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Could 2024 be the year when autonomous vehicles become a reality?

It has been twenty years since the creation of the first driverless motorcycle, the Ghostrider, as a result of the DARPA Grand Challenge. This event is widely recognized as the beginning of autonomous vehicles. In 2004, an interesting event occurred. Then, in 2008, a modified Prius successfully delivered pizza in San Francisco without the need for a human driver. This marked a significant milestone, as it was the first time a driverless car navigated public streets.

Given the remarkable progress made, it was widely believed that autonomous cars would become a common sight in every household within a decade. However, it is still a considerable amount of time before we can achieve that aspiration.

Significant advancements have been achieved since then, and 2024, marking the 20th anniversary of Ghostrider, holds great promise for the field of autonomous vehicles, particularly within off-road industries.

Insights gained from real-world experiences

In the past, my company, Otto, successfully executed a groundbreaking achievement in the field of autonomous transportation. We deployed an 18-wheeler that autonomously completed a commercial delivery, transporting a significant quantity of Budweiser cans from Fort Collins, Colorado, to Colorado Springs, covering a distance of 135 miles. Following that successful delivery, we anticipated rapid expansion. However, it became evident that driving on the highway brought about a different set of consequences that were more serious than a robotaxi causing traffic congestion in San Francisco. (Attention San Franciscans: Kindly refrain from placing cones on the robots.)

Exploring the untamed terrain

In one particular setting, the vision of self-driving vehicles has become a reality: off-road. Experts in the field frequently describe the hazardous conditions and difficult jobs that make up this challenging environment as being dangerous, dull, and boring. Robots have proven to be superior to human-driven vehicles in terms of efficiency, speed, and safety. This is because robots eliminate the risk of human injury as they can operate remotely. Deploying autonomous vehicles in these conditions for commercial operations offers a significant advantage: higher profits.

Trucks like Pronto’s are capable of operating in a wide range of environments, from humid jungles to the frigid Arctic tundra. Robots are not bothered by temperature variations or weather conditions; they are always punctual, and they excel in terms of efficiency. Over the years, companies like ASI, Caterpillar, and Komatsu have implemented autonomous solutions in various industries, such as agriculture, construction, and mining. They have discovered that the use of robots leads to more efficient operations, which in turn helps to minimize the environmental impact of these sectors.


The future prospects for Tesla

It is impossible to discuss self-driving technology without mentioning Tesla. Similar to Tesla, Pronto utilizes camera-based technology along with AI to perceive and analyze the environment of a robotic vehicle, mimicking the capabilities of a human driver. I have full confidence in the validity of this approach and anticipate that by 2024, Tesla will successfully accomplish its long-awaited cross-country autonomous road trip. This achievement will solidify Tesla’s position as the second company to complete a coast-to-coast journey without any human intervention.

I am confident that Tesla’s technology will continue to make significant progress. One particular issue I anticipate Tesla will address is what I’ll refer to as “FSD Supercharge.” Imagine a streamlined process where your car seamlessly joins a queue, patiently awaiting its turn to be charged. A dedicated individual expertly handles the plugging and unplugging of your vehicle, ensuring it returns to you with a full charge. Pronto trucks have the necessary capabilities, and if Tesla is interested in pursuing this, I would be pleased to provide Pronto engineering support to make it happen.


Ensuring safety continues to be a top priority

Ensuring safety is of utmost importance when it comes to deploying autonomous vehicles. However, it is crucial for the industry to reach a consensus on how to effectively measure the safety of both robotic and human drivers.

Companies use different methodologies to estimate safety, such as miles per critical intervention (MPCI). In this scenario, a human safety driver accompanies the autonomous vehicle to assume control in situations where the vehicle may face ambiguity. The company then attempts to simulate whether a potentially hazardous event would have taken place without any human involvement.

These simulations, though, require further enhancements to be applicable to real-world driving scenarios. Given the limitations of current models in accurately predicting the behavior of self-driving automobiles, on-road testing continues to be crucial. However, the testing process produces safety assessments that are based on internal metrics and can vary between different companies.

In order to enhance transparency, the California DMV keeps records of collisions involving autonomous vehicles. Nevertheless, not all incidents are revealed, and the reports frequently lack essential details. Companies have their own criteria for determining what qualifies as a worrisome “intervention.” Therefore, policymakers require additional conclusive safety data to make informed decisions regarding regulations and widespread implementation. Advancements are being made through continuous testing aimed at developing expertise. However, it is anticipated that backup drivers will continue to play a crucial role in overseeing the technology until autonomous systems can convincingly prove their safety.

In summary, 2024 has been designated as the year of the robot. We are now out of demo mode and actively contributing, bringing value, and guiding us towards the future.

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