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CMU Develops Autonomous Car Software That's Provably Safe

We'll all feel a lot better being driven around by robot cars now that CMU has developed control software that can't possibly cause a crash

2 min read
CMU Develops Autonomous Car Software That's Provably Safe

Autonomous cars behaving themselves during the DARPA Urban Challenge

It's one thing to ramble on (like we do) about how autonomous cars are way safer than human driven cars, but it's another thing to prove it. Like, mathematically. A research group at Carnegie Mellon has created a distributed control system for autonomous highway driving and then verified that it's safe. In other words, the software itself provably cannot cause an accident.

To do this, the CMU group started with a simulation of just two cars (equipped with sensors and short range inter-vehicle communications) in a lane, and then proved that their software kept those cars from having an accident 100 percent of the time. With this as a base, they slowly expanded the simulation, adding more and more layers like multiple cars and lane changes until they had an entire complex autonomous control system, each module of which is definitely safe.

So far, the system is only able to deal with entering, exiting, speed changes, and lane changes on straight line highways, so it's going to be of limited use unless you live in Kansas. It's also dependent on sensor technology that is only just starting to be introduced into vehicles, and I imagine that the "provably" bit starts to break down when dealing with unexpected situations, like a moose jumping off of an overpass onto the hood of your car. But it's a start, and a fundamental technique that can be built upon.

This type of thing also seems like it may have the potential to streamline the introduction of autonomous cars from an insurance and legal standpoint, since it offers some degree of protection for manufacturers: If an accident occurs and the software provably cannot be at fault, that leaves either a sensor hardware failure, or (more likely) a human simply pushed the wrong button.

[ CMACS ] via [ CMU ]

Image credit: KWC

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
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A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof
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In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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