Drivers say automated car systems prevented crashes

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via Drivers say automated car systems prevented crashes, clarionledger.com

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A few months ago, I wrote in this column about how pedestrian deaths are becoming increasingly common on our roadways, with some of the alarming increases blamed on our being distracted by the ever-present devices we have with us constantly. While reading through on the findings of a study of the phenomenon, one statement, in particular, caught my eye: The number of pedestrian deaths might be higher still, if not for the installation of automated collision-avoidance systems now on many vehicles.

Our cars and trucks are steadily becoming self-thinking robots. Today’s cars can automatically apply the brakes if the vehicle in front of you suddenly slows or stops; sound an alarm if you’re nodding off at the wheel; alert you if you’re about to hit a vehicle in your blind spot; keep you from backing into an object, animal or person behind you; enable your vehicle to parallel-park itself and many others.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, of the 35,092 people who died in vehicle crashes on American roads in 2015, the vast majority (94 percent) were at least partially caused by human error or poor decisions.

All these technologies are paving the way toward a future in which the vehicles will be doing much — if not all — of the driving. Depending on your point of view, that could be comforting or alarming. It’s an established fact that humans are just not very good at making decisions all the time, and we can suffer from fatigue, distraction, poor judgment and lack of impulse control. On the other hand, we know computerized systems are subject to security flaws, equipment failure, and poor programming.

But in labs and research facilities around the world, engineers are working towards a more automated future, and are watching as these features are tested on a massive scale on today’s roads. The results, Consumer Reports noted recently, can be found in saved lives and happier drivers. Consumer Reports asked its subscribers to report on their experiences with some of these technologies and found most of them reported they were not only satisfied with these systems but also, in some cases, credited those systems with avoiding crashes.

More than 57,000 vehicle owners responded to the magazine’s request to provide information, reporting that their vehicles included such features as automated emergency braking, forward-collision warning, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic warning and lane-departure warning. Consumer Reports noted that drivers were most appreciative of blind-spot warnings and rear cross-traffic warnings (although these systems have been panned in the past; the American Automobile Association in 2015 cited high error rates for RCTA systems).

In particular, for vehicle owners who said these features had saved them from accidents, blind-spot warnings were cited for preventing 35 percent of potential crashes. Even experienced drivers can fail to see a car that’s in their own vehicle’s blind spot and sideswipe neighboring vehicles when changing lanes. A blind-spot warning system sounds an alarm when it senses you’re about to change lanes into another vehicle.

While many of these features simply give you a visual, auditory or even tactile warning that a collision is imminent, others actually take control of the vehicle if the system senses a dangerous situation. For example, lane-keeping systems use cameras to detect lane markings and will steer your vehicle back to its lane if you’re drifting out of the lane. AEB will automatically apply the brakes if it senses you’re about to rear-end the vehicle in front of you.

Of course, with all of these technologies comes the potential for errors, which can annoy drivers and cause them to lose faith in the technology. For example, owners of vehicles equipped with forward-collision warning reported the highest number of false alerts. About 45 percent of these drivers reported getting at least one false alert.

Still, Consumer Reports (and many consumer advocates and regulatory bodies) think these technologies are a great idea (even with the occasional error) and recommend more of these technologies become standard equipment in the future. “Consumer Reports believes that FCW and AEB should be standard equipment, even with occasional false alerts,” noted the survey authors. “The latest study from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety supports this: Rear-end crashes are cut by 27 percent when a vehicle has FCW and by 50 percent when it’s also equipped with AEB.”

To read Consumer Reports’ full article, which includes more results about each of the technologies covered, visit http://bit.ly/2twfCBc. For more on each type of feature and videos to explain them, visit the NHTSA’s site at http://bit.ly/2oCBSVM.

Burger King ad explores new, controversial frontier

Source: Look out! Burger King is watching!, clarionledger.com

PDF: Burger King explores new ad frontiers

Advertising has been around in some form practically since the dawn of civilization. As long as there have been people with something to sell, they’ve tried to figure out ways to get people to buy it. With each wave of technological innovation, advertisers have sought to use them to create demand for products.

But never before in human history has it been possible to reach so many people so easily. Technology has given advertisers an unprecedented level of reach into our daily lives in ways never thought possible. But at what point does advertising cross the line from being ultra-smart to just being plain creepy?

Imagine this scenario, which has already happened: You’re relaxing comfortably on your couch, watching your favorite TV show after a long day at work. Nearby, your new Google Home device sits patiently on a table. As the show cuts to commercial, you hear a Burger King commercial. But this ad’s different.

“You’re watching a 15-second Burger King ad, which is unfortunately not enough time to explain all the fresh ingredients in the Whopper sandwich,” notes the Burger King employee as he urges the camera closer. “But I got an idea. OK Google, what is the Whopper burger?” Immediately, your Google Home device awakens, and starts reading the “Whopper” Wikipedia entry (which has reportedly been edited to be more descriptive).

Burger King is being praised and panned at the same time for exploiting the very features that make search-assistant devices such as Google Home, Amazon Echo and a host of smartphone apps so convenient: they respond to certain voice commands. For several months, people have been reporting that these devices have been inadvertently triggered by ads and TV shows, prompting “idea” light bulbs to pop up in the minds of ad agency copywriters. Why not use that expensive TV ad time to cross the proverbial “fourth wall” which separates the actor from the audience? Perhaps it was just a matter of time.

Madison Avenue and the online world in general seem to be having trouble coming up with a consensus on the ad. The Verge (a tech news website owned by Vox Media) called the ad “… horrible, genius, infuriating, hilarious, and maybe very poorly thought-out”.

The Verge also pointed out the project’s Achilles’ heel: Relying on Wikipedia is fraught with danger. As every eighth-grader knows, Wikipedia is subject to editing by pretty much anybody and is generally forbidden for use as a primary source for school research reports. Since it’s crowdsourced, people with nefarious intentions towards the establishment (or Burger King in particular) could edit the entry so it says anything they want it to say (including the gross and ridiculous). In fact, that has already occurred numerous times since the ad first started running on April 12 — before Wikipedia locked the site for further editing. Since then, Google and Burger King have been engaged in a sort of geeky arms race, with Google initially blocking the device from reading the ad, and Burger King trying to get around it.

We’ve also seen a lot of news in recent months regarding Google Home and other devices; one Amazon Echo device was listed in a search warrant during an Arkansas murder investigation. Potentially, privacy advocates worry, these and similar devices could record a lot of things.

Regardless of whether this ad is successful, it’s generated a lot of coverage for Burger King, Google Home, Wikipedia and others involved, along with a lot of questions to be answered. Just how far can (or should) advertisers be allowed to invade our homes? What is the responsibility of tech companies to ensure customers’ privacy and rights?

Perhaps we’ve crossed an invisible barrier, inconceivable just a generation ago; the future of advertiser-customer interaction may have changed in ways we can’t imagine.

Amazon envisions drone-filled skies

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Amazon.com

Source: Amazon envisions drone-filled skies, clarionledger.com

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Amazon.com Founder Jeff Bezos has never been one to avoid dreaming big, and it’s paid off.

For the past 23 years, we’ve watched Bezos’ dream grow from one man’s dream to sell books over the internet into a global economic powerhouse worth more than $356 billion. But in the last couple of years, the company has been developing plans to (yet again) turn the package-delivery business on its head. Amazon believes the future is in the skies and is developing serious plans to launch an armada of drones that would drop off packages by parachute.

It may sound far-fetched, and for the moment, it is. The current regulatory framework in the U.S. places limits on the use of unmanned aircraft. But that hasn’t stopped Amazon from developing its plans. Recently, Amazon unveiled portions of its proposed PrimeAir service, which would theoretically bypass the need for trucks, trains, planes and other conventional transportation infrastructure to deliver packages to their destinations in minutes, rather than days. Amazon has already established a national network of regional warehouses, which could serve as origination points for their respective areas.

“It looks like science fiction, but it’s real,” the company claims on its website. “One day, seeing Prime Air vehicles will be as normal as seeing mail trucks on the road.” The plan is fairly straightforward: unmanned aerial drones could swoop down to collect packages up to 5 pounds and deliver them in “30 minutes or less.” That’s a claim that would seem audacious, but Amazon has demonstrated a 13-minute delivery cycle in the United Kingdom, in which it delivered a package to a farmhouse in the English countryside, gently setting the box down in a field to the delight of the waiting customer.
Of course, delivering a package in the countryside is a lot different from doing it in a city, with its maze of structures, crowded airspace and security concerns.
As with any ambitious project, the devil’s in the details, but Amazon has been working them out. In a Valentine’s Day patent filing, Amazon outlined its plans to drop packages by parachute, and to control their descent with a variety of methods, avoiding the problems inherent in landing and taking off again. For example, actuators could push a package in a specific direction, accounting for variables such as wind and obstacles, and control surfaces on the package could help guide it to a specific destination.

If Amazon could pull it off, it would be a genius strategy. Imagine being able to bypass traffic to get your package delivered within minutes, via a low-cost drone. The vision is still just that; it’s not likely Federal Aviation Administration rules regarding unmanned aircraft will change anytime soon; having the skies full of package-delivery drones from a multitude of companies will present its own challenges. Aviation laws and regulations have to catch up.

Still, Amazon is planning for the future. And though numerous technical hurdles loom ahead, Amazon has proven doubters wrong many times before.