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Self-driving cars are safe as long as you don’t plan to turn them around

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A new study looked at the safety of self-driving cars (AVs) and found that while they are better than humans in some everyday driving tasks, they are not yet as good as humans when it comes to turning or driving in low light.

We need to know that our cars are safe before we can just get in and let them take us where we need to go. The hope is that one day they will be able to drive better than humans. Cars don’t get tired, irritable at other drivers, or lose focus while thinking about something else, after all.

Tests of the technology have been done all over the world, and we now have a lot of information from semi-autonomous systems in cars that are used in real-life traffic situations. The new study from the University of Central Florida looked at accident data from 35,113 human-driven vehicles (HDVs) and data from 2,100 Advanced Driving Systems and Advanced Driver Assistance Systems. The goal was to find out how safe AVs and HDVs are in different situations.

In general, the team found that AVs are safer than human drivers, though there are a few big exceptions.

“The analysis suggests that accidents involving vehicles equipped with advanced driving systems generally have a lower chance of occurring than accidents involving human-driven vehicles in most of the similar accident scenarios,” the team said in their paper.

AVs did better than HDVs at routine traffic tasks like staying in their lanes and adjusting to the flow of traffic. They also had fewer accidents while doing these tasks. Sideswipe accidents were 0.2% less likely in AVs, and rear-end accidents were 0.5% less likely in AVs.

In other traffic situations, though, humans are still better than AI.

“Based on the model estimation results, it can be concluded that ADS [automatic driving systems] in general are safer than HDVs in most accident scenarios for their object detection and avoidance, precision control, and better decision-making,” the team said.

“However, the chances of an ADS accident happening at dawn or dusk or when turning are 5.250 and 1.988 times higher, respectively, than the chances of an HDV accident happening at the same times and places.” The reasons could be a lack of situational awareness in difficult driving situations and a lack of experience driving an AV.

Finding these key problem areas could help researchers improve how well AVs work. It would be helpful to think about finding dangers in new ways right now.

“At dawn and dusk, for instance, the sun’s shadows and reflections may confuse sensors, making it hard for them to distinguish between objects and identify potential hazards,” they wrote. “Furthermore, the fluctuating light conditions can impact the accuracy of object detection and recognition algorithms used by AVs, which can result in false positives or negatives.”

The study might disappoint supporters of self-driving cars. They may be waiting for the crossover point where AVs are better than human drivers. But if performance gets better, it can be sent to all AVs at the same time. Researchers who find a way to make turning better can use it on these kinds of vehicles through software updates, which is something we can’t do with people.

We hope that one day we can get into AVs without having to worry about lights changing or other people on the road getting distracted.

Nature Communicationsis where the study can be found.

As Editor here at GeekReply, I'm a big fan of all things Geeky. Most of my contributions to the site are technology related, but I'm also a big fan of video games. My genres of choice include RPGs, MMOs, Grand Strategy, and Simulation. If I'm not chasing after the latest gear on my MMO of choice, I'm here at GeekReply reporting on the latest in Geek culture.

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Engineering

What You Need to Know About Onshore Wind Farms

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Within days of winning the election, Britain’s new Labour government lifted a rule that had stopped new onshore wind farms from being built. The previous Conservative government had implemented the rule in 2015. Environmentalists have praised the decision as a positive first step in the new government’s fight against climate change. However, people who are wary of onshore wind farms will probably be worried about them. What is the difference between power that comes from the land and power that comes from the sea? Why have people been against it?

How do wind farms work?

People have tried to use the power of the wind for their own purposes for a long time. It’s a great way to gain energy, but it can be hard to master. One of the newest examples of this is modern wind turbines. Using the wind’s motion to make electricity is how they work.

The blades of a wind turbine are made to look like airplane wings and are strong and light. They are connected to a hub and make up a rotor as a whole. This part of the machine spins when air moves across the blades. It also turns something called a low-speed shaft. The shaft is also linked to a gearbox that changes the shaft’s slow spin motion into a fast rotary motion. Next, this turns a drive shaft that gives power to an electric generator.

What is wind energy on land?

In terms of technology, there is no difference between wind turbines that are on land and those that are at sea. The only clear difference is where they are.

Onshore wind farms are groups of wind turbines that are put up in rural areas where the wind blows steadily and strongly. Open plains, the coast, hills, and mountain passes are often good places for them to live. Offshore wind farms are the same as onshore ones; the only difference is that they are out at sea and get their power from the wind that blows across the water.

Each turbine is placed so that it captures the most wind and doesn’t cause turbulence on another turbine when they are all put together. Because of the different types of terrain, there aren’t any set patterns for how they should be laid out, but there are some that are thought to be the best. Depending on the situation, they can be put in either a straight line or a grid.

No matter how they are set up, each turbine makes electricity that is sent to a substation and then to the grid, where homeowners and businesses can use it.

What are the pros and cons of wind farms that are built on land?

It is well known that wind farms that are farther out to sea tend to work better. This is because the wind speed at sea is higher and more consistent, so fewer turbines are needed to make the same amount of energy as ones on land. Larger projects can also be done because the sea is open. The more turbines you have, the more clean energy you make.

Offshore wind farms need more complicated infrastructure to support them, which makes them more expensive to build and keep up. But the same things that make them great for making electricity also make them hard to get to when they need to be fixed. They are also usually owned by bigger companies rather than smaller ones in the area, which means that they are not closely watched by people in the area.

Onshore wind farms, on the other hand, are easier to build and produce less pollution, and the land around them can still be used for farming. Building and maintaining them doesn’t cost much, and the extra power they add to the grid can lower your electricity bills. On the other hand, large-scale construction projects also create more skilled jobs in the energy sector.

But onshore wind farms don’t produce as much power as offshore ones, and a lot of people don’t like the way they look or how they affect the environment. The first one has to do with the worry that these buildings are dangerous for birds and bats.

In the scientific community, there is still disagreement about how strong this is. It looks like some birds are killed by wind turbines, but not nearly as many as are killed each year by housecats, other buildings, or even fossil fuel operations, which are what wind farms are trying to replace.

Concerns have also been raised about bats, and environmentalists are divided on the issue. On the one hand, they want clean energy to help fight climate change, but they also don’t want to put at risk the lives of animals that are already in danger of going extinct.

Onshore wind farms can be built in a way that doesn’t harm the wildlife nearby, though. After ten years of work, designers of wind turbines have found ways to make them visible to animals. On the other hand, wind farms don’t have to be built in places where bats are nesting or swarming.

But this is just one answer. Bats are drawn to wind turbines, which have often killed them while they were looking for places to nest or insects. To stop this from happening, the times and conditions under which wind turbines are used can be changed to fit how bats behave.

When the wind speed is above a certain level, many of the bat species that are most vulnerable to wind turbines cannot fly. This is because they are small, fluffy, and cute. It is possible to drastically lower the number of bat deaths by only using turbines when the wind speed is low.

But the most common reason people give for not supporting wind power is that it looks bad. People worry that putting up wind farms in rural areas will ruin the beauty of the land and make it look less “natural.”

This objection is not only shortsighted when you think about how bad climate change will be for future generations if nothing is done to stop it, but it also comes up a lot. People used to be against windmills for the same reasons, and now they are seen as iconic symbols of the same rural feelings that make people against wind turbines today.

For these new energy-generating structures to be aesthetically pleasing in the long term, people in the area need to start seeing them as part of the landscape instead of just money-making assets owned by corporations.

 

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To make up for a lack of workers, Japan’s railways now have huge humanoid robots doing work

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JR West is going to fix its railway system in a very Japanese way: by using high-tech robots that look like people.

Starting this month, the company will use big robots that look like Mecha to do a lot of maintenance work on its railway infrastructure. For example, they will paint the support structures above the tracks and cut down tree branches that get in the way of the trains.

The flexible arms can reach heights of up to 12 meters (39 feet) and lift things that weigh up to 40 kilograms (88 pounds). They can also be fitted with different tools to do a wide range of odd jobs.

A person can sit in the truck that goes with the working mechanoid and use a joystick and VR goggles connected to a camera on the bot’s head to control its movement.

Below is a video that shows how the technology works. In one part of the montage, the robot is even seen using a circular saw to cut down tall trees. But don’t worry—the people who made the machine think it’s a safe pair of hands.

JR West recently said that they worked with robotics company Jinki Ittai and tech company Nippon Signal to create the technology. They did this to make their employees safer and lower the risk of accidents at work.

They also said that “labor shortages” were a big reason for the new technology. Japan has one of the oldest populations in the world. About 29% of the people there are over 65 years old. It will be a problem for a lot of people, including the economy, which is already having a hard time because of a lack of workers.

Robots and other new technologies are often blamed for “stealing jobs” from people, but it looks like they can also be used to fill in for workers who aren’t available.

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Lasers with “unmatched” power have been made smaller, cheaper, and stronger

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The future will have a lot of lasers, as we’ve learned from almost all sci-fi movies. They will power our quantum computers and be used to look into microscopic spaces in science experiments. They will also be used in medicine, surgery, and eye health checks. The options are endless. One problem is that the best ones we have so far—titanium-sapphire or Ti:sapphire lasers made with titanium ion-doped sapphire crystals—are too big and pricey for most people to use.

So you can see why it’s so exciting that researchers at Stanford University have made a Ti:sapphire laser that can fit on a chip. It costs three orders of magnitude less and is four orders of magnitude smaller than any Ti:sapphire laser made so far. It can be measured in millimeters instead of tens of meters. It’s even much more efficient than the ones that came before it.

In a statement, Jelena Vuković, the Jensen Huang Professor in Global Leadership, a professor of electrical engineering, and the lead author of the paper introducing the chip-scale Ti:sapphire laser, said, “This is a complete departure from the old model.”

“Soon, any lab could have hundreds of these useful lasers on a single chip instead of one big, pricey laser,” Vučković said. “And a green laser pointer can power it all.”

The big step forward is due to two new ideas: First, the team didn’t work with Ti:sapphire by itself. Instead, they put it on a silicon dioxide insulator. The titanium they did use was only a few hundred nanometers thick. It was then polished and etched with a swirl of very small ridges. A waveguide is the name for the shape, which looks like a firehose that has been coiled up.

A small heater warms up the light that goes through this waveguide. This lets the team, or whoever ends up using this potentially soon-to-be-common technology, tune the laser to any wavelength they need.

The tiny laser could be very useful in many areas of science. Ti:sapphire lasers are very useful in quantum optics, spectroscopy, and neuroscience because they have the highest gain bandwidth. This means that they can send out energy across a wider range of wavelengths than other lasers.

Joshua Yang, a doctoral student in Vučković’s lab and co-first author of the study, said that they’re also very fast. They can send out pulses of light every quadrillionth of a second, which is about fourteen orders of magnitude faster than a regular laser.

That performance does cost something, though. It could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars just to buy the basic kit for a Ti:sapphire laser. You’ll need extra space to put it in because it takes up about the same space as, say, four bowling balls. Plus, you’ll need a lot of other high-powered lasers, each of which costs tens of thousands of dollars, to power it.

So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the technology isn’t very popular right now. That would all change, though, if it were chip-sized, said Yang. “These powerful lasers can be used for a lot of different important tasks when you go from tabletop size to making something that can be made on a chip for such a low price,” he said. “A chip is small.” It’s easy to carry. It works well and doesn’t cost much. It doesn’t have any moving parts. And a lot of them can be made.

What’s the bonus? This kind of scaling down doesn’t just make Ti:sapphire lasers cheaper and smaller; it makes them better.

In terms of math, intensity is equal to power times area. That is why Yang said, “If you keep the same power as the large laser but make the area where it is focused smaller, the intensity goes through the roof.” “The fact that our laser is small helps us make it work better.”

“What’s not to like?” This opens up Ti:sapphire lasers to more people.

The paper has been published in Nature magazine.

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