Google ditched autopilot driving feature after test user napped behind wheel

A Chrysler Pacifica minivan equipped with Waymo’s self-driving car technology, being tested with the company’s employees as a biker and a pedestrian at Waymo’s facility in Atwater, California Waymo. (Julia Wang/Waymo via AP)
Updated 31 October 2017
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Google ditched autopilot driving feature after test user napped behind wheel

ATWATER, California: Alphabet Inc’s self-driving car unit stopped developing features that required drivers to take control in dangerous situations, its chief executive said Monday, as autopilot reliance left users prone to distractions and ill-prepared to maneuver.
The decision followed experiments of the technology in Silicon Valley that showed test users napping, putting on makeup and fiddling with their phones as the vehicles traveled up to 56 mph.
John Krafcik, the head of Waymo, which was formed in 2009 as a project within Alphabet’s Google unit, told reporters that about five years ago the company envisioned technology that could autonomously drive cars on highways as a quick way to get on the market.
Other self-driving automakers include similar autopilot features for highway-driving in vehicles, but they require drivers to take over the steering wheel in tricky situations. Waymo planned to do the same.
“What we found was pretty scary,” Krafcik said onMonday during a media tour of a Waymo testing facility. “It’s hard to take over because they have lost contextual awareness.”
Krafcik said the company determined a system that asked drivers to jump in at the sound of an alert was unsafe after seeing videos from inside self-driving cars during tests.
The filmed tests were conducted in 2013, with Google employees behind the wheel. The videos had not been publicly shown until Monday’s event, Waymo spokeswoman Lauren Barriere said.
The company decided to focus solely on technology that didn’t require human intervention a couple of days after the napping incident, said Krafcik, who joined as CEO in 2015. It has also since argued against allowing “handoffs” between automated driving systems and people.
“Our technology takes care of all of the driving, allowing passengers to stay passengers,” the company said in report this month.
The two drive controls provided to passengers in Waymo’s Chrysler Pacifica minivans are buttons for starting a ride and asking the vehicles to pull over at their next chance.
Waymo is running a ride-hailing pilot program around Phoenix, Arizona that chauffeurs an undisclosed, but growing number of users in self-driving cars. The service area is limited to well-mapped roads on which Waymo has extensively tested.
Krafcik declined to specify when the company would expand beyond the small experiment, saying only that such a moment is getting “close.”
He reiterated that the company is simultaneously also identifying ways to launch self-driving trucks, municipal transit services and partnerships with carmakers.
“We see four potential applications, whether it’s Waymo branded or not,” he said.


Massive diamond cache detected beneath Earth’s surface

Updated 18 July 2018
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Massive diamond cache detected beneath Earth’s surface

  • “This shows that diamond is not perhaps this exotic mineral..."
  • These naturally occurring precious minerals are located far deeper than any drilling expedition has ever reached

WASHINGTON: There’s a load of bling buried in the Earth.
More than a quadrillion tons of diamonds to be exact — or one thousand times more than one trillion — US researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology reported this week.
But don’t expect a diamond rush. These naturally occurring precious minerals are located far deeper than any drilling expedition has ever reached, about 90 to 150 miles (145 to 240 kilometers) below the surface of our planet.
“We can’t get at them, but still, there is much more diamond there than we have ever thought before,” said Ulrich Faul, a research scientist in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences.
“This shows that diamond is not perhaps this exotic mineral, but on the scale of things, it’s relatively common.”
Using seismic technology to analyze how sound waves pass through the Earth, scientists detected the treasure trove in rocks called cratonic roots, which are shaped like inverted mountains that stretch through the Earth’s crust and into the mantle.
These are “the oldest and most immovable sections of rock that lie beneath the center of most continental tectonic plates,” explained MIT in a statement.
The project to uncover deep Earth diamonds began because scientists were puzzled by observations that sound waves would speed up significantly when passing through the roots of ancient cratons.
So they assembled virtual rocks, made from various combinations of minerals, to calculate how fast sound waves would travel through them.
“Diamond in many ways is special,” Faul said.
“One of its special properties is, the sound velocity in diamond is more than twice as fast as in the dominant mineral in upper mantle rocks, olivine.”
They found that the only type of rock that matched the speeds they were detecting in craton would contain one to two percent diamond.
Scientists now believe the Earth’s ancient underground rocks contain at least 1,000 times more diamond than previously expected.
Still, very few of these gems are expected to make their way to the jewelry store.
Diamonds are made from carbon, and are formed under high-pressure and extreme temperatures deep in the Earth.
They emerge near the surface only through volcanic eruptions that occur rarely — on the order of every few tens of millions of years.