Car Makers Drive Hard Towards AI Advances


(Image: chombosan/Shutterstock)

(Image: chombosan/Shutterstock)

Today's cars are all about mobility -- not just the kind that transports people and things, but also data mobility. Today's cars are more connected, and they are generating a lot more data that car manufacturers are working to collect, process, and apply to AI developments.

When the average person thinks about the connected car -- whether it is fully automated or packed with sensors that alert the driver to possible dangers -- what comes to mind is the experience for the person in that driver's seat. In fact, the information the driver sees represents only a tiny fraction of all the data collected through the sensor system. The amount of data collected is indeed vast, and car makers are now working on ways to ingest and process it effectively.

Ford just reported that $200 million of its planned $1.2 billion investment in three Michigan manufacturing facilities is earmarked for "an advanced data center to support the company's expansion to an auto and a mobility company." The company already has one in operation. It is building the second in anticipation of "its data usage to increase 1,000 percent -- driven by manufacturing and business needs and new mobility services, such as more connected, autonomous and electrified vehicles."

Separately, Toyota has announced that it is partnering with the NTT Group to jointly tackle driving issues such as preventing accidents and managing traffic by leveraging big data. The goal is to achieve "a sustainable Smart Mobility Society in the future."

The path toward that future may begin as early as 2018. That's the year slated for Toyota's field trial "to assess the feasibility and usability of representative services in the connected car field."

To get to that point, it will be working with NTT on four areas of collaboration:

    1. Platform for data collection, accumulation, and analysis
    2. IoT networks and data centers
    3. Next-generation communication technologies (5G, edge computing)
    4. Agents

The last category is one that draws on AI through a system that makes sense of the data both within and outside the car. Its application is what enables motorists to experience "user-friendly services," including hands-free activation technology.

Toyota is also applying AI within the context of developing next-generation energy that reduces emissions. The company's Research Institute (TRI) plans to spend about $35 million over the next four years on research in collaboration with universities and other research organizations. They include Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Michigan, the University at Buffalo, the University of Connecticut, and Ilika, a materials science company based in the UK.

TRI Chief Science Officer Eric Krotkov, declared, "Toyota recognizes that artificial intelligence is a vital basic technology that can be leveraged across a range of industries, and we are proud to use it to expand the boundaries of materials science."

In applying AI to material discovery and development, TRI and its partners plan not just to develop pioneering "models and materials for batteries and fuel cells" but to come up with whole new approaches to the application "of machine learning, artificial intelligence, and materials informatics" to accelerate progress. The plan is to innovate "automated materials discovery systems that integrate simulation, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and/or robotics."

Though TRI is a distinct entity owned by Toyota, its research goals dovetail with those of the car company's collaboration with NTT. TRI's founding principles include a commitment to apply automated technologies to improving safety and enabling people who are incapable of driving under existing conditions to enjoy mobility. While mobility in that context means transportation of people, it is helped along by mobile data. It is on that basis that analytics and AI can be used to identify new possibilities.

Ariella Brown,

Ariella Brown is a social media consultant, editor, and freelance writer who frequently writes about the application of technology to business. She holds a PhD in English from the City University of New York. Her Twitter handle is @AriellaBrown.

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Re: Safety first!
  • 4/24/2017 10:40:13 AM
NO RATINGS

..

Ariella suggests that

... perhaps a smaller scale light rail setup could work in such communities. For some reason, though, it makes me think of the trolley in "Mr. Roger's Neighborhood." 

A "small" rail trolley a la Disneyland or similar application might be an interesting marketing "feature" for a retirement community. I kinda doubt it would materialize because of the higher capital cost for trackage and electrification, which would not have Disneyland-scale crowds to justify it. However, if the operating cost would be reduced by eliminating the need for an employee ("conductor" or car assistant?) maybe the benefit-cost analysis would come out favorably.

The major obstacle to using robotic (autonomous) buses in this application is the need for an onboard assistant to perform the tiedowns for wheelchairs and other assistive devices. It's difficult to imagine automating this process because there are so many different types of chairs/devices requiring some tiedown ingenuity. On a railcar, as I said, this need is avoided because the smooth ride quality eliminates the need for tying down the wheelchair.

On the other hand, I can certainly imagine the Trump administration's Federal Transit Administration overturning the requirement for tiedowns on buses. My sense is that, in their mindset, safety is likely to be sacrficed to the convenience and profit enhancement of businesses, in this case bus vendors.

..

Re: Safety first!
  • 4/24/2017 10:20:23 AM
NO RATINGS

A good point. While the data is being analyzed for self driving vehicles it certainly would seem logical that designs of roadways, signs, and signals could be improved for drivers' safety in those vehicles still being driven the old fashioned way. Not the least I think would be also to design not only distractions along roadways but the vehicles and instruments inside the vehicle for the least distractions possible. 

Re: Safety first!
  • 4/21/2017 2:53:22 PM
NO RATINGS

@Lyndon_Henry Interesting, then perhaps a smaller scale light rail setup could work in such communities. For some reason, though, it makes me think of the trolley in "Mr. Roger's Neighborhood." Still that's not a bad association. 

Re: Safety first!
  • 4/20/2017 2:36:16 PM
NO RATINGS

..

Ariella writes

if you have a retirement community with extensive grounds, I can see the usefulness of that. Perhaps it could work off something like an autonous golf cart.

There is a wrinkle to this idea: Under current law, any such vehicles would need to be ADA-compliant (ADA = Americans with Disabilities Act). Per this, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) now requires that all vehicles provide access for wheelchairs (and similar mobility aids) for vehicle boarding. (Increasingly this has taken the form of lowfloor buses with out-folding ramps, retained in the floor at the front entrance, that unfold outwardly for wheelchair boarding, and then retract back into underfloor storage.

However, the other requirement is that such passengers be restrained with tiedowns. These must be professionally attached to the wheelchair, typically by the bus driver.

For an automated bus (robobus), this would seem to be a considerably more daunting challenge. In other words, just having an automated golfcart (as such vehicles are currently configured) would not comply. Obviously it's not impossible, but so far, to my knowledge, no automated bus has been designed or modified to accomplish this without human intervention.

Incidentally, rapid rail metros don't have this problem (and a number of totally automated metros now operate worldwide) because passengers board at platforms level with the railcar floor (level boarding). Light rail (including streetcar) systems likewise would be adaptable to automated operation because nowadays the standard is level boarding at all stations. Also, mobility-impaired passengers don't have to be restrained on railcars because the ride quality is far less jerky and more predictable on a smooth, guided running surface compared to buses.

..

Re: Safety first!
  • 4/20/2017 11:35:38 AM
NO RATINGS

@Lyndon_Henry yes, if you have a retirement community with extensive grounds, I can see the usefulness of that. Perhaps it could work off something like an autonous golf cart.

Re: Safety first!
  • 4/19/2017 4:37:13 PM
NO RATINGS

..

Another potential public transit use for autonomous vans or small buses is to provide circulator and connector services for special activity centers (like airports) or retirement communities.

..

Re: Safety first!
  • 4/19/2017 10:31:13 AM
NO RATINGS

<It seems apparent that, as the number of robocars operating in real-world road conditions grows, the legal can of worms is opening wider.>

@Lyndon_Henry that's something you can be certain about: just like death and taxes.

Re: Safety first!
  • 4/19/2017 10:29:51 AM
NO RATINGS

<Incidentally, the urban public transit industry is evaluating AI-based autonomous vehicle technology as a possibility for "last mile" services and special services for the mobility-impaired (especially blind passengers).> @Lyndon_Henry that's a nice idea. Perhaps it would also be possible to have some kind of transport set up to ease the way for wheelchair bound individuals. 

Re: Technical & Legal
  • 4/19/2017 10:28:05 AM
NO RATINGS

<Eventually I started reading forums specific to the vehicle and found that to ensure some of these were actually fixed the vehicle has to be driven at 50-55mph for 30 minutes for the ECU to relearn the sensor ranges.  Giving a mechanic the historical data from those sensors before a failure seems like a good way to avoid someone taking a chuck of their day to cruise in your car hoping that they resolved the issue. >

@SaneIt that brings back unpleasant memories I have of trying to clear the sensor code on my car. Even after the fix is put in -- say a new filter or the like -- clearing that code history requires a substantial drive of the kind you describe. So each time my mechanic would guess at what had to be done, I had to take long drives to nowhere just to try to clear the codes. It was a very frustrating experience, particularly because I had to waste so much time and gas doing that multiple times when he was taking that trial-and-error approach. 

Re: Elephant in the Room
  • 4/19/2017 10:25:35 AM
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@kq4ym I totally get you on that. It's something I was just discussing on another board about broadband companies raising prices because they can provide much better services now than in the past. As another commentator put it: "I think we get into trouble when [they] start charging based on the services they offer rather than the services we need." The same goes for cars that come with all these bells and whistles standard but at a premium price for the basic model that doesn't allow for more basic options.

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