AI News, Earth Day: 5 Robots That Can Help Make the Planet Greener

Earth Day: 5 Robots That Can Help Make the Planet Greener

Today is Earth Day, and one of my coworkers was telling me about all the little things we can do to help preserve the beautiful place we all live in.

Waste is a huge problem all over the world, and many people do their share by separating plastic, paper, glass, and other trash, which is then collected, resorted, and (hopefully) recycled.

The only project I've heard of in this area is an Italian mobile robot called Dustbot [photo below], which picks up trash at people's homes and brings it to a recycling facility.

Iwant to believe that robots could replace some of today's wasteful practices with more efficient ones that would save energy and fuel, cut down on fertilizers and pesticides, and as a result make crops more sustainable.

(How harvesting robots would impact labor is another issue that only adds complexity to this problem.) Companies trying to bring robots into the field include Vision Robotics, which is developing an autonomous grape-vine pruner [video below], and Harvest Automation, which has created a small mobile robot that picks up and moves potted plants in nurseries.

We still think, though, that these vehicles will play an important role in reducing our dependence on cars (laws and pedestrians can't get in the way of the future!).

Sure, these autonomous vehicles could in principle help us drive a bit more efficiently by finding the best routes and optimizing acceleration and braking of the vehicles.

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For his part, Google autonomous project chief John Krafcik hailed FCA as “nimble and experienced,” and said the deal will help it “build more vehicles and get more testing miles under our belt.” So far, Google claims to have logged more than 1.4 million miles of testing with a fleet that currently including a number of modified Toyota and Lexus vehicles, as well as a growing number of “Google Cars,” custom-made by Detroit auto supplier Rousch.

Proponents contend self-driving technology could drastically reduce the number of highway fatalities, a figure expected to top 33,000 in the U.S. when final data for 2015 is released.

With these autonomous cars, who needs you to drive?

The BMW Track Trainer is a robot car: a fully autonomous automobile capable of racing the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in California's Monterey County (or any other track it's been programmed to run) at the limit of traction, mere seconds off the time a professional would run in the same model.

BMW uses it to train drivers by showing them how the perfect racing line feels from the driver's seat and by providing real-time feedback, with corrections, once they decide to take over the controls themselves.

Mercedes-Benz opened a technology center here in 1995, BMW in 1998, Volkswagen in 1998, Toyota in 2001, General Motors in 2007 and Renault-Nissan in the past year — all in large part to tap the skills of the designers and developers and engineers and who have so ably sustained Google, Apple and Facebook.

Include homegrown start-ups Tesla Motors, Mission Motors and the autonomous car division at Google itself, and the result is a sort of Detroit West, where California engineers continue to devise new ways to make powerful, affordable, easy-to-use computers — but now they also devise new ways to make them move very, very fast.

I had to trust that this robot racecar would remember how to negotiate one of the trickiest and most dangerous corners in the world, a hard left followed immediately by a hard right on a stretch of track that drops five and a half stories in 450 feet.

Computer processors regularly take control of the braking, steering and acceleration in many current high-end production models — such as when a stability-control system prevents drivers from spinning out on a wet road — and these same high-end cars are also increasingly encrusted with sensors (cameras, radar, LIDAR, infrared, ultrasonic) that gather data to feed those processors.

Are Autonomous Cars Even Legal?

Nevada was the first state to authorize the operation of self-driving cars, in 2011, and since then five other states plus Washington, D.C., have passed legislation.

The bills have ranged from authorizing the use of self-driving cars on public roads—under certain safety and testing conditions—to defining what a self-driving vehicle is to requiring a licensed driver in the driver’s seat.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx recently said he was “personally asking automakers to submit more regulatory interpretation requests so that we can work with your progress, not hold it back.” That means systems such as Tesla’s Auto Pilot and Cadillac’s Super Cruise are legal to use, except in New York state.

U.S. says legal hurdles remain to deployment of self-driving cars

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top U.S. auto safety agency said Friday significant legal hurdles must be cleared before self-driving cars without steering wheels and gas pedals can be sold in the United States.

NHTSA spokesman Gordon Trowbridge said a new agency report released Friday showed there were relatively few legal hurdles to the deployment of self-driving cars with human controls, but there were potentially “significant”

In February, NHTSA said the artificial intelligence system piloting a self-driving Google car could be considered the driver under federal law, a major step toward ultimately winning approval for autonomous vehicles on the roads.

NHTSA says existing regulations requiring some auto safety equipment cannot be waived immediately, including requirements for braking systems activated by foot control, for vehicles without steering wheels or brake pedals.

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