When will you be driving a robotic car? Take an interactive online trip


illustration of a driverless car

Whatever you call them – robot cars, driverless cars, autonomous vehicles, self-driving cars – they are definitely in your future. But the question is, how far in your future?

They’re being tested already – more than 1,400 self-driving vehicles are operating in 36 states right now. Most states, but not all, require a backup driver.

Take an interactive urban trip as the backup driver in the Washington Post’s autonomous (self-driving) car simulation. It offers an interesting perspective on  the strengths and weaknesses in the way these cars work and how they interact with the environment around them. The Post invites you to sit in the passenger seat and play the role as the backup driver. And that’s an important role because the cars may miss some hazards and they can’t operate in certain weather conditions that interfere with their sensors, causing them to pull over suddenly and shut down entirely.

This interactive  feature is a fun way to learn more about how the cars work and their limitations. You can learn more about some of the system’s weaknesses in article in Insurance Journal by Alan Levin and Ryan Beene: Automated Driver Assist Cars Still a Work in Progress:

The radars and cameras used to sense obstructions ahead each have their limitations and computer software that evaluates the data is still a work in progress, according to the experts and advocates. In many cases, they are better at tracking moving vehicles ahead than recognizing parked ones.

But there are definite pluses, too:

To be sure, automated driving systems have clear potential to improve traffic safety by supplementing the driver. Automatic emergency braking alone has been found by IIHS to reduce rates of rear-end crashes by half, and the insurer-funded group estimates that the system could reduce police-reported crashes of all types by 20%.

Many autonomous or self-driving features are already making their way into our new cars now. These are generally referred to as advanced driver assistance systems. See 7 Self-Driving Car Features You Can Buy Now (and Some You May Already Have) from Autotrader. And cars.com breaks down self-driving features by car make.

But event these new tech features have a ways to go before they are up to par and winning driver acceptance. A recent survey by JD Power showed that many driver-assist features are seen as annoyances;

J.D. Power’s 2019 U.S. Tech Experience Index Study, published today, surveyed more than 20,000 consumers earlier this year, most of whom purchased or leased a model-year 2019 vehicle during the previous 90 days. Nearly a quarter of the group found alerts “annoying or bothersome” from systems that mitigate lane departure or actively center the vehicle, the study said. Such alerts range from hands-on-the-wheel warnings to lane departure chimes. For those who find them annoying, more than half said they sometimes disable the systems; among those who weren’t annoyed, only one-fifth or so indicated the same.

Some of the complaints can be chalked up to drivers being unfamiliar with the technology and uncertain about how it operates, so presumably we’ll all get more comfortable with things as we grow familiar with them.

So it’s not likely you’ll be able to read the latest best sellers while lounging in the back seat of your robot car on your upcoming commutes. But on the other hand, sophisticated technologies are leading to safer cars and fewer accidents – a big win for us all!

Consumer Guide to Windows 10: From best features to controlling your privacy


computer-user

Initial reviews for Windows 10 are in and they’re pretty positive overall. Reviewers generally say there’s a lot to like about the new operating system, which maintains many of the best mobile features of 8 while fixing some of the biggest headaches for desktop users. It introduces a slimmed down new browser, dumping the oft-criticized Internet Explorer, and it also introduces Cortana, a personal assistant similar to Apple’s Siri. Plus, you can upgrade for free – here’s how. But critics are raising alarms about privacy issues.

Here are reviews of some of the best new Windows 10 features

Windows 10 Privacy Matters

Despite largely positive reviews, many techies and security experts are raising privacy alarms. Some of the issues you should be aware of: Windows 10 has a system of automatic updates – updates are no longer optional. If you like to customize things, know that many of your application preferences will now default to Windows products unless you change settings. On sign-up, you will be opting in to ad tracking/customized ads unless you opt out. Many are also citing privacy issues raised by use of the personal assistant Cortana but, in fairness, these are probably no greater than those raised when using Siri or Google Now. (See: Cortana vs Google Now vs Siri: Battle of the personal assistants and another comparison here.

While you can change default settings, everything is a trade off. Shutting some features down in the interests of privacy may also detract functionality. Here are steps that you can take to maintain maximum control – and what, if anything, you give up in the process:

“Plenty of sites have published lists of all the features you should turn off in Windows 10 to protect your privacy, but many don’t explain in detail what each of these settings do, which makes it hard to separate FUD from fact. So let’s go through those settings and explain what we know about them, where the real problems are, and how to turn everything off.”

If you haven’t installed yet and maximum privacy/customization is important to you, Tech Republic suggests that you do a custom install rather than the default “Express” installation. They walk through ways you can do that, or if you already installed Express, how to change settings. Here’s another article from How to Geek on Custom vs. Express installation and from Lifehacker on How to Tweak Windows 10 and Fix Its Minor Annoyances.

Are you ready for robot cars?


The race is on. Automakers are competing to bring self-driving or “autonomous” cars to the market by 2020. Are robot cars feasible? While it’s not likely that the highways will look like a scene from the Jetsons anytime soon, we can expect to see more and more “semi-autonomous” auto features being widely available starting in 2015 and beyond – features such as collision avoidance systems, lane departure warnings, advanced cruise control that can navigate curves and parking assist systems. But New Englanders and other people living in snowy climates take note: In a report on what it’s like to ride in Google’s driverless car, Joann Muller talks about some of the self-driven car limitations:

“…the driverless car can’t handle heavy rain and can’t drive on snow-covered roads “because the appearance and shape of the world changes. It can’t figure out where to go or what to do.” And engineers are still working on how to program the car to handle “rare events” like encountering a stalled vehicle over the crest of a hill or identifying debris, like a tire carcass, in the middle of the road.”

Are drivers ready for the auto technological innovations to come? Check out this fun infographic from Chubb’s Risk Conversation blog:

Driverless Cars