While most of us think about self-driving cars as something we might acquire in the far-off future, Mark Silliman, serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Tend.ai, has been driving (riding?) one around town for the past couple of months.
Mark purchased a 2017 Honda Civic in the name of research. Drawing on an open source project called comma.ai, he used software to transform the Civic into an autonomous vehicle “optimized for Oregon roads.” Side note: This is not the first time Mark has spearheaded a cool project. Check out his past work on the turtlebot.
In addition to software, the DIY AV also needs a camera. “We use computer vision (which is literally a cell phone’s camera which you can see mounted on the windshield) and radar to decide where to go, when to brake etc.” Mark says. Then the process looks like this: Update the software, do simulations and take the Civic out for test drives.
The results of his efforts are chronicled in this YouTube video below. What you’re looking at is a significantly condensed version of a 28-minute, fully autonomous ride, with the gas, braking and steering all self-driving. Mark is “ghosting” the wheel for safety, and engaged with it only once during the drive, he says.
His hacked Honda Civic is what would be considered a Level 2/3 autonomous system, with level 5 being fully autonomous aka the vehicle’s performance equals (or is better than) that of a human driver.
Per Tech Republic Level 2 and 3 look like this:
Level 2: In level 2, at least one driver assistance system of “both steering and acceleration/ deceleration using information about the driving environment” is automated, like cruise control and lane-centering. It means that the “driver is disengaged from physically operating the vehicle by having his or her hands off the steering wheel AND foot off pedal at the same time,” according to the SAE. The driver must still always be ready to take control of the vehicle, however.
Level 3: Drivers are still necessary in level 3 cars, but are able to completely shift “safety-critical functions” to the vehicle, under certain traffic or environmental conditions. It means that the driver is still present and will intervene if necessary, but is not required to monitor the situation in the same way it does for the previous levels. Jim McBride, autonomous vehicles expert at Ford, said this is “the biggest demarcation is between Levels 3 and 4.” He’s focused on getting Ford straight to Level 4, since Level 3, which involves transferring control from car to human, can often pose difficulties. “We’re not going to ask the driver to instantaneously intervene—that’s not a fair proposition,” McBride said.
Mark notes that he–or any other driver–can regain control of his Civic at anytime. He’s driven about 300 autonomous miles around Central Oregon so far. And while there’s certainly some warranted concern about the safety of self-driving cars, Mark says he’s most excited about their potential for improving the safety of car travel.
Consider the experience of Waymo, formerly Google’s self-driving car program. According to the HuffPo:
Waymo has logged over two million miles on U.S. streets and has only had fault in one accident, making its cars by far the lowest at-fault rate of any driver class on the road— about 10 times lower than our safest demographic of human drivers (60–69 year-olds) and 40 times lower than new drivers, not to mention the obvious benefits gained from eliminating drunk drivers.
“Autonomous Vehicles could save more than 1 million people a year,” Mark says. “I can’t imagine something more safety focused.”
As I was writing this, I started to wonder: Is it even legal to drive a self-driving car in Oregon? Mark says that lane keeping assistance plus adaptive cruise control is legal. “This happens to be the best of both,” he notes.
The state Legislature has actually considered some self-driving car legislature that would enact guidelines, and potentially even encourage more AV business here. But Mark remains concerned that Oregon is behind other states that are prioritizing autonomous vehicle development. Portland did launch an autonomous vehicles initiative earlier this year, but Mark says more could be done in terms of creating the opportunity for AVs to be developed and tested across the state.
“We don’t want to miss out on the next innovation,” he says. “We need to open the door to autonomous development at mass scale now.”
In the meantime, Mark is continuing to improve on his autonomous Civic. He says it’s a great starting point, but the car has lots of limitations including a steering angle that doesn’t work for Bend roundabouts. “I’m in the process of changing the hardware,” he says.
If you happen to be interested in autonomous vehicles, Mark recommends the following resources:
- A good, non-technical read is Driverless
- “For nerds I recommend checking out Comma.ai’s slack channel and Andrej Karpathy’s Stanford lecture series on neural networks. Fun Fact: It’s far from coincidence that Andrej is now the Director of AI at Tesla, one year after making this series.
- Virtually everything Siraj Raval makes is amazing and relevant.
- Udacity’s free machine learning course is good. Their self driving car course is great (udacity.com/drive) but costs money.
- And for info/guidance on localization and robots check out Mark’s turtlebot project.
Happy (not) driving!
You can reach Kelly by email at [email protected].