Self-Driving Car Idling Time Can Be Used By AI System Prosperously

Dr. Lance Eliot, AI Insider

Do you allow your mind to sometimes wander afield of a task at hand?

It could happen.

When developing real-time systems, especially AI-based ones, there are likely going to be times during which the system overall is going to come to a temporarily “halt” or waiting period, finding itself going into an idle mode or idle moment.

The easiest thing to do when programming or developing such a system is to simply have the entire system on-hold, doing nothing in particular, merely awaiting its next activation.

On the other hand, let’s assume that there are precious unused hardware computer cycles that could be used for something, even if the software is nonetheless forced into an “idling” as it awaits a prompt or other input to continue processing.

In those idle moments, it might be useful to have the AI system undertaking some kind of specialized efforts, ones that are intentionally designed to occur during idle moments.

It should be something presumably useful to do, and not just figuring out Fibonacci numbers for no reason (or, if have it doing cryptocurrency blockchain mining, which though admittedly might be enriching, just make sure it doesn’t become distracting of the core focus of the system). It also should be an effort that can handle being priority interrupted due to the mainstay task getting underway again. This implies that the idle moment processing needs to be fluid and flexible, capable of getting some bursts of time, and yet not requiring one extensive uninterrupted continuous length of time to perform.

You would also want to likely refrain from having the idle moment effort be undertaking anything crucial to the overall operation of the AI system, since the notion is that the idle-time processing is going to be hit-and-miss. It might occur, it might not if there isn’t any idle time that perchance arises.

Driving and Experiencing Idle Moments

Have you ever been sitting at a red light and your mind goes into idle, perhaps daydreaming about that vacation to Hawaii that you’d like to take, but meanwhile you are there in your car and heading to work once again.

I’m sure all of us have “zoned out” from time-to-time while driving our cars. It’s obviously not an advisable thing to do. In theory, your mind should always be on alert while you are sitting in the driver’s seat.

Some of you might claim that even if your mind has drifted from the driving task, it’s never really that far away. You earnestly believe that in a split second you could be mentally utterly engaged in the driving task, if there was a need to do so.

We can likely all agree that while at a red light there is still a chance of something going amiss. Yes, most of the time you just sit still, and your car is not moving.

Variety of Idle Moments Can Arise

Many drivers also stretch the idling car mental freedom moments and include circumstances whereby the car is crawling forward, albeit at a low speed.

I hope you would agree that if indeed the driver was mentally distracted, they were doing so in a dicey situation. Once cars are in-motion, the odds of something going astray tend to increase. In fact, you might even say that the odds increase exponentially. The car that’s motionless, assuming it’s in a situation that normally has motionless involved, likely can allow more latitude for that mentally distracted driver.

So far, we’ve covered the aspect that when your car is motionless in an expected situation of motionless that you are apt to let your mind wander and turn towards idle thoughts, doing so while the car itself is presumably idling.

We’ll acknowledge that something untoward can still happen, and there’s a need to remain involved in the driving task. Some people maybe reduce their mental driving consumption a bit lower than we might all want, and there’s a danger that the person is not at all ready for a sudden and unexpected disruption to the motionless.

Idle Moments and AI Autonomous Cars

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

At the Cybernetic AI Self-Driving Car Institute, we are developing AI systems for self-driving cars. As part of that effort, we also are considering how to best utilize the AI and the processors on-board a self-driving car during so-called idle moments.

Your AI self-driving car comes up to a red light. It stops. It is boxed in by other surrounding cars that have also come to a normal stop at the red light. This is similar to a human driver car and the situation that I was using earlier as an example of idle moments. Nothing unusual about this. You might not even realize that the car next to you is an AI self-driving car. It is just patiently motionless, like the other nearby cars, and presumably waiting for that green light to appear.

Here’s a good question for you — what should the AI being doing at that moment in time?

I think we can all agree that at least the AI should be observing what’s going on around the self-driving car and be anticipating the green light. Sure, that would be standard operating procedure (SOP). A human would (should) be doing the same. Got it.

Suppose though that this effort to be looking around and anticipating the green light was able to be done without using up fully the available set of computational resources available to the AI system that’s on-board the self-driving car.

For many of the auto makers and tech firms, they right now are not seeking to leverage these idle moments for other purposes. To them, this is considered an “edge” problem. An edge problem in computer science is one that is considered at the periphery or edge of what you are otherwise trying to solve. The auto makers and tech firms are focused on the core right now of having an AI self-driving car that can drive a car down a road, stop at a red light, and proceed when the light is green.

If there are untapped or “wasted” computational cycles that could have been used during an “idle” moment, so be it. No harm, no foul, with respect to the core aspects of the driving task. Might it be “nice” to leverage those computational resources when they are available? Sure, but it isn’t considered a necessity. Some would argue that you don’t need to be going full-blast computationally all of the time and why push things anyway.

They even often will try tossing up some reasons why not to try and use this available time. The easiest retort is that it might distract the AI from the core task of driving the car. To this, we say that it’s pretty stupid of anyone considering using the computational excess resources if they are also going to put the core driving task at a disadvantage.

In short, the use of any of the excess available computational resources of an AI self-driving car, during an idle moment, must be only undertaken when it is clear cut that there is such available excess and that it also must not in any manner usurp the core driving task that the AI is expected to undertake.

Difficulties Of Leveraging Idle Driving Moments

This can admittedly be trickier than it might seem.

How does the system “know” that the AI effort — while during an idle moment — does not need the “excess” computational resources?

This is something that per my overall AI self-driving car framework is an important part of the “self-awareness” of the AI system for a self-driving car. This self-awareness capability is right now not being given much due by the auto makers and tech firms developing AI systems for self-driving cars, and as such, it correspondingly provides a reason that trying to use the “excess” is not an easy aspect for their self-driving cars (due to lacking an AI self-awareness to even know when such excess might exist).

The AI of a self-driving car is a real-time system that must continually be aware of time.

Go along with my indication that there will be a type of firewall between the use of computational resources for the core driving task and those computational resources that might be “excess” and available, and that at any time and without hesitation the core driving task can grab those excess resources.

Some of you that are real-time developers will say that there’s overhead for the AI to try and grab the excess resources and thus it would introduce some kind of delay, even if only minuscule. But that any delay, even if minuscule, could make the difference between the core making a life-or-death driving decision.

The counter-argument is that if those excess resources were otherwise sitting entirely idle, it would nonetheless also require overhead to activate those resources. As such, a well-optimized system should not particularly introduce any added delay between the effort to provide unused resources to the core versus resources that were momentarily and temporarily being used. That’s a key design aspect.

Useful AI Processing During Idle Moments

One aspect would be to do a double-check of the core driving task.

Let’s say that the AI is doing a usual sweep of the surroundings, doing so while sitting amongst a bunch of cars that are bunched up at a red light. It’s doing this, over and over, wanting to detect anything out of the ordinary. It could be that with the core task there has already been a pre-determined depth of analysis for the AI.

It’s like playing a game of chess and trying to decide how many ply or levels to think ahead.

The core driving task wasn’t expecting the deeper analysis, and nor did it need it per se. On the other hand, a little bit of extra icing on the cake is likely to be potentially helpful. Perhaps the pedestrians that are standing at the corner appear to be standing still and pose no particular “threat” to the AI self-driving car. A deeper analysis might reveal that two of the pedestrians appear poised to move into the street and might do so once the green light occurs. This added analysis could be helpful to the core driving task.

If the excess computational cycles are used for such a purpose and if they don’t end-up with enough time to find anything notable, it’s nothing lost when you presumably dump it out and continue to use those resources for the core driving task. On the other hand, if perchance there was something found in time, it could be added to the core task awareness and be of potential value.

Another potential use of the excess resource might be to do further planning of the self-driving car journey that is underway.

This also brings up another aspect about the idle moments. If you were in a cab or similar and came to a red light, invariably the human driver is likely to engage you in conversation. How about that football team of ours? Can you believe it’s raining again? This is the usual kind of idle conversation. Presumably, the AI could undertake a similar kind of idle conversation with the human occupants of the self-driving car.

Doing this kind of conversation could be fruitful in that it might reveal something else too that the AI self-driving car can assist with.

There are some that wonder whether the excess resources might be used for other “internal” purposes that might benefit the AI overall of the self-driving car.

This could include doing memory-based garbage collection, possibly freeing up space that would otherwise be unavailable during the driving journey (this kind of memory clean-up typically happens after a journey is completed, rather than during a journey). This is a possibility, but it also begins to increase the difficulty of being able to stop it or interrupt it as needed, when so needed.

Likewise, another thought expressed has been to do the OTA (Over The Air) updates during these idle moments. The OTA is used to allow the AI self-driving car to transmit data up to a cloud capability established by the auto maker or tech firm, along with the cloud being able to push down into the AI self-driving car updates and such. The OTA is usually done when the self-driving car is fully motionless, parked, and otherwise not involved in the driving task.

We have to keep in mind that the AI self-driving car during the idle moments being considered herein is still actively on the roadway. It is driving the car. Given today’s OTA capabilities, it is likely ill-advised to try and carry out the OTA during such idle moments. This might well change though in the future, depending upon improvements in electronic communications such as 5G, and the advent of edge computing.

Another possibility of the use of the excess resources might be to do some additional Machine Learning during those idle moments. Machine Learning is an essential element of AI self-driving cars and involves the AI system itself being improved over time via a “learning” type of process. For many of the existing AI self-driving cars, the Machine Learning is often relegated to efforts in the cloud by the auto maker or tech firm, and then downloaded into the AI of the self-driving car. This then avoids utilizing the scarce resources of the on-board systems and can leverage the much vaster resources that presumably can be had in the cloud.

If the excess resources during idle moments were used for Machine Learning, it once again increases the dicey nature of using those moments. Can you cut-off the Machine Learning if needed?


As a few final comments on this topic for now, it is assumed herein that there are excess computational resources during idle moments. This is not necessarily always the case, and indeed on a particular journey it might never be the case.

On the other hand, the computational effort usually for an AI self-driving car does go upward as the driving situation gets more and more complicated. The AI “cognitive” workload for a self-driving car that’s in the middle of a busy downtown city street, involving dozens of pedestrians, a smattering of bicycle riders, human driven cars that are swooping here and there, and the self-driving car is navigating this at a fast clip, along with maybe not having ever traversed this road before, and so on, it’s quite a chore to be keeping track of all of that.

The AI self-driving car was presumably outfitted with sufficient computational resources to handle the upper peak loads (it better be!). At the less than peak loads, and at the least workload times, there is usually computational resources that are not being used particularly. It’s those “available” resources that we’re saying could be used. As stated earlier, it’s not a must have. At the same time, as the case was made herein, it certainly could be some pretty handy icing on the cake.

The next time that you find yourself sitting at a red light and thinking about the weekend BBQ coming up, please make sure to keep a sufficient amount of mental resources aimed at the driving task. I don’t want to be the person that gets bumped into by you, simply because you had grilled burgers and hot dogs floating in your mind.

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Copyright © 2019 Dr. Lance B. Eliot

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