All Aboard the Robotic Road Train

Semiautonomous cars will play follow the leader, giving drivers a rest and saving fuel

10 min read
Illustration of cars
Illustration: Tavis Coburn

In car commercials, every road is clear and curvy, every vista is framed by mountains and the sea, and every driver is relaxed and in the moment. In real life, though, driving is often as much a pain as it is a pleasure—a car, once a symbol of independence, is now perhaps the last place where you can’t use your smartphone. Even when the roads aren’t clogged, you must be constantly alert because, let’s face it—too many other drivers are inattentive or downright maniacal (characteristics that never apply to you, of course!). Public transportation has its own drawbacks: Buses and trains don’t start at your home and don’t end at your destination, nor do they leave just when you’d like or even guarantee you a seat.

To get the best of both worlds, we could teach our cars to work together, as closely grouped cyclists do in a peloton. The lead car could be entrusted to a professional driver to whom the other drivers would of course each pay a small fee; all the other cars would follow it automatically. The cars would all use networked communications coupled with the optical or electromagnetic sensors already installed in some luxury cars to avoid head-on collision, stay in the proper lane, and brake in case of emergency. These systems have been developed at great expense to provide active safety, as distinguished from the passive kind afforded by seat belts. But this investment, having been made, can now be exploited for other things—like allowing you to relax and read the paper. If only we’d let them.

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Climate-Friendly Ethereum Is One Merge Away

Successful tests set the stage for the cryptocurrency’s switchover in September

3 min read
A large blue lit data center. A figure wearing a white cleanroom suit walks towards a green lit room.

Here pictured is Evobits crypto farm, an Ethereum mining rig in Romania.

Akos Stiller/Bloomberg/Getty Images

The merge is coming, and crypto may never be the same.

“The merge” is shorthand for Ethereum’s rapidly approaching switch from one compute-intensive form of blockchain verification to a much less resource-heavy method. In other words, the cryptocurrency will be switching from proof-of-work to proof-of-stake. This move, which is years in the making, changes how Ethereum maintains consensus—and drastically slashes power consumption.

“Ethereum’s power-hungry days will soon be numbered,” says Terence Tsao, Ethereum protocol developer at Prysmatic Labs. “And I hope that’s true for the rest of the industry, too.”

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Boston Dynamics AI Institute Targets Basic Research

Hyundai’s new robotics venture recalls Bell Labs’ and Xerox PARC’s glory days

4 min read
A collage of a headshot of Marc Raibert who is an older man with a beard and glasses in a flower print shirt, and an large black and white Atlas humanoid robot
Photo-illustration: IEEE Spectrum; Photos: Boston Dynamics

This morning, Hyundai Motor Group and Boston Dynamics announced the launch of the Boston Dynamics AI Institute, to “spearhead advancements in artificial intelligence and robotics.” BDAII (I guess we’ll have to get used to that acronym!) will be located in Cambridge, Mass., with more than US $400 million of initial investment from Hyundai (Boston Dynamics’ parent company) and BD itself to get things started. Heading up the whole thing will be Boston Dynamics founder Marc Raibert himself, with Al Rizzi (Boston Dynamics’ chief scientist) as chief technology officer.

This new venture looks promising.

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GPIOs: Critical IP for Functional Safety Applications

Understand the safety mechanisms in an automotive-ready GPIO IP library suite to detect the faults in GPIO cells

1 min read
GPIOs: Critical IP for Functional Safety Applications

The prevalence and complexity of electronics and software in automotive applications are increasing with every new generation of cars. The critical functions within the system on a chip (SoC) involve hardware and software that perform automotive-related signal communication at high data rates to and from the components off-chip. Every SoC includes general purpose IOs (GPIOs) on its periphery.

For automotive SoCs, GPIO IP is typically developed as Safety Element out of Context and delivered with a set of Assumptions of Use. It is important that the GPIO blocks are treated as a safety related logic. In this role, GPIOs need safety analysis to mitigate any faults occurring in them before the result of fault occurrence causes a system-wide failure.

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