras and sensor information from the Tesla)
  • Who is responsible if the accident is because of the Tesla?

Technology and Regulations

I recently watched a Verge Youtube video starring Deadmau5 and during the video heard a good point being brought up. Owning a drone and flying one is not currently regulated, but will it ever be?

People have always had fears when it comes to new things and naturally people will want to put limits and regulate some of the new technology. The fact of the matter is that almost anyone with the time and money can learn to create a robot or drone through a simple web search. Similar to the regulations with guns where they can be sold and may require a license to buy or use them, the government can try to regulate the availability on the market of parts and sales of full devices. But it is vastly different in that the parts being used to make a drone are not specific to just drones and the ones that are can be easily 3D printed or fabricated (frame/blades). There are many applications for the motors, controller boards, batteries, etc. and people can buy the parts to make one quite easily.

The only thing that the government might be able to regulate are the flight patterns of long-range and non-hobbyist type drones. As scary as it is, if someone wanted to make a drone for illegal purposes, they could quite easily. Recently there was a drone discovered that had been used in an attempt to smuggle drugs across the U.S. border.

Imagine the futuristic scenarios from movies where robots are “regulated” but there are dozens of black-market electronics shops and chop shops. Sure there are the brilliant and specialized hackers with the capabilities to mod creations or even create their own, but in our current society it’s easy to become that hacker. Especially with the evolution of the Maker movement where most knowledge is shared and open sourced. It’s a future that is becoming closer every day and it’s going to be almost impossible to “put the genie back in the bottle”.

Not Just Another Code Monkey

Today my coworker (and mentor) mentioned something to me that really stuck in my mind.

I’ve done this kind of work plenty of times. Let’s work together on it. But you making a name for yourself is more important to me than any amount of visibility I would get by leading it.

In my mind this immediately evoked a scene I’ve experienced many times in MMORPGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games) where the higher level player helps a friend gain experience and finish their quest in order to level them up and get them closer to being on the same playing field. The ultimate goal by doing this is that they can both work together, have fun, and accomplish bigger goals. Needless to say, my mentor has been a great help in nurturing my growth and getting me excited to arrive at work every morning. I think that this mentality is the sign of a great mentor/manager and I aspire to do the same when my time comes.

“Not just another code monkey”

It’s been in the back of my mind since the first day I began to code. Almost anyone can learn to code and pick up basic programming skills from the internet, tutorials, and online courses. The telltale sign of a good programmer/engineer is not just how well they can write code, but also how they think, how they interact with others, how they problem solve, and how they learn.

Today I feel like I’ve been given the chance to showcase my skills and become the person that drives change and features!