Autonomous cars: not tomorrow the day before, especially in the winter
Tuesday, 23 January 2018 18:13
Tuesday, 23 January 2018 18:13
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These days, we hear of autonomous control almost as much as electric cars. Which is not saying much. The media, large and small, specialized or not, are obsessed.
Oh, notice, it is an upheaval extraordinary boots that will change our lives forever. As the cars started to replace horses, there are close to a century. As the first PC (or mac, if you are of the other dogma) launched in the early 80’s. As the first iPhone, which appeared as if by magic, it was ten years ago.
But believe me, this is not tomorrow that you will enjoy sipping your coffee while eating your toast, to respond to your emails and take a little nap while an autonomous car drives you to the point Alma at the point Bécancour, passing by the Pierre-Laporte bridge, or the pont Laviolette in the middle of winter.
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Anything but infallible
Having tried most of the systems of conduct “semi-autonomous” today, I can confirm that these are, at best, and in the best conditions, driving aids reasonably useful, efficient, and even pleasant.
I went to Detroit, three years ago already, in an Acura RLX. A journey never-ending that I completed almost entirely by touching the steering wheel with one finger, so the system of this car maintained it impeccably at the center of his lane, without any sway. The finger, it was to avoid the message that instructs to resume driving after about twenty seconds.
It truly leads to a more relaxed not having to constantly maintain the cap by correction tiny and countless. Same story for the automated speed control that maintains a constant distance with the preceding vehicle. On a long drive motorway, it really counts.
I assure you, however, that the current systems can become downright dangerous if you completely trust and release your attention completely. Even a single second too, on a curve of highway, even the slightest bit of spoken or a piece of asphalt with white lines too erased.
Then there must be a move of the steering wheel to avoid to mask the body on a railing, leaving in the rodeo on the terre-plein, or worse. That happened to me in several test cars. Including luxury sedans, on a dry road, by the time spotlessly clear. Forget it completely if it rains, if it snows at all, or that the lenses of radars, cameras and lidars are the least bit soiled.
These systems will improve rapidly. Especially with the work and the colossal sums that are devoted to the development of artificial intelligence that is at the heart of all these systems. Including the advanced successful in Montreal in the field of “deep learning” (deep learning) by the researcher, Yoshua Bengio, a world reference in this area, and all of his colleagues.
Curve of progress
I do this business long enough to have seen the anti-lock brake (ABS) systems and stability control. To have especially tried it seriously and found that some were really primitive in the beginning. However, these systems are being improved and refined to such a point that all the vehicles are now equipped with. With the result that it is taken for granted and that it is mentioned more in the media. Large or small, specialized or not.
For me, the word independent has another meaning. I’m still rendering in Detroit there are a dozen of days to its grand salon of the car, at the wheel of a sport utility. Especially because I missed this same show two years ago in trying to get there by plane.
So I decided to check again my travels, the more possible. Starting even the day before to avoid the big storm of the 14th of January. Result : my worst journey in life to Toronto, with freezing rain, snow, wind and highway 401 completely closed. Twice.
In these appalling conditions, even the ABS and stability control are virtually powerless and the systems of conduct “semi-autonomous” downright unusable. This evening, my few hundreds of months of experience and the most elementary prudence dictates were my best allies. With a small dose of adrenaline to stay alert and focused.
For the return of nearly a thousand kilometres away, on the asphalt dry, I would have however used gladly a good system of driving assistance. With a little luck, I’ll have an even better one the next time.