Bob Lutz, ex vicepresidente di General Motors, scrive che l’industria automobilistica così come la conosciamo finirà nel prossimi 15-20 anni. Non servirà che il pubblico accetti la transizione dall’inizio, basterà che lo facciano le grandi aziende — Uber, FedEx, UPS, etc.

Gli spostamenti avverano per mezzo di moduli standardizzati, i produttori di questi moduli (= le aziende automobilistiche che riusciranno ad adattarsi) perderanno importanza, profitti e potere rispetto ai gestori del servizio — gli Uber e Amazon del futuro:

The companies that can move downstream and get into value creation will do OK. But unless they develop superior technical capability, the manufacturers of the modules, the handset providers, if you will, will have their specifications set by the big transportation companies.

The fleets will say, “We want a module of a certain length, a certain weight and a certain range. They will prescribe the mileage and the acceleration and take bids.”

Uno dei camion che si guidano da soli di OTTO — un’azienda recentemente acquistata da Uber — ha completato il suo primo viaggio, di 120 miglia, in completa autonomia, per consegnare 50,000 birre.

Scrive Wired:

Unlike Tesla’s Autopilot, Otto’s system offers true ‘Level 4’ autonomy. Once the rig hits the interstate, it is entirely capable of the job at hand, letting the human deal with paperwork, thumb her phone, or even catch a few Z’s.

“The technology is ready to start doing these commercial pilots,” says Otto co-founder Lior Ron. “Over the next couple of years, we’ll continue to develop the tech, so it’s actually ready to encounter every condition on the road.”

Uber ha acquistato Otto, un’azienda che si occupa di camion che si guidano da soli, fondata da Anthony Levandowski, una delle prime persone a lavorare alla macchina che si guida da sola di Google.

Da un’intervista di alcuni mesi fa, a Anthony:

Trucks are unsexy, and that’s why we’re doing it. It is old technology, and a huge market with a lot of deep issues around cost. But first and foremost, there’s a big societal component. Trucks cover 5.6% of all highway miles but cause 9.5% of all fatalities, and about half of truckers are away from home 200 nights a year, sleeping in parking lots and rest areas.

Because of federal regulations, a truck can only drive 11 hours a day today with a single driver. After 10 hours, the accident rate goes exponentially higher. If we can make it drive safely 24/7, more than doubling its capacity and utilization, that’s a very strong financial argument.

I camion che si guidano da soli, per il trasporto merci, sono più prossimi rispetto alla macchina che si guida da sola. Come vantaggio, hanno che devono spostarsi soprattutto in strade larghe e prive dei pedoni e degli ostacoli di cui le città sono pieni — più facili da mappare, quindi, e con meno variabili.

Marco Arment, che possiede una Tesla Model S, spiega cosa è in grado di fare una Tesla ora come ora. Mentre per via dell’hype a volta se ne parla come di un’auto che si guida da sola, la realtà è ben diversa: secondo Arment è proprio questo hype che potrebbe causare i danni maggiori, inducendo i guidatori a distrarsi e ad affidarsi con troppo entusiasmo a una funzionalità ancora in beta e poco sicura.

Autosteer è la funzionalità che ha fatto discutere di recente, a causa di un incidente mortale — ed è probabilmente ciò a cui tutti si riferiscono quando parlano di Autopilot. Grazie a Autosteer l’auto è in grado di riconoscere i segnali stradali e di posizionarsi automaticamente al centro delle corsie — la macchina procede insomma da sola, seppur Tesla richieda che il guidatore mantenga le mani sul volante.

Secondo Arment, dato come funziona per il momento, è quasi sorprendente che Autosteer sia legale:

Autosteer is a strange feeling in practice. It literally turns the steering wheel for you, but if you take your hands off for more than a few minutes, it slows down and yells at you until you put your hands back on the wheel. It’s an odd sensation: You’ve given up control of the vehicle, but you can’t stop mimicking control, and while your attention is barely needed, you can’t safely stop paying attention.

It’s automated enough that people will stop paying attention, but it’s not good enough that they can. You could say the same about cruise control, but cruise control feels like an acceptable balance to me, whereas Autosteer feels like it’s just over the line. History will probably prove me wrong on that, but it feels a bit wrong today. […]

While I like using Autosteer on long highway trips, frankly, I’m amazed that it’s legal. I don’t think it’s a big enough advance over adaptive cruise control to be worth the risks in its current implementation. I’m scared for what will happen to Tesla and the progress of autonomous driving as more people use Autosteer in situations it’s not good at, or as a complete replacement for paying attention.


Shipping a full truckload from L.A. to New York costs around $4,500 today, with labor representing 75 percent of that cost. But those labor savings aren’t the only gains to be had from the adoption of driverless trucks.

Where drivers are restricted by law from driving more than 11 hours per day without taking an 8-hour break, a driverless truck can drive nearly 24 hours per day. That means the technology would effectively double the output of the U.S. transportation network at 25 percent of the cost.

L’incentivo economico di un camion che si guida da solo è troppo alto perché non succeda. Oltretutto mentre costruire un’auto in grado di districarsi fra le strade intricate e trafficate di una città è complesso, muoversi in autostrada, fra le città, è una questione più semplice — accadrà molto prima.

Chris Urmson, a capo del progetto della self-driving car a Google, ha detto che probabilmente arriveranno prima per quelli che abitano in città soleggiate (dato che hanno ancora problemi con la pioggia) e in città con strade molto larghe:

Not only might it take much longer to arrive than the company has ever indicated—as long as 30 years, said Urmson—but the early commercial versions might well be limited to certain geographies and weather conditions. Self-driving cars are much easier to engineer for sunny weather and wide-open roads, and Urmson suggested the cars might be sold for those markets first.

Urmson put it this way in his speech. “How quickly can we get this into people’s hands? If you read the papers, you see maybe it’s three years, maybe it’s thirty years. And I am here to tell you that honestly, it’s a bit of both.”

Steven Levy ha fatto un giro su una delle macchine che si guidano (quasi) da sole di Google. Dopo il progresso iniziale, ora Google sta lavorando a tutti i problemi minori, quel 5% rimanente del lavoro che probabilmente richiederà lungo tempo. I veicoli sono più o meno in grado di muoversi in autostrada, ma ancora faticano molto in città  — hanno un problema con la pioggia o, ad esempio, le foglie sull’asfalto:

At one point, the car drove over a small pile of leaves that had blown into its path, without breaking its pace. After the drive, Dolger and Fairfield told me that moment represented a ton of work. Apparently, for a very long time, SDCs regarded such harmless biomass as obstacles to be avoided, and the newfound ability to roll right over a bit of dead foliage was one of the more recent triumphs of technology.

Dopo aver viaggiato “al volante” di una di queste macchine per una giornata — e essersi reso conto di quanto sia necessario rimanere in allerta per eventualmente, in caso di errore del computer di bordo, riprendere il comando manuale — Levy dice di aver aggiustato le sue previsioni su quanto ci vorrà prima che la macchina che si guida da sola arrivi: da presto a più tardi.

The Economist:

In a report ahead of the Las Vegas and Detroit shows, Morgan Stanley, an investment bank, said the motor industry was being disrupted “far sooner, faster and more powerfully than one might expect.” […]

Mr Fields [Ford’s CEO] is talking about autonomous cars being ready to roll by 2020. More conservative car bosses add five years. […]

Barclays, another bank, forecasts that the fully driverless vehicle will result in the average American household cutting its car ownership from 2.1 vehicles now to 1.2 by 2040. A self-piloting car may drop off a family’s breadwinner at work, then scuttle back to pick up the kids and take them to school. The 11m or so annual sales of mass-market cars for personal ownership in America may be replaced by 3.8m sales of self-driving cars, either personally owned or part of taxi fleets, Barclays thinks.

Scriveva su Twitter il caro Elon, oggi:

In ~2 years, summon should work anywhere connected by land & not blocked by borders, eg you’re in LA and the car is in NY.

Chris Urmson, che dal 2009 lavora alla macchina che si guida da sola di Google:

We’ve heard countless stories from people who need a fully self-driving car today. We’ve heard from people with health conditions ranging from vision problems to multiple sclerosis to autism to epilepsy who are frustrated with their dependence on others for even simple errands. One woman in Southern California who lost her ability to drive 15 years ago tells us, “my life has become very expensive, complicated, and restricted” since she had to start paying drivers and enduring long waits for buses and trains. Multiple veterans have come home from defending our country only to have their return to normal life challenged by their inability to drive themselves around in a car. And the elderly worry about having to give up their car keys someday.

As for those of us who can drive, we’re not happy either. California has some of the most enjoyable driving roads in the world, but that’s a tiny fraction of a typical resident’s driving experience. Most of the time we’re stuck in the ugly tedium of a freeway commute or sitting at endless stoplights. We’re all too familiar with that quiver of nervousness when we realize we’re near a weaving driver who’s either had a few too many drinks or is distracted by their phone. Having a self-driving car shoulder the entire burden of getting from A to B — and knowing that many other vehicles out there are also navigating autonomously — could make a big difference.

(Leggi anche: ‘Le macchine che si guidano da sole sono inevitabili‘)

Come deve comportarsi una macchina che si guida da sola, in caso di incidente? Deve massimizzare la sicurezza di chi la guida — tentando di salvare il guidatore/passeggero ad ogni costo — oppure optare per un’incidente che causa la morte del numero minore di persone — magari, così facendo, decidendo una brutta sorte per il guidatore?

Mentre quando è un umano alla guida, la reazione a un incidente viene appunto interpretata come una reazione, una macchina che si guida da sola prenderà una decisione, stabilita magari anni prima da chi l’ha programmata. Mettiamo Tesla facesse macchine che salvano il maggior numero di persone, mentre Apple si concentrasse sulla vita del guidatore: voi quale comprereste?

È, questo, il classico problema del carrello ferroviario.

Mat Honan:

Cars are giant, inefficient, planet-and-people-killing death machines. Self-driving cars — especially if they are operated as fleets and you only use one when you need it, summoning it Uber-style — would mean we could have fewer vehicles per person, less traffic congestion, less pollution, far fewer vehicles produced per year (thus lowering the environmental impact of production), and, best of all, safer streets. The blind, people with epilepsy, quadriplegics, and all manner of others who today have difficulty ferrying themselves around as they go through the mundanities of an average day will be liberated. Eliminating the automobile’s need for a human pilot will be a positive thing for society.

So go fuck a tailpipe if you love cars so much. Your love for cars doesn’t supersede the lives of 1.2 million people who die in automobile accidents every year. It’s not more important than the energy savings we’ll get from not manufacturing 60 million or so vehicles every year that spend most of their time idle. Turned off. Parked.

Il primo prototipo della macchina che si guida da sola di Google arriverà nelle strade della California (Mountain View) questa estate — fino ad oggi Google sperimentava con Lexus equipaggiate del necessario per guidarsi da sole.

Chris Urmson, a capo dello sviluppo della macchina che si guida da sola di Google, racconta su Medium a che punto si trova il progetto per quanto riguarda la sicurezza stradale.

Pare che i problemi maggiori sorgano con incidenti minori — come tamponamenti — per questo non ben documentati ufficialmente. Quello che importa è che la macchina che si guida da sola non ne ha mai causato uno; ha subito in sei anni sei incidenti minori, e la colpa era sempre nostra:

If you spend enough time on the road, accidents will happen whether you’re in a car or a self-driving car. Over the 6 years since we started the project, we’ve been involved in 11 minor accidents (light damage, no injuries) during those 1.7 million miles of autonomous and manual driving with our safety drivers behind the wheel, and not once was the self-driving car the cause of the accident.

Non è che siamo pronti: più o meno ce li abbiamo di già. Gli aerei su cui viaggiamo oggi sono perlopiù automatizzati; uno studio (segnalato da Vice) riporta che in media un pilota spende 7 minuti del volo a “pilotare” l’aereo. Non è neppure che la scelta sia o completa automatizzazione o nulla: l’idea è che vi sia un pilota in cabina (se non altro sugli aerei di linea) e un co-pilota — un robot (o un gruppo di piloti) — a terra.

Scrive Vice:

It doesn’t have to be an either/or proposition. A purely auto piloted plane would probably crash from time to time, but leaving complete control of the plane to those on board, 100 percent of the time, hasn’t worked either.

So Cummings and others have looked into a system in which one pilot is in the cockpit, and the other is a robot—or at the very least, a group of humans—on the ground. For one, it would eventually save a massive amount of money for airlines in terms of pilots’ salaries, which is why it’s attractive to airlines (whether we want to automate pilots out of existence is another question). But, secondly, it could prevent disasters like this week from occurring.

Come rivelano alcuni brevetti, Boeing sta lavorando a un sistema che permetterebbe di comandare l’aereo da terra — e in caso di problemi, di assumerne il controllo.

Una conversazione recente fra il CEO di NVIDIA e Elon Musk.