Self driving cars are trickling out into the world. Several thousand automated vehicles (AVs) are motoring around the US. Dozens of projects are brewing in major auto companies. Some were more quick on the up take than others. This “missed the boat” prize goes to Toyota for poo-pooing the idea in 2014. Consumers wait for mass-market AV Fords and Chevvys. Passengers await the Ubermensch robo-taxis. Meanwhile groups eschewing the corporate arc are making quiet progress using DIY tactics to create open source self-driving cars.
Provided you drive a 2016 Honda Civic or an Acura ILX. George Hotz and commai’s devised a DIY self-driving system called Neo. An Android smartphone, open-source navigation software and extra hardware achieves L2 AV status. Hefty rigour and resources are a barrier to produce a commercially available vehicle. Afterpart mods could offer a cheaper loophole of sorts.
Letting people play for themselves, in their garages, is a great way to drive innovation. Hotz, published his plans on GitHub. Thus side-stepping National Highway Traffic Safety (NHTS) potential inteference.
One company called Neodriven has brought the open source self driving bundle to market. Packaging up the tech side to a mainstream audience. How long this can remain under the radar of the authorities remains unknown.
Level 2 Autonomy
The law moves at a different speed to technological progress. The nascent field of AI is proliferating rapidly. Outpacing regulatory and legislative means. In which case legal regulations may shut down development. Conversely a technical breakthrough may dazzle us all and flip the transportation board. This is extrapolation. For now Neo is not is a Level 5 self-driving wonder car. That doesn’t exist yet. This is the emergence of a price drop on advanced tech, from a dedicated group. Clarification on wider deployment may have to wait until the next report from the NHTS, you can read their Federal Automated Vehicles Policy here.
What Neo does offer is Level 2 autonomy. On the AV scale of 1 to 5 it occupies the same place as the first Tesla Autopilot release.
“Level 2: The driver is obliged to detect objects and events and respond if the automated system fails to respond properly. The automated system executes accelerating, braking, and steering. The automated system can deactivate immediately upontakeover by the driver.”
Open Source Self Driving
Other aftermarket self-driving systems are being created too. Udacity, provider of online education, are also devising an open-source AV. There’s a great lesson for education in these productive endeavours. Theoretical and the experimental sides of development need each other to keep momentum. Cycles of development and experiment are what drive technology. What is exciting is collaboration between people from opposing sides. Auto prodution is one of the backbone jobs of blue collar work. In light of this we need to be weary of how worker displacement from innovation.
Modifications on cars are nothing new. Bodywork, engine tuning, altering gear ratios are enjoyable activities for oily hands. I know several peoeple in this old guard of motors. The orthodoxy in mechanics shunns electrical, computational developments, why? There is a skill gap. We can bridge this gap with sharing information and skills.
Throughout this old-to-new transition in automotives the proprietary and open source debate persists. Breaching the walls preventing information sharing could produce a wave of job creation and innovation. Combining the old and the new, synthesising around a common interest. As sensors on cars increase in number the range of compatible vehicles will grow.
Knowledge as a resource needs to be redistributed into the world by those hoarding it and into a realm accessible to small business and innovators. We need more people in sheds doing experiments. The cultural man cave has become a lair of indulgence for instant gratification. We must do better.
For now the limited availabililty of retrofitting kits means the issue is on the back burner for regulatory bodies. Retrofit while you still can, a future where technical powers are made accessible is a driver of disruption. Open source initiatives can morph into commercial, livelihood supporting, industries and jobs.