Google Drives Better Than You

ben sheehy denver colorado google cars drive better than youI recently blogged about Google’s efforts to seek suppliers for their new self-driving cars, which you can find here. Six years since beginning to test their self-driving cars, Google happily claims that they are indeed better drivers than your average human motorist. In those six years, Google’s fleet of 20+ self-driving vehicles have had 11 accidents, all of which Google says were caused by nothing more than human error and not the autonomous vehicles.

Chris Urmson, the director of Google’s self-driving car program, calls the 11 accidents minor, involving a few dents and scratches and notes that not once during any of those collisions was a Google car responsible. Instead, many of the accidents were caused by other nearby drivers who have crashed into Google’s cars from behind at traffic lights, side-swiped or hit some of the cars by not following the rules of the road. Most of the accidents occurred on city streets rather than freeways, which should come as a relief and a surprise to people who feared how an autonomous car would perform in fast-moving traffic.

So what makes Google’s autonomous car algorithm a better driver than the rest of us? According to Urmson, it all comes down to how much attention we put on the road versus how much attention a machine puts on the road and everything else around it. Humans are easily and often distracted; Urmson cites statistics that indicate that at any given moment, there are 660,000 people distracted behind the wheel either by checking their devices or other distractions. Currently, Google’s self-driving cars have a safety-driver, a human that is present in case anything does go wrong on the part of the car, and those drivers have witnessed other drivers doing rather strange and very distracting things while on the road. Reading books is a common one, but so is playing a trumpet apparently.

Google’s cars will not be reading books or playing trumpets while rolling down a city street. Instead, the latest sensors on Google’s cars come with 360 degree visibility and 100% attention on the road in all directions at all times. They can also track vehicles, pedestrians and cyclist from a distance of close to two football fields. Looks like they have us humans beat there.

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The Next Version of Google Glass

ben sheehy google glass servicenow tech blogGoogle Glass has not taken off like other products and services provided by Google, but that doesn’t mean they are done with it. We still see the occasional person wearing the Google Glass, but what is next?

According to TechCrunch, Google is currently working on their next version of Glass. The new version is reported to have replaced Texas Instruments for Intel. The first version of Glass had a few things that could be improved on such as longer battery life and a less bulky case. Additionally, the first device looked incredibly, as some would say, “nerdy,” or like something from the future. It is possible they would be more popular if the style were more current, or if it looked like an everyday device.

The first update since the creation of Google Glass was to make the system compatible with prescription lenses and the second update doubled the amount of RAM. While we do not know much about other updates, we do know that Glass is reported to be powered by an unknown Intel chipset. This is the first significant update to the product since 2012.

Intel has recently made moves to join the wearable, mobile chipset market, which it had been resisting previously. At last year’s International CES, Intel revealed their mobile goals and showed some wearable computing devices as demos. Later they announced the MICA, a refined, niche wearable computer. The idea of the MICA is that it is a non-computer looking computer. MICA stands for My Intelligent Communications Accessory. You can find more about this computer bracelet here. If Intel is creating the mobile chip that powers the next Google Glass, that would be a huge win for Intel, improving their reputation.

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NASA Partners with Boeing and SpaceX

ben sheehy servicenow blog nasa boeing spacexAs we have witnessed the consistent efforts by congress to slash and cut the NASA budget, many have wondered what may lie ahead for our beloved space program.  Budget cuts present a real threat to the goals and ambitions of the NASA program.  Bill Nye, head of the Planetary Society, and well-known figure in today’s science, has expressed these shared concerns in a letter to President Obama.  Despite cuts, the Obama administration has not completely neglected NASA programs, repeatedly insisting the U.S. should not rely on foreign nations to get into space.  One might suggest that recent heated relations with Russia have provided quite the catalyst.

In the wake of proposed budget cuts and uncertainty of these NASA programs, the private industry has taken the lead.  Companies from all over the aerospace industry have submitted proposals to NASA, exposing a light at the end of the tunnel – a very bright light.  NASA announced earlier this month that it will be partnering with American companies Boeing and SpaceX with the hopes of returning space launches to American soil.  Both have already submitted designs to transport astronauts to the International Space Station, which could be operational within a few years.

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Over the last 2 years, SpaceX and Orbital Sciences have initiated the pathway for US-launched missions by transporting cargo to the International Space Station.  With the help of Boeing and SpaceX, NASA is closer to taxiing astronauts to and from space.  Not only will we end our reliance on Russia, but we will bring human spaceflight launches back to American soil.

NASA is launching a new and ambitious chapter of the iconic American program.  SpaceX founder and Tesla Motors CEO, Elon Musk, remains enthusiastic as he publicly expresses his vision for the future of space travel.  The dreamers at SpaceX and Boeing possess the vision and knowhow to accomplish these goals.  Today, we are a step closer to launching our astronauts into space from U.S. soil on American-made spacecraft.  Tomorrow may find us closer to putting humans on Mars.  The future is bright.

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Drone Delivery Services Keep Moving Forward

This Thursday, Google revealed its newest experiment – Project Wing – which is an experimental program that features a drone delivery service. And Google revealed the project in its typical dramatic fashion, releasing a video that featured an unmanned drone delivering dog treats in Australia.

The drone, which looked like a mixture of a plane and a helicopter, is part of Google’s long-term projects division called Google X.

A major obstacle, however, still exists for Google and Amazon – the FAA does not allow drones to be used for commercial reasons. On top of that, the governing body has passed laws specifically targeting unmanned drone delivery service. That’s why Google and Amazon have taken their testing overseas.

Google ran its test runs in Australia while Amazon worked out the kinks over in India. Amazon’s program is known as Amazon Prime Air.

Outside of the laws, Google and Amazon face other challenges. For starters, could this type of service even be profitable? Current drones do not have the capacity to carry large or heavy objects. And would consumers trust a drone to deliver a $500 iPhone? On top of that, these aircrafts have not been tested in highly-populated areas.

Also, what type of air-traffic control is in place for these drones? Currently, there is none. This is something that researchers at NASA are working on at Moffett Field, located (conveniently) only four miles from Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California. This program would not only monitor traffic but also weather and wind; since drones are so light, wind affects them greatly.

But this system would have to go even further than that. Due to the low altitudes that drones are flown at, they would have to be alert of buildings, power lines, low-flying helicopters, etc. And it would get rid of people altogether, using computers and algorithms to calculate each drones’ next move.

While a drone delivery services seems a long ways away from becoming a viable service, many experts are predicting that drones will soon have an impact in a variety of other areas. Drones are already being used for crop dusting — soon, drones will expand further into agriculture. Dr. Parimal H. Kopardekar, a NASA principal investigator, said that he expects drones to soon monitor assets such as crops or even oil pipelines.

The Federal Aviation Administration, however, is still the largest obstacle for these companies to overcome. One spokesman from the FAA said that it is expecting to publish a rule for small, unmanned aircrafts later this year.

The FAA has always allowed hobbyists to fly the unmanned aircrafts – given that they are not endangering other people, aircrafts or property.

Another thing to consider is whether people will generally accept the idea of drones delivering goods to them. Will people feel safe around them? Will people vandalize them?

But Google plans on moving forward with its drone development; in the next year, Google wants to continue improving its navigation abilities. Google has been working on a “detect and avoid” system using a system of sensors. The company said that within the next decade it expects the technology to be realistic.

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