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Ethics in the age of autonomous vehicles

Earlier this month, TechCrunch held its inaugural Mobility Sessions event, where leading mobility-focused auto companies, startups, executives and thought leaders joined us to discuss all things autonomous vehicle technology, micromobility and electric vehicles.

Extra Crunch is offering members access to full transcripts of key panels and conversations from the event, such as Megan Rose Dickey‘s chat with Voyage CEO and co-founder Oliver Cameron and Uber’s prediction team lead Clark Haynes on the ethical considerations for autonomous vehicles.

Megan, Oliver and Clark talk through how companies should be thinking about ethics when building out the self-driving ecosystem, while also diving into the technical aspects of actually building an ethical transportation product. The panelists also discuss how their respective organizations handle ethics, representation and access internally, and how their approaches have benefited their offerings.

Clark Haynes: So we as human drivers, we’re naturally what’s called foveate. Our eyes go forward and we have some mirrors that help us get some situational awareness. Self-driving cars don’t have that problem. Self-driving cars are designed with 360-degree sensors. They can see everything around them.

But the interesting problem is not everything around you is important. And so you need to be thinking through what are the things, the people, the actors in the world that you might be interacting with, and then really, really think through possible outcomes there.

I work on the prediction problem of what’s everyone doing? Certainly, you need to know that someone behind you is moving in a certain way in a certain direction. But maybe that thing that you’re not really certain what it is that’s up in front of you, that’s the thing where you need to be rolling out 10, 20 different scenarios of what might happen and make certain that you can kind of hedge your bets against all of those.

For access to the full transcription below and for the opportunity to read through additional event transcripts and recaps, become a member of Extra Crunch. Learn more and try it for free. 

Megan Rose Dickey: Ready to talk some ethics?

Oliver Cameron: Born ready.

Clark Haynes: Absolutely.

Rose Dickey: I’m here with Oliver Cameron of Voyage, a self-driving car company that operates in communities, like retirement communities, for example. And with Clark Haynes of Uber, he’s on the prediction team for autonomous vehicles.

So some of you in the audience may remember, it was last October, MIT came out with something called the moral machine. And it essentially laid out 13 different scenarios involving self-driving cars where essentially someone had to die. It was either the old person or the young person, the black person, or the white person, three people versus one person. I’m sure you guys saw that, too.

So why is that not exactly the right way to be thinking about self-driving cars and ethics?

Haynes: This is the often-overused trolley problem of, “You can only do A or B choose one.” The big thing there is that if you’re actually faced with that as the hardest problem that you’re doing right now, you’ve already failed.

You should have been working harder to make certain you never ended up in a situation where you’re just choosing A or B. You should actually have been, a long time ago, looking at A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and like thinking through all possible outcomes as far as what your self-driving car could do, in low probability outcomes that might be happening.

Rose Dickey: Oliver, I remember actually, it was maybe a few months ago, you tweeted something about the trolley problem and how much you hate it.

Cameron: I think it’s one of those questions that doesn’t have an ideal answer today, because no one’s got self-driving cars deployed to tens of thousands of people experiencing these sorts of issues on the road. If we did an experiment, how many people here have ever faced that conundrum? Where they have to choose between a mother pushing a stroller with a child and a regular, normal person that’s just crossing the road?

Rose Dickey: We could have a quick show of hands. Has anyone been in that situation?

Lyft self-driving cars offer tactile maps, diagrams for blind riders

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Aptiv’s self-driving cars on the Lyft ride-hailing network drove down the Las Vegas strip with blind and low-vision passengers along for the ride. 

For many of the riders, this was their first time in a self-driving vehicle of any sort. After three hours and about 50 demo rides in conjunction with the National Federation of the Blind’s annual convention in Las Vegas, it was also a way to demonstrate how the blind and low-vision community can use robo-taxi services.

Each ride included a paper tactile graphic with braille describing what makes the car autonomous (LiDAR, radar, cameras, and other sensors) and how the self-driving tech works along with a tactile map of the route to the Vegas sign. The paper map and diagram were made with the Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired nonprofit organization. Read more…

More about Lyft, Self Driving Cars, Blind Community, Aptiv, and Tech

Elon Musk is annoying the hell out of people who work with self-driving cars

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Elon Musk really went for it this week at Tesla’s Autonomy Day, ripping into widely used self-driving technology like laser sensors and (over)promising to put 1 million self-driving Tesla taxis on the streets next year. These bold claims certainly stirred up some feelings among autonomous vehicle experts and industry leaders.

On Friday, Velodyne president Marta Hall released a long statement — with a lot of ALL CAPS — defending her company’s main product, LiDAR sensors for autonomous vehicles. While acknowledging Tesla’s good work with electrification and car design, she shredded Musk’s “claims” about deploying Teslas without a driver and without “lame” LiDAR sensors. Tesla only uses cameras, ultrasonic sensors, and a radar unit for its sensor suite. Read more…

More about Tesla, Autonomous Vehicles, Self Driving Cars, Lidar, and Tech

This city is letting people try out self-driving cars for free

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If you’re visiting Arlington, Texas, and have been itching to try out an autonomous vehicle, you’re in luck. 

Starting Friday, three Drive.ai self-driving cars (and eventually five) will be available to ride — for anyone, not just office workers, city officials, or a select group of “early riders.” Back in July, Drive.ai piloted the autonomous Nissan NV200 vans in Frisco, Texas. The Arlington deployment will be around for the next year.

“This is a not a quick demonstration,” CEO Bijit Halder said in a phone call this week.

If you’re interested, you can download the Drive.ai app or order a car from a kiosk at five pickup points. The cars are taking passengers along three routes that hit the Dallas Cowboys stadium, the Texas Rangers ballpark, the Arlington Convention Center, restaurant districts, and other venues.  Read more…

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Yeaaah, Waymo’s self-driving taxis don’t seem like they’ll be ready for their 2018 launch date

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It appears that Waymo’s “fully self-driving” taxi service was a bit too aggressive with its 2018 launch date.

A report from The Information Tuesday paints a bleak picture out of Phoenix, Arizona, where Waymo seems to be experiencing glitches with its autonomous vehicles.

Merging into highway traffic, navigating around groups of people, turning left — these are just a few of the hurdles facing Waymo’s fleet of Chrysler Pacifica minivans that the company is hoping to turn into a fully autonomous taxi service. 

The minivans often drive in the center of wide roads and stop for a full three seconds at stop signs, habits that aren’t popular among some local residents. At least a dozen people told The Information, “I hate them.”  Read more…

More about Driverless, Self Driving Cars, Waymo, Tech, and Transportation

Faraday Future is the ultimate CES cautionary tale

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It was the “first of a new species.” It was going to change the game. It both was, and maybe was not, a car. It was the talk of CES. But that was then. 

Now, almost a year after Faraday Future unveiled the FF 91 at CES in January 2017, the would-be electric car manufacturer that sought to challenge Tesla has come close to crashing and burning. And while much has been written about the unfulfilled promises and stumbles of the company, its frothy CES showcase speaks to a much larger truth about the biggest consumer tech show in the world: Don’t believe the hype. 

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