No Autonomous Trucks? Wait, What?

Starsky Robotics' autonomous truck made its driverless rounds less than a year ago, as shown in this video:

But in a surprising announcement, founder Stefan Seltz-Axmacher has stated that investors weren't willing to put the resources necessary into public safety:

While competitors expended effort adding machine learning-based features such as enabling trucks to change lanes on their own, Seltz-Axmacher said he threw resources into safety engineering. The company was the first autonomous trucking company to submit a Voluntary Safety Self Assessment to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

But a problem emerged: that safety focus didn’t excite investors. Venture capitalists, Seltz-Axmacher said, had trouble grasping why the company expended massive resources preparing, validating and vetting his system, then preparing a backup system, before the initial unmanned test run. That work essentially didn’t matter when he went in search of more funding.

“There’s not a lot of Silicon Valley companies that have shipped safety-critical products,” he said. “They measured progress on interesting features.”

...supervised machine learning doesn’t live up to the hype. It isn’t actual artificial intelligence akin to C-3PO, it’s a sophisticated pattern-matching tool.

“The VCs started to realize early last year that something was amiss in the autonomous industry,” he tells Automotive News. “They’re putting a lot of money in, and they’re not getting anything out.”

The big problem with edge cases, unlikely events which still occur to all drivers, is that they seemingly require more resources to deal with that aren't necessary in 99.99% of driving - which as we all know is mind-numbingly boringly repetitive.

After an initial period of excitement, it looks like we won't be getting autonomous trucks except in highly controlled environments, like mining trucks.

I'm disappointed, having read about them so long ago in Autofac, the 1955 classic story on nanotechnology by science fiction writer Philip K. Dick.

The truck was massive, rumbling under its tightly packed load. In many ways, it resembled conventional human-operated transportation vehicles, but with one exception -- there was no driver's cabin. The horizontal surface was a loading stage, and the part that would normally be the headlights and radiator grill was a fibrous spongelike mass of receptors, the limited sensory apparatus of this mobile utility extension.
(Read more about Philip K. Dick's autonomous trucks - with pictures!

Via Jalopnik and Automotive News (subscription only).

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