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.


Japan to trial ‘world’s first urine test’ to spot cancer

Updated 17 April 2018
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Japan to trial ‘world’s first urine test’ to spot cancer

  • Previous research has shown a new blood test has potential to detect eight different kinds of tumors before they spread
  • The research starts in April and will run until September

TOKYO: A Japanese firm is poised to carry out what it hailed as the world’s first experiment to test for cancer using urine samples, which would greatly facilitate screening for the deadly disease.
Engineering and IT conglomerate Hitachi developed the basic technology to detect breast or colon cancer from urine samples two years ago.
It will now begin testing the method using some 250 urine samples, to see if samples at room temperature are suitable for analysis, Hitachi spokesman Chiharu Odaira told AFP.
“If this method is put to practical use, it will be a lot easier for people to get a cancer test, as there will be no need to go to a medical organization for a blood test,” he said.
It is also intended to be used to detect paediatric cancers.
“That will be especially beneficial in testing for small children” who are often afraid of needles, added Odaira.
Research published earlier this year demonstrated that a new blood test has shown promise toward detecting eight different kinds of tumors before they spread elsewhere in the body.
Usual diagnostic methods for breast cancer consist of a mammogram followed by a biopsy if a risk is detected.
For colon cancer, screening is generally conducted via a stool test and a colonoscopy for patients at high risk.
The Hitachi technology centers around detecting waste materials inside urine samples that act as a “biomarker” — a naturally occurring substance by which a particular disease can be identified, the company said in a statement.
The procedure aims to improve the early detection of cancer, saving lives and reducing the medical and social cost to the country, Odaira explained.
The experiment will start this month until through September in cooperation with Nagoya University in central Japan.
“We aim to put the technology in use in the 2020s, although this depends on various things such as getting approval from the authorities,” Odaira said.