All Automation and AI stories

Aug 19, 2021 - Technology

Aurora offers an open book test for self-driving cars

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

If you can pass a driver's test, you can get an operator's license. But there is no corresponding test for autonomous vehicles.

Why it matters: Unless Congress acts, it'll be up to tech companies and carmakers — not the government — to determine when self-driving cars are safe for public roads. "Just trust us" isn't a viable answer to earn public acceptance.

What's happening: One self-driving tech company, Aurora, argues that publicly sharing its work — through a series of layered safety claims along with detailed evidence to back up each one — is the best way to determine when the technology is safe.

  • This "safety case framework" is a structured argument that gives engineers a roadmap for developing the tech while also offering much-needed transparency to the public.
  • "It's like saying you're going to climb a mountain, but you don’t know how high the mountain is or how many steps it will take to get there," explains Nat Beuse, Aurora's vice president of safety. "The safety case tells us how high it is and how many steps it will take to make the ascent."

Between the lines: The approach is also more meaningful, Beuse says, than other proxies for AV safety, such as counting how many times a backup safety driver had to take control during testing (California's so-called "disengagement reports") or how many millions of road miles an AV developer logs (the basis for Waymo's leadership claim).

Of note: Beuse, a former official at the U.S. Department of Transportation, was instrumental in establishing a new approach toward safety at Uber's autonomous vehicle unit after one of its self-driving cars killed a pedestrian in 2018.

  • Aurora acquired the Uber unit in January.
  • Other industries, including aviation, nuclear and medical, also use a safety case-based approach to assess their performance.

Go deeper: Explore Aurora's interactive framework here and an explanation of how it works here.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Aug 18, 2021 - Technology

AI's shaky foundations

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A new academic group is sounding a warning about powerful, if poorly understood, AI systems that are increasingly driving the field.

Why it matters: New models like OpenAI's text-generating GPT-3 have proven so impressive that they're serving as the foundation of further AI research, but that risks propagating the biases that may be built into these systems.

U.S. opens formal probe into Tesla Autopilot crashes

Photo: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has opened a formal investigation into Tesla's Autopilot function after a series of crashes involving emergency vehicles.

The big picture: The probe will cover all of Tesla's current models, an estimated 765,000 vehicles. The agency has identified 11 crashes since 2018, where Tesla vehicles on Autopilot struck first responders who had used flashing lights, flares or road cones. At least 17 people were injured and one person died in the crashes, according to NHTSA.

Aug 16, 2021 - Technology

Audi’s self-driving Transformer

Audi skysphere concept. Photo: Audi

Luxury cars of the future will give you the choice: Drive or sit back and let the car do the driving.

Driving the news: Audi introduced this fascinating concept car last weekend at Monterey Car Week at Pebble Beach.

  • The skysphere — spelled with a lowercase "s"  is an electric roadster that transforms into a self-driving vehicle at the push of a button.
  • In Sport mode, it's an exhilarating sports car — with rear-wheel steering offering added control.
  • In Grand Touring mode, the steering wheel and pedals swivel out of sight and the chassis actually grows by almost 10 inches, freeing up passengers to stretch out and enjoy the ride.

What's next: It's the first of three autonomous concepts the German luxury carmaker says could arrive this decade. The grandsphere and urbansphere will follow the skysphere.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Aug 14, 2021 - Technology

Using AI to better price wildfire insurance

The Tamarack Fire burns near a house in Markleeville, Calif., on July 17. Photo: Ty O'Neil/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

A startup is using machine learning and better data to more accurately assess wildfire risk for insurers.

Why it matters: Wildfires are one of the fastest-growing risks to properties, but insurers have struggled to accurately price policies — and some have abandoned the field altogether, leaving property owners unprotected.

Aug 12, 2021 - Technology

Robots are the new farmhands

A John Deere tractor outfitted with Bear Flag Robotics' autonomous driving technology. Photo: Deere

Artificial intelligence and automation are the new farmhands as growers try to boost productivity amid soaring global demand for food, biofuels and other agricultural products.

Why it matters: Farmers one day will be able to manage their fields from their kitchen table, using a smartphone or tablet to drive machinery, inspect plants and irrigate or treat crops with fertilizer or insecticides.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Aug 11, 2021 - Technology

Meet the AIs that can write — and code

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Two new AI models out this week show the power of artificial intelligence to read text, write it — and even convert it into computer code.

Why it matters: Natural language processing (NLP) is one of the most exciting areas in AI research, with major implications for how we'll communicate and work in the years ahead.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Aug 10, 2021 - Technology

OpenAI's Codex turns written language into computer code

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

A new AI system can read written instructions in conversational language and transform it into working computer code.

Why it matters: The model is the latest example of progress in natural language processing, the ability of AIs to read and write text.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Aug 9, 2021 - Technology

Exclusive: Businesses that lag on AI risk falling behind permanently

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A new survey of 1,000 senior executives finds that only 20% of U.S. companies are fully employing AI for decision-making in business.

Why it matters: Many businesses, especially outside tech, remain reluctant to fully employ AI because they don't completely trust it and can't tap the talent they need.

Jul 28, 2021 - Technology

Self-driving technology reaches a crossroads

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The autonomous vehicle race is turning into a marathon, and the competitors are splintering off in different directions in search of the fastest, safest and most profitable road to self-driving technology.

The big picture: It's boiled down to a three-way contest among autonomous trucks, driverless robotaxis and privately owned cars that sometimes drive themselves.