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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Self-Driving Cars....Sure. What About Self-Driving RVs?

Self Driving??
    There has been a lot of ballyhoo and speculation recently about how the "so called" self-driving automobile will change the world. Well, at least our daily commutes. Much of the talk centers around urban and suburban driving. You know, lots of obstacles and pedestrians wandering about. Difficult for a computer to determine what not to hit. That's all well and good from a safety standpoint, but what about long highway drives? There are many self-driving systems on the market today that can safely navigate interstates with clear lane markings with ease. Sure, you have to keep an eye on them and sometimes a hand as well, but they are getting to the point they can be mostly relied upon to safely navigate these long byways. What would be so bad about having these extended "cruise controls" on our motorhomes?

A240 Airliner Auto Pilot
As a pilot, I am acutely aware of the usefulness of an autopilot as well as its inherent weaknesses. It's great to set a course and let it take over the long flight legs between course changes. As autopilots evolved and GPS became more commonplace, many additional tasks were taken over by the autopilot. (Yes, I know all about inertial navigation, but that's a whole 'nother story!) There are versions of them that can safely take a plane from takeoff at one airport to a safe landing at another, handling all the tasks in between. I'm not looking for the type of thing where you set a destination and get up to fix a cup of coffee, but rather just auto lane maintenance and separation from other vehicles on the interstate. It's essentially do-able now. But do we want it?

Google's Fleet Of Self Driving Cars
For everything, there is a slew of good and bad points. Pro's and Con's. The debate between Human and "Artificial" Intelligence is way beyond the scope of this article. I can definitely see the pro's of having a second set of eyes and it could very well add a dimension of additional safety. Am I ready for the realization of the old urban legend regarding cruise control in an RV? You know the one, where a Class A RV renter decides to get up and make some coffee or go to the bathroom while on a lonely stretch of road. After the ensuing crash he was asked what possessed him to abandon the driver's position in the first place. He replied, "Isn't that what the cruise control is for?"

Uber's Self Driving Sensor Package
To retrofit an existing RV with the technology needed to have a functional (mostly) robot pilot would be difficult and expensive. Many sensors (LIDAR, RADAR, HD Cameras, SONAR, etc.) as well as a bunch of specialized computers and software would need to be added. Not to mention servos to actuate the brakes, accelerator, steering and gear selector. Not really that practical. That being said, who knows? As the cost of the technology decreases with an increase in vehicles using it, we may see new RVs have the technology offered as an option. Hopefully, not too soon. I'm an early adopter of technology....just not too keen on tech that could potentially cause me or others harm.

Be Seeing You...Down The Road,

Rich "The Wanderman"
www.thewanderman.com

14 comments:

  1. Cadillac has a smart cruise for highways and inner States that would be excellent for RVs, I am sure that many RV accidents on highways would be avoided with the system.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Unknown,
      For lonely highways...it may well be the hot ticket.

      Rich "The Wanderman"

      Delete
  2. I'm sorry but I'm just not on board with this self-driving technology. Keeping between the lines going down the two-lane is not something I'm going to hand off to ANY computer.

    On a recent trip to Montana we were headed uphill while a Wide Load was headed downhill coming toward us. This guy was well over the double-yellow into our lane, and the HUGE wide tank on his trailer was easily halfway into our lane. We had to take to the shoulder (which was, luckily, almost a lane wide) to avoid a disaster. This guy was going too fast for conditions, which was a not-so-gentle curve to his right. He drifted into our lane BECAUSE of this curve. I wonder what a computer would have done in this case . . .

    Nope, not on board yet. When conditions are perfect I guess this works. How often are conditions perfect mile after mile?

    We have a video of this from our dash cam!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. MrTommy,
      That is exactly what i am talking about. As a pilot, autopilots work great for the monotonous bits, but you still have to be there when it all goes sideways!

      Rich "The Wanderman"

      Delete
  3. Years before either one will be on the road with any reliability and safety.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. John,
      With the $$$ being spent on development and the laws enacted to allow them, it may be sooner than you think!

      Rich "The Wanderman"

      Delete
  4. I've done quite a bit of work with machine vision, as well as complex decision trees, so have a good idea what's involved. The biggest stickler is "no win" scenarios (too close already, boxed in without an escape?) where the computer has to decide whether to kill a pedestrian or the passenger. Imagine the lawsuits if I program "always kill the pedestrian first," eh?

    There ARE inexpensive semi-autopilot systems available right now. My $20 dashcam has warnings for lane departure and following distance -- entirely optical, of course, it just chimes when it sees either condition going bad. If your vehicle has the servos in the steering wheel, there is an app for your cellphone that would literally drive the car through ODBII. Again, optical/GPS/inertial sensors in your phone are the only inputs. They claim it's as good as Tesla's system, but I haven't seen it running live.

    Personally, I agree that a lane-follower "driver assist" (not "autopilot") would be a great thing on RVs, but the temptation would always be there to over-rely on it, and RVs have unusually bad recovery from even brief errors.

    Finally, tied to that overreliance, I know the Class-A story you mention is an urban myth, but personally saw someone steering from the passenger seat while the driver went rearward at highway speed. Not *quite* the urban myth-level stupid, but really close!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wolfe,
      Wow... you can't fix stupid. Well...at least Darwin kicks in and perhaps the rest of us have a chance in further generations.

      Killing pedestrians....in a no win, Kobayashi Maru scenario? W.W.H.D. (What Would HAL Do?)

      Rich "The Wanderman"

      Delete
  5. I'll continue to do the driving. Give me a robot to go back and get the coffee.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Unknown,
      Hmmm robots making coffee....how about doing the dishes too and cleaning! Yes, I'd take that over drving chores any time!

      Rich "The Wanderman"

      Delete
  6. As a sailor, I am a fan of autopilots when you have to keep a course for hours (or days) and a time --- Boring!
    Perhaps something similar for interstates, but I much prefer driving on secondary roads and find it enjoyable. To me, most driving is a pleasure not a chore. No self-driver for me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Gene,
      Interesting....I often have no choice due to time constraints and not being retired. I get stuck on long boring interstate drives. Often at night with no other cars in site. Makes me wish for an autopilot.

      Rich "The Wanderman"

      Delete
  7. I disagree with the previous commenters, and eagerly look forward to autopilots. I don't want to lose the option of manually driving, but do want to be able to tell it to drive to exit # whatever, and then be able to relax a little. While it would be tempting to be able to go back to the bedroom with my wife, all I really want is relief and additional safety while on interstates. And towards that goal I have placed a deposit on a Tesla Semi, which might actually happen someday, and look forward to converting it into a Super Electric Class C, with a LOT of solar panels. Pipe dream? Maybe. But there's nothing wrong with dreaming, and pushing the envelope a little.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Unknown,
      Sign me up...if the Tesla Semi happens...I may just have to give up my RV and go full time!
      I would be a willing alpha tester.

      Rich "The Wanderman"

      Delete

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