Driving Near To Big Trucks And Other Vehicles Is A Dicey Predicament For Self-Driving Cars

Dr. Lance Eliot, AI Insider

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[Ed. Note: For reader’s interested in Dr. Eliot’s ongoing business analyses about the advent of self-driving cars, see his online Forbes column: https://forbes.com/sites/lanceeliot/]

I was on a mountainous highway that large trucks use to haul goods from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

Numerous passenger cars were zipping along nearby and passing the trucks, though those car drivers efforts at doing so were frequently being dangerously performed.

Some people don’t put much thought into the act of passing a truck.

Let’s consider some of the dangers involved.

Dangers When Passing A Truck

The moment that your car begins to pass a truck, you are now adjacent to a large and “immovable” object.

You then are continuously at risk as you proceed alongside the truck.

In my case, while being in the leftmost lane and passing a large truck to my right, it meant that I had a large vehicle to my right that blocked any possibility of my being able to go to my right as an evasive driving tactic.

Suppose that there was debris in the fast lane and I didn’t spot it until the last moment, in which case, I really could not try to escape to my right due to the bulky truck in the road and would instead have to strike the debris head-on (assuming that I was unable to stop in time).

For the entire time from the start of passing the truck to the popping out ahead of the truck, it as though you are now without a parachute.

I could not swerve to the left because I’d go flying off a cliff. The trucks in the slow lane could not swerve to their right because the mountain was there to stop them from doing so.

My strategy for dealing with passing the trucks was to make sure that I had ample speed as I came up to the edge of a truck that was in the right lane. I do this because I want to be able to speed along past the truck.

Some car drivers don’t think about this aspect and are just cruising along at the prevailing speed. Once they get alongside a truck, sometimes the car driver awakens to the risks and tries to speed-up at that point. In my view, you are better off making a run up to it and try to rocket past the truck.

The basis for wanting to speed past the truck is to minimize the amount of time that you are locked into the “tunnel” that I’ve described earlier.

Since there is such heightened risk while inside the virtual tunnel, you ought to try and minimize the amount of time that you are stuck in there. So, zooming (at a legal speed) past the truck will reduce the length of time and the distance involved in the passing operation.

You also need to try and look ahead and anticipate your next move. It is like a game of chess.

In the case of passing a truck, you need to consider where the truck is, where you are, and what might occur during the time and distance of the passing operation.

Even more worrisome is the possibility that the truck driver might lose sight of your car and thus cut you off once you are already committed to making the passing move.

AI Autonomous Cars And Paralleling Vehicles

What does this have to do with AI self-driving driverless autonomous cars?

At the AI Cybernetic Self-Driving Car Institute, we are developing AI software for self-driving cars.

One crucial driving tactic for the AI involves awareness of paralleling vehicles and what to do about it.

I realize that some AI pundits would argue that there is no real need to be especially mindful about the topic because AI self-driving cars will presumably all have V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle) electronic communications. As such, the moment that a self-driving car tries to pass another vehicle, all the AI needs to do is let the other vehicle know that passing is about to happen.

The other vehicle, having gotten the electronic communication, will presumably politely acknowledge the passing action and help ensure that it happens unimpeded.

This might work in a world filled with AI self-driving vehicles, but this is not going to happen to our world for many decades to come.

I certainly agree that the use of V2V will be very handy and that for those AI self-driving cars and trucks that are equipped with V2V it will be a boon to safety. Meanwhile, the real-world is that there will be human car drivers and there will be human truck drivers, and the ability to undertake V2V with those human driven vehicles will be less likely. Cross out for now the “solution” of paralleling is simply to invoke V2V.

There are some AI developers that suggest the paralleling matter is a non-matter.

The AI merely follows a vehicle ahead of it, and if there isn’t a vehicle directly ahead then just proceed at the speed limit or a speed allowed as per the nature of the road conditions.

Admittedly, this novice teenager driving style might work much of the time.

You might be lucky and go for quite a while without having any incidents.

But I would wager that ultimately this blind and narrow kind of driving will catch-up with you. All it will take is that truck driver that catches you completely off-guard and you’ll end-up in a tough predicament. Furthermore, you’ll be utterly ill-prepared to take any evasive action. I certainly don’t think we want our AI systems for self-driving cars to be driving in a lollygag manner.

Special Aspects To Consider

Overall, I’d assert that the AI needs to be capable of dealing with the paralleling aspects.

Notice that I am not merely labeling this as the passing of vehicles, and instead referring to this act as the notion of paralleling.

Let me explain why.

As a car driver, I’m sure you find yourself frequently being parallel to other vehicles.

This is common.

It happens not merely when you are overtly trying to pass another vehicle.

You might be on the freeway and traffic is clogged. You have cars to your left and to your right.

I think it is vital that any driver, whether human or AI, be aware of the act of paralleling. The moment you are parallel to another vehicle, you are now within inches of the other vehicle. This means that the chances of getting into an incident with those other vehicles is increased. There is less wiggle room, as it were. This is true of having trucks next to you and equally true when having cars next to you.

The nice thing about having a car parallel to you is that the length of the car is likely a lot less than the length of a truck.

The AI seeks to anticipate that a paralleling situation is going to arise, and then how to deal with it. If there is a passing opportunity and the paralleling will occur by the overt act of the AI, the AI seeks to minimize the time and distance in which the paralleling will take place.

AI Autonomous Car Causing Paralleling To Occur

Sometimes the AI is the instigator of paralleling and sometimes it is merely the participant of a paralleling.

There are recurring patterns of traffic that through the use of Machine Learning (ML), and the use of deep learning and artificial neural networks, the AI can anticipate “good” versus “bad” acts of paralleling and act accordingly. The AI needs to have programmatic capabilities that serve as the core of dealing with parallel situations, along with being augmented with driving tactics that are built around the use of large sets of traffic data and the use of ML.

AI developers need to consider wisely how to have the AI react to paralleling.

If you opt to have the AI always maneuver away from a paralleling situation, the odds are that human drivers will figure this out. In that case, the savvy human drivers of cars nearby an AI self-driving might try to use this as a ploy to get an AI self-driving car to act in a manner that they want it to act.

This is often referred to as pranking an AI self-driving car.

Another aspect of the paralleling involves the creepiness factor.

Suppose you are driving your car and another car suddenly opts to stay parallel. Assuming that there is no particular driving reason for doing this, it could be that the other driver is essentially a creep. Maybe they want to stare at you or stare at something else inside your car. As a driver, you would likely detect this, and I’d bet you’d pretty quickly try to get out of the situation. If the other car slows down as you slow down, or speeds up as you speed up, the creepiness factors gets even worse.

I’ve had situations that were creepy enough that I then opted to slow down and swing in behind the other car, hoping that then the other car would give up the stare aspects and just continue along.

In another case, I switched lanes and then even made a hasty exit from the freeway, doing so in a calculated manner that made it impossible for the other driver to also catch the same exit. You never know what might be in the mind of another driver and it is safest to find a means to avoid a confrontation.


Are you watching your parallels while driving?

Many drivers do not.

They only give thought to the paralleling matter when it becomes readily apparent, such as trying to pass a large truck.

Or, if you are trying to make a lane change and there’s a car in the lane next to you and parallel to you, you are likely to give that car the evil eye and brainwave them to get out of your way.

For savvy AI that needs to properly drive a car, we don’t believe that the paralleling aspects should be relegated to an obscure edge case or corner case, and instead it should be front-and-center as a vital capability of the AI driving system. If anyone I know might be getting into an AI self-driving car, I would hope that the AI would be wise to dealing with parallel vehicles and try to ensure their safety accordingly. Come to think of it, I’d want anyone getting into an AI self-driving car to also be able to assume that the AI is versed in paralleling.

There is a mathematician’s worn torn joke that parallel lines have so much in common that it is a shame that they will never meet.

In the case of AI self-driving cars, it is hoped that a self-driving car paralleling another vehicle will never “meet” the other vehicle (i.e., not smash into each other).

The inches away dangers of paralleling another vehicle while in-motion needs to be a key to the AI driving tactics, and I’d say without hesitation that’s no laughing matter.

For free podcast of this story, visit: http://ai-selfdriving-cars.libsyn.com/website

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More info about AI self-driving cars, see: www.ai-selfdriving-cars.guru

To follow Lance Eliot on Twitter: https://twitter.com/@LanceEliot

For his Forbes.com blog, see: https://forbes.com/sites/lanceeliot/

For his Medium blog, see: https://medium.com/@lance.eliot

For Dr. Eliot’s books, see: https://www.amazon.com/author/lanceeliot

Copyright © 2019 Dr. Lance B. Eliot

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Dr. Lance B. Eliot is a renowned global expert on AI, Stanford Fellow at Stanford University, was a professor at USC, headed an AI Lab, top exec at a major VC.

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