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Car Camera Network Could Produce Virtual Maps of Pedestrians

A growing fleet of smart cars may add their street camera views to those of the surveillance camera networks already covering many major cities. That could open the door for a new technology that enables different video cameras to “talk” with one another and track the same individual person across many different camera views—possibly giving rise to Google Earth style maps that can display pedestrian and vehicle traffic.

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Robotic Taxis Could Slash Fares in Austin, Texas

When driverless taxis are at our beck and call, a lot of people will give up the chore of driving and parking, streets will be less crowded, and commuting times will drop, say proponents of automated automobiles.

It makes sense, but does it compute? Many computer models have attempted to answer that question; now a particularly detailed one for Austin, Texas, suggests that robocabs could indeed save commuters a lot of hassle and money.

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Self-driving Cars: Saving Lives AND Energy

If you follow this blog, you’re definitely aware that the main benefit of self-driving cars is their unwavering vigilance. Someday soon, autonomous vehicle developers hope, you’ll be able to hop in your car, tell it where to go, and turn your attention elsewhere. So will end the tens of thousands of avoidable deaths that occur each year because humans get behind the wheel when they’re drunk or sleepy, decide to text and drive, or otherwise lose focus.

But a Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) article highlights another important way that robocars will benefit us that we’ve previously mentioned. The environmental impact of driving, says RMI, will be radically altered. Once we reach a critical mass of self-driving cars on the world’s roads, these vehicles will be able to move through highway networks like schools of fish, communicating with each other so they can travel together at close distances without concern for collisions or even traffic jams.

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Hyundai Robocar Competition: KAIST Details Weather Problems, Philosophical Differences

Last week, we posted a pair of videos from Hyundai’s Future Automobile Technology Competition in South Korea. The videos showed Team KAIST’s autonomous car navigating the course in good weather, and then doing it again the next day, after some heavy rain. We speculated about some of the problems that the rain might have caused for the car, and how tricky it is for autonomous vehicles in general to deal with changing weather conditions.

David Hyunchul Shim, the project advisor for KAIST’s unmanned car research, wrote to us to provide more details about what was going on with their car on that rainy day, and how their philosophy about how autonomous cars should work made things much more difficult.

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WiTricity: Electric Robocars Will Recharge Without Cables

Cars will soon be charging themselves from a distance, and that’ll come in handy for those cars that don’t have a pair of hands with which to plug in a cable—the driverless ones. 

"Getting it to dock in such a way that a connector can couple with another connector without breaking or wearing out is a really challenging problem," says David Schatz of WiTricity,  of Watertown, Mass. "If all you have to do is snuggle up to something, that's a wonderful solution."

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Korean Competition Shows Weather Still a Challenge for Autonomous Cars

Last month, Hyundai quietly held its 2014 Future Automobile Technology Competition in South Korea. Out of 12 participating teams, four made it to the final round, which required the cars to navigate a test circuit. The autonomous cars were required to avoid obstacles, stop for pedestrians, obey traffic laws, and do all of the stuff that self-driving cars will have to be able to do if we’re ever going to be able to hop in, plug in a destination, and turn our attention elsewhere. The competition wasn’t anything that we haven’t seen before—except that during the second day of the competition, it rained.

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Hey! Keep Your Hands on the Wheel!

Evidence is piling up attesting to the fact that hands-free devices don’t eliminate the driver distraction from making phone calls or sending text messages that cause car crashes. But anything that helps lower the cognitive demand on the driver that comes from electronic gadgets should surely help.

To that end, RISE Devices, a San Ramon, Calif., startup, is planning to introduce an in-car messaging system, simply called DRIVE, that delivers information only when the driver has both hands on the steering wheel. The device, whose base has magnets that firmly attach it to the steering column, emits a pair of pulsing infrared beams aimed at the “10 and 2” hand positions that driving instructors recommend. The driver controls the gadget by extending the fingers on either hand and interrupting the beam.

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Voters Nix Robo-Tix

On Tuesday, voters in the United States rejected four local proposals to allow automated ticketing for traffic-law violations. The propositions were voted down in Cleveland and in Maple Heights, Ohio; in Sierra Vista, Arizona; and in Missouri, according to a report on Autoblog.

That brings the U.S. tally to 31 “No” votes out of 34 referendums held since 1991, according to a database maintained by But some places, for instance, New York City, have been using machines to issue traffic tickets for years, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

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Chinese Drivers Welcome Our New Robocar Overlords

poll released today suggests that driverless cars appeal most in China and India and least in Japan, with English-speaking countries—the only comparison group—taking the middle ground.

The Japanese position at the bottom and India’s near the top are strange. Could Japan’s reputation for robo-philism be unjustified? Was the surveyconducted online—unrepresentative of opinion in China and India?

In their paper on the survey, authors Brandon Schoettle and Michael Sivak, of the University of Michigan, address the second question. They argue that “though the respondents in these two countries may not be representative of the overall population, they are likely to be representative of those individuals who would comprise the initial market for autonomous and self-driving vehicles in these countries.” 

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Cars That Think

IEEE Spectrum’s blog about the sensors, software, and systems that are making cars smarter, more entertaining, and ultimately, autonomous.
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