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Autonomous Vehicles [Apr. 13th, 2016|12:04 pm]
[Current Mood |cautious]

Since I'm in and out of Austin a couple of times a week, and Austin is one of the cities where Google's been testing its driverless cars, I've seen some.  And since I'm over 70, and in my family (both sides) eyesight fails with age,  I had been thinking of a driverless car as the ideal assistant for someone who lives a long way from public transportation but can't drive...for any of a number of reasons.  Yet nothing I've read about driverless cars has dealt with the interface between the operator and the vehicle: how to specify a destination, how to specify a route to a destination if the operator has a preferred route (that may not be the shortest or most obvious.)

Why does being able to specify the route matter?   Because Google Maps (and other earlier and still existing navigation programs) are so often wrong, or choose the efficiency of taking the largest road rather than smaller ones that are actually more efficient (or less dangerous, or less subject to flooding in a storm period...)   I have now quit using I-35, for instance, except on early Sunday mornings.  I've been caught in too many traffic jams (one, lasting two hours, cost me an extra trip to a post office to get my passport renewed.)   So I go into Austin via a smaller highway, happily putting up with some stoplights in some towns along the way for less stress (sitting in a traffic jam is stressful to me, and so is the crazy traffic on the interstate that causes the accidents that cause the jams.)

And of course, the operator needs to be able to tell the vehicle where the operator wants to go.  In my case, for both fuel and time economy, many trips to the city involve multiple destinations, in and out of grocery store and other store parking lots, to a friend's house, etc.,  and if they're familiar ones I know short-cuts and back ways to avoid various hazards.  How would entry to downtown garages be handled, where the driver must take a ticket from a machine to gain entry, and hand in one (or two--in case of one I use every week)  tickets to a machine to get out?   This means that in all weather conditions, in bright sunlight and at night, I need to be able to communicate to the car where to go, including (for mall parking lots) choosing a parking space within my walking capacity (which isn't impaired enough to qualify for handicapped parking, but is sometimes impaired enough to make the last row out too far, especially if it's a slope and I'll be walking back uphill with purchases.)   How is that done?  Judging by the way high-tech companies ignore the visually impaired customer (my current desktop is a prime example, with tiny, barely incised black on black symbols for things you plug into the front of it--can't feel them, can't see them without a magnifying glass and strong angled light), I foresee that the very people an autonomous vehicle might find most useful could end up being useless because no one considered them in designing the control interface.


[User Picture]From: kengr
2016-04-13 05:50 pm (UTC)
I learned a *lot* about user interface on computers by having some blind users on the BBS I used to run. And I've had a close blind friend for some years now.

I also have a few mobility issues myself, so I kinda get that too.

Yeah, a lot of interface stuff sucks. And too many people ignore *simple* tricks that improve usability.

A trick I learned from my blind friend (she's legally blind but can still see somewhat) is using fabric paint (in those tiny squeeze bottles) in bright colors to mark things. The same stuff gets relabeled as "Hi-Mark" (or something like that) and sold to blind folks. What she and I get is Scribbles brand 3d paint. The bottles are tint but go a *long* ways.

You can either use it to create raised shapes you *can* feel, or just use blobs of different colors to mark the different ports.

I have one keyboard that doesn't have any seperation between the groups of function keys, so I kept hitting F5 instead of F4, and other such errors.

A thin line of fluorescent pink fabric paint between they keys (at the points where most keyboards have a gap) and I could find the right key easily again.

Just pick some easily distinguishable colors and but a blob next to (or above, depending on how the ports are arranged) each port and you'll be able to sort things out without resorting to a lighted magnifier.

Also, the stuff doesn't damage the plastics I've used it on, so if you goof, wait for it to dry and you can pick it off with a knifepoint or even a fingernail.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2016-04-13 06:14 pm (UTC)
Good idea. R- is having some trouble finding the right place on the home row (again, the letters have worn off and the tactile signal isn't strong enough) so maybe this will work for us.

I have a lot of letters missing on my keyboard now (they're just painted on rather than incised as in my best previous keyboard) and 11/26 letters can't be read after less than 2 years, including the <.

Thank you.
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[User Picture]From: kengr
2016-04-13 06:54 pm (UTC)
I've got a keyboard where not only did I wear off the markings on some letters, I actually wore a *hole* in a couple of keycaps! And the space bar has a distinct divot from wear.

You might want to check out some of the backlit keyboards. Since they are illuminated by LEDs underneath, the letters *have* to go all the way thru.

For that matter some gaming keyboards have (quiet) mechanical switches *and* backlighting. so they'd last longer and give better tactile feedback.
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[User Picture]From: kengr
2016-04-13 07:09 pm (UTC)
Just remembered one webcomic artist who is also a gamer raving about the color coded keycaps she got.

I get the impression that for some gaming keyboards you can order replacement keycaps in various colors. and I mean the color of the keycap, not the printing on it.

That'd be another possible solution.
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[User Picture]From: chris_gerrib
2016-04-13 07:20 pm (UTC)
Parking lots and driveways are certainly where you're going to want manual controls for your car. It would be too hard otherwise.

Having said that, for some urban situations, the solution would be for the car to drop you off, park itself (presumably with a wifi link to pay for the parking) and come retrieve you at a designated spot when you're done.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2016-04-14 03:35 am (UTC)
I'm not sure...I should check with an Austin friend who's seen the Google cars around a lot and may have noticed one parking or unparking.
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[User Picture]From: mrs_redboots
2016-04-13 09:54 pm (UTC)
I hadn't really thought about navigating in driverless cars - when you think how hard you sometimes have to argue with the satnav to take you a sensible way.... or even the way you actually want to go, rather than the quickest or the most fuel-efficient or what have you. At least with the satnav you can ignore it, and its plaintive bleat of "Turn around when possible", and eventually it gives in.... eventually!
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2016-04-14 03:36 am (UTC)
I refused to get satnav in our Prius...did not want.
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[User Picture]From: mrs_redboots
2016-04-14 07:31 pm (UTC)
It can be very useful indeed, particularly in a strange town directing you to your hotel, or the motorhome park, or campsite, or wherever you are going. However, you do need a route planning atlas as well - you need to know the gross of where you are going, even if you let it take care of the fine detail.

When I think of the bickers we used to have, of being asked "Which way do I go?" and not knowing any more than he did, or of telling him to turn left, and him saying he can't, and driving straight past - the satnav does make like easier. We still bicker, of course, but the stress of finding a strange hotel is so much less!
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[User Picture]From: gifted
2016-04-13 10:46 pm (UTC)
To further your argument, google maps once sent me down "foot path" after stating I was using a car. This was, of course, a dead end for a vehicle, and as it was at the base of a mountain, it took around an hour and a half to backtrack and get to the same place on the other side of the mountain -- with the use of a paper map.

I have a strong concern with future law suits involving driverless cars driving people into hazards or off cliffs, for whatever reason -- malfunction or otherwise -- and the companies legally claiming no liability due to the paperwork you signed in order to purchase or use it.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2016-04-14 04:06 am (UTC)
Google Maps thinks my nearest good yarn store is in the middle of a field several hundred yards down the road and around a curve from where it really is. I think it was MapQuest that told us to get from here to our kid's summer camp (which is NW of Houston, north of the main Austin-Houston highway) we should drive south through Austin to San Antonio (80 miles beyond Austin) then drive I-10 to Houston, then drive northwest out of Houston. It would've been shorter to drive from here to Austin, Austin to Houston, and back out toward Austin than that...but we actually went from here to Austin and then PARTWAY to Houston, before driving off a series of roads to the north.

The last time I looked, Google still had the largest business in town (a construction yard) in the wrong place, but they might have fixed it by now. And I do use them sometimes. Planning how to find a house in a very hilly, heavily wooded area with a lot of winding streets, I used the "satellite" view to find a connection to an area I knew well, and then *wrote it all down* for myself, as well as drawing a detail map, which I took in the car with me. Found it first try, no problem.

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[User Picture]From: gifted
2016-04-14 07:52 am (UTC)
I still use them, and open maps, sometimes too, but I also double check in satellite view, let my brain do the deciding on the best course, and take notes along for the drive.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2016-04-14 02:09 pm (UTC)
Yeah, satellite view helps. Sometimes street view does, as well (the turn is at the corner with the big red PAWN SHOP sign...or, the little shop with the best chocolate in the region is in the same strip mall as the PAWN SHOP sign and you can't even see its sign from the street.) (Which brings up one of my longstanding grumps: if I were in charge, every business would have to have its address number and name in AT LEAST 12 inch tall letters contrasting enough that they could be read from the street while driving. No teeny-tiny numbers and letters that can be read from a car only by using binoculars. I never did re-find my favorite bakery/deli in San Antonio after they moved.)

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[User Picture]From: gifted
2016-04-14 03:50 pm (UTC)
Argh, I know. I have driven down entire strips of shops, without seeing a single number. Next minute, you're blocks away from where it might be. Not helpful.
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2016-04-14 03:59 pm (UTC)
And often it's in areas where just circling the block isn't an option. C'mon, businesses: put your street address out front, in BIG NUMBERS even if you don't want to put your name that big. It'll help firefighters and EMS, too.
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[User Picture]From: catlinye_maker
2016-04-14 03:07 am (UTC)
For what it's worth re the traffic concerns, I've noted lately (we use Google Maps a lot) that the mapping program now more routinely suggests alternate routes when the main highway is backed up. The algorithms for that seem to be improving steadily - it's much, much better than it used to be.

Alas, the situation where Google takes you down a terrible winding road rather than the nice wide 4 lane highway to save 0.1 miles isn't so easy to mediate!
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[User Picture]From: elessa
2016-04-14 03:24 am (UTC)
I work in the automotive industry. We have designed an autonomous vehicle. What you are describing as situations are far, far in the future.

The current vehicles on the road have quite a few capabilities and are Class 3, but still require human interface. Entering the parking garage, needs a human to do the manual driving into the garage and ticket taking.

There are cameras utilized which discern painted lines, scan traffic signs and can sense objects in the way. Every item scanned by a camera has to be very, very clear. For instance, driving on a road requires that every line is crisp for the centerline and outside lane delineation. They cannot be driven autonomously in inclement weather such as snow, ice, heavy rain, fog, etc.

Whenever one of our vehicles is making an appearance in a particular city, the route to be taken is reviewed with the department of transportation for that state, county and city to ensure they have upgraded the specific route/routes to be driven.

The intent is not to have autonomous vehicles for sight impaired drivers, but rather to have them for drivers who should be taking breaks from driving long distances.

Visually impaired drivers need to use other forms of transportation at least for the near term, ie next ten to twenty years, as technology continues to evolve.

The vehicles we are prototyping and testing will not be available for public purchase for at least ten years or longer. Far too many variables to work out.

To be considered are the moral decisions that are made by a human driver when it comes to situations confronted in daily driving. For instance, do you hit the oncoming vehicle or swerve to hit the parent pushing a stroller on the sidewalk?

Some autonomous features in Class 2 that are in newer vehicles on the road right now include the ability to sense a pedestrian or bicyclist alongside. This will prevent the vehicle from turning until the area is clear.

Braking when sensing an inanimate object in front of the vehicle. The technology can respond more quickly than a human when it comes to braking.

Distance sensing on the freeway which allows for safe spacing between the vehicle and the one in front.

Cruise control, duh.

Class 4 will be a vehicle which is licensed to perform autonomously at night. As far as I am aware, none are currently on the roads in the United States that are Class 4. The ones making the news right now are Class 3.

Edited at 2016-04-14 03:30 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2016-04-14 03:55 am (UTC)
Thank you for this information. I find it very helpful and I'm sure others will, too. I drove through fog on the way home from choir practice tonight--on a 2-lane farm-to-market road that has no lane marker on the outside of the road, some areas with new shiny "don't pass" reflectors in the middle and other areas with an old, faded, barely perceptible center stripe, occasionally covered by a patch in the asphalt. So clearly that road wouldn't be suitable for any existing autonomous car.

But this older driver had no real problems with it (since no deer bounded out onto the road, as they do at times.) To my advantage is my knowledge of that particular road, the last stretch out of the city. I have driven it in rain from drizzle to torrential, sleet, fog, by day and by night, in this car and the previous several, over the past 30-odd years. So missing stripes on the outside edges aren't a problem.

Edited at 2016-04-14 02:16 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: anotherliz
2016-04-16 07:10 pm (UTC)

Autonomous Vehicles

Thanks, this was interesting. Now I know that driverless cars are not going to be useful while I’m still alive to need them. Maybe never in this rural area with less (much less) than perfect highway infrastructure and a tendency to have actual weather. Perhaps this is another invention that is only helpful in major urban areas. And while I’m being a cranky old woman; why don’t the design mavens (automobile, household, electronic, everything) take their prototypes to a senior citizens centre, or give them to their grandmother to try out before items we can’t see or manipulate are foisted onto the unsuspecting buying public?
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[User Picture]From: e_moon60
2016-04-16 09:46 pm (UTC)

Re: Autonomous Vehicles

Yes. This cranky old woman agrees. Give all potential users (male/female/young/middle-aged/old) a chance at the design concept. The market may be way bigger than the designers thought. Remember the health tracker that came out last year or the year before that had no way for women to track their periods? As if only men wanted to track health stats...
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