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.


How does a one-ton dino hatch its eggs? Carefully

a reconstruction of oviraptorosour dinosaurs incubating eggs. (AFP/ Nagoya University)
Updated 16 May 2018
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How does a one-ton dino hatch its eggs? Carefully

  • Large species may have not sat directly on their eggs
  • The incubation behavior of birds — such as adults sitting in the nest and possibly brooding — likely evolved from theropod dinosaurs




PARIS: Most dinosaurs buried their eggs and hoped for the best, but some species — including a few hefty ones — built nests and pampered unhatched offspring much as birds do today, researchers reported Wednesday.
Which raises an intriguing question: How did creatures nearly as heavy as a hippo brood eggs without squashing them?
“Large species may have not sat directly on their eggs,” explained Kohei Tanaka, a researcher at Nagoya University Museum and lead author of a study in Biology Letters that details the incubation strategy of feathered carnivores called oviraptorosaurs.
“Eggs are arranged in a circular pattern with a large central opening,” he told AFP, describing clutches of potato-shaped eggs found in China up to half-a-meter (20 inches) long and weighing up to seven kilos (15 pounds) each.
“The dinosaurs likely sat in the middle of the nest so that they didn’t crush the eggs.”
That didn’t keep the unborn dinos warm, but it may have protected them from predators and the elements, Tanaka speculated.
Modern birds descend from a large group of mostly carnivorous dinosaurs called theropods, all of which — including the fearsome T-rex — are thought to have laid eggs.
But very few theropods built nests, which is why the brooding displayed by oviraptorosaurs — a clade of several dozen species ranging from the turkey-sized Caudipteryx to the 1.4-ton Gigantoraptor — is so important.
“The incubation behavior of birds — such as adults sitting in the nest and possibly brooding — likely evolved from theropod dinosaurs,” said Tanaka. “Our research provides additional evidence.”
Oviraptorosaurs lived during the Cretaceous period, the 80 million years leading up to the asteroid or comet strike blamed for wiping out non-avian, terrestrial dinosaurs.
They had short snouts and beak-like jaws with few or no teeth, and some sported bony crests on their heads. Evidence of generous plumage — especially on the tail — has been found on several species.
Besides the spoke-like arrangement of the fossilized eggs, the eggshell itself provided further evidence that large oviraptorosaurs sat near their unborn progeny, not on top of them.
The eggs of big dinos, the researchers discovered, were more fragile than the eggs of smaller ones, which were clearly designed to carry more weight.
How big is too big to park a dino butt on top of unhatched eggs?
“That’s hard to say,” said Tanaka. “There is a gap in the data, but the threshold should be between 200 and 500 kilos (440 and 1,110 pounds).”
Oviraptorosaurs were falsely accused by early paleontologists of stealing the eggs so often found along side their fossil remains, giving rise to their name: “egg-thief lizards.”