GM's Cruise autonomous driving project received some barbs on Twitter last week when one of its prototype vehicles stopped because of a taco truck during a media ride.
But while imperfect self-driving demos in the real world can be funny, they give us a more realistic view into the progress of autonomous vehicle development than those on a staged, closed course.
AImotive, a startup from Budapest, Hungary, that is developing software for autonomous vehicles and chips for processing artificial intelligence, let me ride in one of its test vehicles in Mountain View, Calif., this week. The company is growing fast, moving from fewer than 10 employees in 2015 to a global staff of 150 today. It has two unnamed tech companies as customers in the U.S., is working on a self-driving pilot in Paris with French automaker PSA and counts Nvidia and Bosch among its major investors.
I sat with AImotive CEO Laszlo Kishonti in the back seat of a Toyota Prius outfitted with seven cameras and a large computer in the trunk. A safety engineer was behind the wheel, and AImotive's head of European sales was monitoring the computer in the passenger seat.
The engineer merged onto Route 101 and initiated self-driving mode. The car stayed with traffic well and kept its lane, though sometimes hugged the right side a little too closely. The engineer had to disengage when we hit heavy traffic because the ride was too jerky. On the way back, the computer stopped working because bumps on the exit ramp disconnected the controls in the front to the computer in the trunk.
The ride was far from perfect, but it was a look into what it's like testing and proving these technologies on a day-to-day basis in a real-world environment, especially for smaller companies not backed by war chests from sales of other products. And AImotive isn't claiming it's road-ready, nor did it give a timeline for when it plans to achieve Level 4 self-driving, merely benchmarking when it will begin testing certain capabilities.
This technology doesn't happen overnight, and reminding ourselves of all the potential bumps in the road can help put the timeline of autonomy in perspective.
— Katie Burke