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Optimus Ride’s autonomous system makes self-driving vehicles a reality

Optimus Ride’s autonomous system makes self-driving vehicles a reality

Some of the biggest companies in the world are spending billions in the race to develop self-driving vehicles that can go anywhere. Meanwhile, Optimus Ride, a startup out of MIT, is already helping people get around by taking a different approach.

The company’s autonomous vehicles only drive in areas it comprehensibly maps, or geofences. Self-driving vehicles can safely move through these areas at about 25 miles per hour with today’s technology.

“It’s important to realize there are multiple approaches, and multiple markets, to self-driving,” says Optimus Ride CEO Ryan Chin MA ’00, SM ’04, PhD ’12. “There’s no monolithic George Jetson kind of self-driving vehicle. You have robot trucks, you have self-driving taxis, self-driving pizza delivery machines, and each of these will have different time frames of technological development and different markets.”

By partnering with developers, the Optimus team is currently focused on deploying its vehicles in communities with residential and commercial buildings, retirement communities, corporate and university campuses, airports, resorts, and smart cities. The founders estimate the combined value of transportation services in those markets to be over $600 billion.

“We believe this is an important, huge business, but we also believe this is the first addressable market in the sense that we believe the first autonomous vehicles that will generate profits and make business sense will appear in these environments, because you can build the tech much more quickly,” says Chin, who co-founded the company with Albert Huang SM ’05, PhD ’10, Jenny Larios Berlin MCP ’14, MBA ’15, Ramiro Almeida, and Class of 1948 Career Development Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics Sertac Karaman.

Optimus Ride currently runs fleets of self-driving vehicles in the Seaport area of Boston, in a mixed-use development in South Weymouth, Massachusetts, and, as of this week, in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a 300-acre industrial park that now hosts the first self-driving vehicle program in the state.

Later this year, the company will also deploy its autonomous vehicles in a private community of Fairfield, California, and in a mixed-use development in Reston, Virginia.

The early progress — and the valuable data that come with it — is the result of the company taking a holistic view of transportation. That perspective can be traced back to the founders’ diverse areas of focus at MIT.

A multidisciplinary team

Optimus Ride’s founders have worked across a wide array of departments, labs, and centers across MIT. The technical validation for the company began when Karaman participated in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Urban Challenge with a team including Huang in 2007. Both researchers had also worked in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory together.

For the event, DARPA challenged 89 teams with creating a fully autonomous vehicle that could traverse a 60 mile course in under six hours. The vehicle from MIT was one of only six to complete the journey.

Chin, who led a Media Lab project that developed a retractable electric vehicle in the Smart Cities group, met Karaman when both were PhD candidates in 2012. Almeida began working in the Media Lab as a visiting scholar a year later.

As members of the group combined their expertise on both self-driving technology and the way people move around communities, they realized they needed help developing business models around their unique approach to improving transportation. Jenny Larios Berlin was introduced to the founders in 2015 after earning joint degrees from the Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the Sloan School of Management. The team started Optimus Ride in August that year.

“The company is really a melting pot of ideas from all of these schools and departments,” Karaman says. “When we met each other, there was the technology angle, but we also realized there’s an important business angle, and there’s also an interesting urban planning/media arts and sciences angle around thinking of the system as a whole. So when we formed the company we thought, not just how can we build fully autonomous vehicles, but also how can we make transportation in general more affordable, sustainable, equitable, accessible, and so on.”

Karaman says the company’s approach could only have originated in a highly collaborative environment like MIT, and believes it gives the company a big advantage in the self-driving sector.

“I knew how to build autonomous systems, but in interacting with Ryan and Ramiro and Jenny, I really got a better understanding of what the systems would look like, what the smart cities that utilize the systems would look like, what some of the business models would look like,” Karaman says. “That has a feedback on the technology. It allows you to build the right kind of technology very efficiently in order to go to these markets.”

Optimus Ride’s self-driving vehicles can travel on many public roads. Courtesy of Optimus Ride

First mover advantage

Optimus Ride’s vehicles have a suite of cameras, lasers, and sensors similar to what other companies use to help autonomous vehicles navigate their environments. But Karaman says the company’s key technical differentiators are its machine vision system, which rapidly identifies objects, and its ability to fuse all those data sources together to make predictions, such as where an object is going and when it will get there.

Optimus Ride’s vehicles feature a range of cameras and sensors to help them navigate their environment. Courtesy of Optimus Ride

The strictly defined areas where the vehicles drive help them learn what Karaman calls the “culture of driving” on different roads. Human drivers might subconsciously take a little longer at certain intersections. Commuters might drive much faster than the speed limit. Those and other location-specific details, like the turn radius of the Silver Line bus in the Seaport, are learned by the system through experience.

“A lot of the well-funded autonomous driving projects out there try to capture everything at the same time and tackle every problem,” Karaman says. “But we operate the vehicle in places where it can learn very rapidly. If you go around, say, 10,000 miles in a small community, you end up seeing a certain intersection a hundred or a thousand times, so you learn the culture of driving through that intersection. But if you go 10,000 miles around the country, you’ll only see places once.”

Safety drivers are still required to be behind the wheels of autonomous vehicles in the states Optimus Ride operates in, but the founders hope to soon be monitoring fleets with fewer people in a manner similar to an air traffic controller.

For now, though, they’re focused on scaling their current model. The contract in Reston, Virginia is part of a strategic partnership with one of the largest real estate managers in the world, Brookfield Properties. Chin says Brookfield owns over 100 locations where Optimus Ride could deploy its system, and the company is aiming to be operating 10 or more fleets by the end of 2020.

“Collectively, [the founders] probably have around three decades of experience in building self-driving vehicles, electric vehicles, shared vehicles, mobility transportation, on demand systems, and in looking at how you integrate new transportation systems into cities,” Chin says. “So that’s been the idea of the company: to marry together technical expertise with the right kind of policymaking, the right kind of business models, and to bring autonomy to the world as fast as possible.”

Materials provided by Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Hackers Could Use Connected Cars to Gridlock Whole Cities

Hackers Could Use Connected Cars to Gridlock Whole Cities

In the year 2026, at rush hour, your self-driving car abruptly shuts down right where it blocks traffic. You climb out to see gridlock down every street in view, then a news alert on your watch tells you that hackers have paralyzed all Manhattan traffic by randomly stranding internet-connected cars.

Flashback to July 2019, the dawn of autonomous vehicles and other connected cars, and physicists at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Multiscale Systems, Inc. have applied physics in a new study to simulate what it would take for future hackers to wreak exactly this widespread havoc by randomly stranding these cars. The researchers want to expand the current discussion on automotive cybersecurity, which mainly focuses on hacks that could crash one car or run over one pedestrian, to include potential mass mayhem.

They warn that even with increasingly tighter cyber defenses, the amount of data breached has soared in the past four years, but objects becoming hackable can convert the rising cyber threat into a potential physical menace.

“Unlike most of the data breaches we hear about, hacked cars have physical consequences,” said Peter Yunker, who co-led the study and is an assistant professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Physics.

It may not be that hard for state, terroristic, or mischievous actors to commandeer parts of the internet of things, including cars.

“With cars, one of the worrying things is that currently there is effectively one central computing system, and a lot runs through it. You don’t necessarily have separate systems to run your car and run your satellite radio. If you can get into one, you may be able to get into the other,” said Jesse Silverberg of Multiscale Systems, Inc., who co-led the study with Yunker

Freezing traffic solid

In simulations of hacking internet-connected cars, the researchers froze traffic in Manhattan nearly solid, and it would not even take that to wreak havoc. Here are their results, and the numbers are conservative for reasons mentioned below.

“Randomly stalling 20 percent of cars during rush hour would mean total traffic freeze. At 20 percent, the city has been broken up into small islands, where you may be able to inch around a few blocks, but no one would be able to move across town,” said David Yanni, a graduate research assistant in Yunker’s lab.

Not all cars on the road would have to be connected, just enough for hackers to stall 20 percent of all cars on the road. For example, if 40 percent of all cars on the road were connected, hacking half would suffice.

Hacking 10 percent of all cars at rush hour would debilitate traffic enough to prevent emergency vehicles from expediently cutting through traffic that is inching along citywide. The same thing would happen with a 20 percent hack during intermediate daytime traffic.

The researchers’ results appear in the journal Physical Review E on July 20, 2019. The study is not embargoed.

It could take less

For the city to be safe, hacking damage would have to be below that. In other cities, things could be worse.

“Manhattan has a nice grid, and that makes traffic more efficient. Looking at cities without large grids like Atlanta, Boston, or Los Angeles, and we think hackers could do worse harm because a grid makes you more robust with redundancies to get to the same places down many different routes,” Yunker said.

The researchers left out factors that would likely worsen hacking damage, thus a real-world hack may require stalling even fewer cars to shut down Manhattan.

“I want to emphasize that we only considered static situations – if roads are blocked or not blocked. In many cases, blocked roads spill over traffic into other roads, which we also did not include. If we were to factor in these other things, the number of cars you’d have to stall would likely drop down significantly,” Yunker said.

The researchers also did not factor in ensuing public panic nor car occupants becoming pedestrians that would further block streets or cause accidents. Nor did they consider hacks that would target cars at locations that maximize trouble.

They also stress that they are not cybersecurity experts, nor are they saying anything about the likelihood of someone carrying out such a hack. They simply want to give security experts a calculable idea of the scale of a hack that would shut a city down.

The researchers do have some general ideas of how to reduce the potential damage.

“Split up the digital network influencing the cars to make it impossible to access too many cars through one network,” said lead author Skanka Vivek, a postdoctoral researcher in Yunker’s lab. “If you could also make sure that cars next to each other can’t be hacked at the same time that would decrease the risk of them blocking off traffic together.”

Traffic jams as physics

Yunker researches in soft matter physics, which looks at how constituent parts – in this case, connected cars – act as one whole physical phenomenon. The research team analyzed the movements of cars on streets with varying numbers of lanes, including how they get around stalled vehicles and found they could apply a physics approach to what they observed.

“Whether traffic is halted or not can be explained by classic percolation theory used in many different fields of physics and mathematics,” Yunker said.

Percolation theory is often used in materials science to determine if a desirable quality like a specific rigidity will spread throughout a material to make the final product uniformly stable. In this case, stalled cars spread to make formerly flowing streets rigid and stuck.

The shut streets would be only those in which hacked cars have cut off all lanes or in which they have become hindrances that other cars can’t maneuver around and do not include streets where hacked cars still allow traffic flow.

The researchers chose Manhattan for their simulations because a lot of data was available on that city’s traffic patterns.

Materials provided by Georgia Institute of Technology

Tesla Autopilot Engaged in Model X

Tesla announces self-driving chips along with a ride-sharing network of driverless cars

Tesla has revealed its plans of launching a cab sharing network consisting of only self-driven cars. Tesla held an ‘Autonomy Day’ for promoting the driverless system to its investors. Apart from this, they also revealed the “Full Self Driving” computer chip which is the best chip right now according to its CEO Elon Musk.

This self-driving machine has been in the discussion for years now and the company also declared that the previously named “Autopilot Hardware 3.0” is in production and it has been already installed in the Model S and X vehicles. Pete Bannon, Head of Tesla Autopilot Division said during the presentation that the hardware developed by them possesses an improvement factor of 21 in fps processing against the previous model.

The chip production is being handled by Samsung in Austin, Texas. The CEO is optimistic about Tesla that the software which will have everything needed to conquer the self-driven system will be completed by the end of this year. He also explained that this version will need a bit of attention of a driver but he says it will stop by Q2 2020. After this Tesla will start working on a fully driverless system and Musk is sure that this will be released by the end of next year. Tesla has planned to launch a Robotaxi network by providing an update to its present mobile application.

The Tesla owners can also add their cars and earn money from the app or they can choose any random Tesla car to pick or leave them in their destination. Musk studied very intensely in economics about the fully self-driven car from both the Tesla perspective and Tesla’s owner’s perspective. Now Tesla’s vehicle’s hardware is developed as per his studies and what he presumes to achieve the goal of the fully self-driven car by giving updates to the software. He also approximated that the values of the cars based on self-driven networks are of $200,000 minimum whereas Tesla is selling cars having values of the maximum range of $50,000. He also roughly calculated that these cars can be seen everywhere by the end of next year.

Musk also said that buying any self-driven cars other than Tesla can be a loss to the buyers because there will be no fully self-driven car other than this. Tesla convinced very well by giving their presentation on how fully self-driven system is more safer than normal cars. The self-driving space is getting quite competitive as companies such as Google, Uber have made decent moves already.

How Will Self Driving Cars Change the Way People Live

How Will Self-Driving Cars Change the Way People Live?

Cars have changed our lives for the better in all sorts of unforeseen ways. Indeed they bestowed upon us with a lot of freedom but in return levied upon us heavy costs. Drivers commuting daily generally count their lucky stars before going out for the day. Accidents on road, pollution, congestion, etc. are the heavy costs that all drivers have to pay at least once in their lifetime. Hence, comes the new era of self- driving cars. These can change the whole scenario of driving. According to WHO, cars are the leading cause of death from ages 15-29. 20 million to 50 million people get injured due to these accidents. Self-driving cars can reduce these numbers drastically. Nowadays due to our smartphone generation, we are constantly distracted. Self-driving cars would let drivers ride even while using our gadgets behind the wheel.

Are self-driving cars safe?

Google has already launched videos in 2009 and 2014 about helping people with disabilities to drive. Blind and elderly people could easily drive in cars now. How much easier it would make their lives!

Waymo, the self-driving car remains the clear leader of such cars on U.S. streets. Now there square measure dozens of autonomous vehicle firms testing on U.S. streets. Over subsequent few months, Waymo’s fleet began driving regarding twenty 5000 self-driven miles per day, or 1,000,000 miles per month.

In the last year 2018, Waymo hit another major milestone of eight million self-driven miles as its new electrical panther I-Paces vehicle hit the streets.

Google's Waymo self driving car

Google’s Waymo Self-driving Car. Image Source: smoothgroover22 (Flickr)

The next most skilled firms, Uber and gram Cruise, square measure still many million miles behind Waymo.

That doesn’t embody miles driven within the semi-autonomous modes that several cars currently supply, like Tesla’s Autopilot, that square measure a lot of driver-assistance systems than true self-driving vehicles.

In the previous few years, the best strides taken within the self-driving business are by ride-hailing firms, WHO square measure devoting Associate in the nursing exceptional quantity of your time and cash to develop their own proprietary technologies and, in several cases, giving members of the general public rides in their vehicles.

In 2017, Lyft’s business executive foretold that at intervals 5 years, all their vehicles are going to be autonomous.

At a news conference in March 2018, wherever Waymo’s business executive John Krafcik proclaimed its ride-hailing program. Krafcik claimed that the corporations are going to be creating a minimum of 1,000,000 journeys per day by 2020.

Autonomous cars could take away certain jobs of taxi-drivers, truckers, etc. But on the bright side, it will keep us safer on the road as so many new companies are setting out on the road, quite literally, to bring this gear shift on the way.

Benefits of self-driving cars

With car crashes increasing every day on the road, self- driving cars are making their mark on the road more in the very near future.

Listed below are some of the many self-driving cars’ benefits:-

  1. Road safety

According to the government, drivers pose a threat in 94% of crashes. So instead of that, self-driving cars can reduce driver error. It can potentially reduce risks and dangers considerably, securing human lives and reducing accidents.

road safety self driving cars

Image Source: Frank Derks (Flickr)

Drivers behind the wheel are often drunk, drugged, unbelted, speeding or distracted. This’ll be the greatest promise to reduce the repercussions for such incidents.

  1. Independent driving

Disabled people like the blind can now lead self-sufficient lives however they want to. Senior citizens can also be greatly benefited from this. Car-pooling of such vehicles can also reduce great costs providing such services to every household.

  1. Cost-effective

With medical bills we are having to pay off with increasing pollution and car crashes and other injuries, self-driving cars serve as a boon in cutting off so much of medical expenses and hospital bills. Not to mention the amount of work time we would lose if we were bed-ridden. On top of that the cost of repairing the damaged vehicle. Hence, these cars are helping us save up so much and also reduce the costs of insurance well over time.

  1. Increase productivity

Self-driving cars can enable us to watch movies, create presentations or even write documents while driving. We don’t even have to worry about parking because the vehicle parks itself upon reaching a particular destination, be it an airport or a shopping mall. We could do our jobs and respond to emails without the worry of paying attention to the road or crashing or running red lights.

  1. Reduce road traffic

Automated vehicles could reduce the mistakes caused by drivers on roads which leads to road congestion and thereby an increase in traffic. Intelligent vehicles as such are programmed to maintain a safe and consistent distance between two vehicles. This reduces the number of stop-and-go traffics that increase confusion and congestion.

  1. Greener future

When traffic jams are reduced and the roads are considerably less congested, it would mean no more idling of vehicles on the road emitting greenhouse gases. It would save so much of fuel and would pave the way for a less-polluted greener and cleaner future.

Greater demand for electric vehicles might be felt and even car-sharing. When electric, i.e, battery-powered vehicles are shared, the cost of battery usage could be shared too. Hence the vehicle can be used for more hours of the day because that would mean more commuting at less cost. This will increase the economic appeal of self-driving cars.

  1. Save more space

Self-driving vehicles could pave the way for a smarter future in the sense that they will affect in the building of cities and the infrastructure of smarter designs of roads and parking spaces. In our day to day parking, it creates a lot of hassle in selecting a parking spot, checking the space in between the vehicles and then parking our vehicle with adequate space between them. Self-driving cars will be programmed to negate such hassle and calculate the distance by themselves and then park accordingly. Estimations point out that this can be done saving 15% less space which will result in saving way more space for more efficient commuting and parking in all urban areas all around the globe.

  1. Saving time

Each driver in urban areas is estimated to spend around 27 minutes extra in commuting in the US. With self-driving cars out on the road, this could save well up to an hour, if not more each day. The time which they can devote to their well-being and even boost the economy and other benefits that lead to a more efficient life.

These are some of the numerous self-driving cars’ benefits.

Self-driving cars future

While talking about the future of these wonderful cars, there are countless wonders and expectations and possibilities to come true. Johann Jungwirth of Volkswagen says that restaurants might cover the cost of travel for certain customers to boost up their sales. Fancy ones could advertise these vehicles as part of their meals too. In-vehicle advertising would sky-rocket taking the help of ride-hailing networks such as Ola, Uber, etc. riders can choose between expensive ones or cheaper along with the offers that come with them.

Other avenues of comfort will be opened up to people such as letting us work out in the gym with our trainer for a quick while on our way to work or call a make-up artist or a hairdresser on our way home.

Toyota has already designed e-Palette vehicles which are kits that can be delivered to offices, salons, parlors, shops, etc. These vehicles will modify our entire social lives by merging groups of people with similar interests while assigning rides, which means much more fun while even commuting! Dating apps could take up this advantage and pair up people with similar interests out for a ride on the way to the date or even long drives. Self-driving vehicles might also serve as a mobile hotel while out for a trip. Spacious ones, of course.

Wrapping UP!

From the sci-fi movies featuring robot cars, who knew they would become a reality someday? In the past five years, driving has become smarter and smarter with each new innovative design to the existing models. From Bluetooth to remote lock and now driverless cars! Keeping human safety the utmost priority these vehicles will venture out on the road in greater numbers making our lives easier and our traveling hassle free.

No doubt, every new technology, and invention come with its own pros and cons but these vehicles are mostly targeted in making our lives easier, connecting more people socially and professionally. Once these self-driving vehicles are economically affordable to the regular folks, these will sweep over our roads in no time.

In answer to the question will these vehicles change our lives for the better? Yes, they will. Commute will become cheaper and less of a drag. People will no longer have to worry about traffic or finding a parking spot. Like most technologies, these vehicles will surely channel the best in us and pave the way for a promising future ahead.