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Self-driving cars are an extremely tough problem. This mini-game shows you why

As we navigate into the 21st century, great innovations promised by Star Trek and Marty McFly are starting to become reality. Transporters and self-tying shoes aside, ask any daily commuter what they want, and they will say autonomous cars.

Imagine heading into the office sipping your coffee and reading the paper at 65 miles per hour while Alexa or Google drives your car. Well, that future could still be a little further away than people think. The Washington Post just released a very interesting online simulator showcasing how difficult a problem full Level 5 Autonomy truly is.

As the simulator nicely outlines, autonomous cars work by using sensors located all over the car. These sensors, comprised of radar, lidar and cameras, feed dozens of gigabytes of data into a central computer, every minute. This can locate your vehicle down to the centimeter. Currently, computer developer Nvidia has one that can perform at this speed.

Despite all these sensors and data, self-driving cars still face a lot of obstacles and development work before they can become reliable enough to be commonplace. Basically, they have trouble seeing and hearing. In daylight, a human can see four times better than the current technology.

Sensors have trouble discerning a pedestrian from a bicycle. Some have had trouble seeing stopped vehicles in the road. Others cannot discern animals smaller than a moose quickly enough. Large objects alongside you on the road, like a motor home, can effect line of sight and cause sensor blind spots.

We are asking a lot of a machine to be able to react and make split-second decisions like a human being. The ongoing chess game that is navigating our roadways is constantly changing.

These issues will be overcome in time, but another issue may confound your dream of catching 40 winks on the interstate. Currently, 40 states have different regulations regarding autonomous vehicles. The federal government is not regulating testing currently, which could make for decades of waiting before there is a framework of how to regulate this technology.

John Elkin
Worked for many off road and rally and sports car publications throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Decided to go look for a…
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