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Self-driving Vehicles Master Floors Before Roads
Posted on November 22nd, 2017 by Ken Klapproth in New Materials & Applications
If the thought of a 2000 pound driverless vehicle barreling down the road at highway speeds gives you pause, perhaps proving the technology at 2.5 mph scrubbing floors overnight is a more palpable approach?
Self-driving vehicles – both fully and semi autonomous – are becoming increasingly mature from a technological and commercial standpoint. Despite all the glowing press, as an engineer, I am personally concerned about the vast variability of road conditions that can occur from both natural conditions like weather and from random error of impatient and unpredictable human behavior. Designing and testing for all these conditions – let alone brainstorming all possible failure modes – is a tremendous responsibility. Will the first catastrophic failure be punctuated with the official comment of, “We never accounted for that outlying use case in the design”?
Fear not, it’s evidently floors before asphalt to prove the technology. As reported by LinkedIn, a partnership of San Diego-based Brain Corp. and Michigan-based International Cleaning Equipment are quietly testing an autonomous floor scrubber with Walmart in overnight shifts in five stores near their Bentonville, Arkansas headquarters. Using similar technology to that found in automotive vehicles such as radar, cameras, sensors, and software, the device affectionately known as “EMMA” – Brain Corp’s acronym meaning “Enabling Mobile Machine Automation” – is first trained on the designated route being driven by a human.
For a quick primer on the technological components of autonomous vehicles, check out the following video from the good folks at Mashable:
Social implications aside concerning the replacement of human labor with robots, proving the engineering feasibility of autonomous vehicles at low speed in a closed, predetermined test track appears to represent far less risk and offers greater probability of success. Having fewer design variables means the potential for catastrophic unknown failures is reduced. “Walk before your run” – or in this case “vacuum before velocity” seems like a prudent adage.
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All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.
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