News hardware Electric cars: Google Car co-founder smashes Elon Musk’s dreams
Self-driving cars have been a big fantasy for decades. With the development of modern electric cars and artificial intelligences, this fantasy of absolute autonomy seems closer to ever… but not for everyone. The day when we will no longer touch the steering wheel at all is still far away. At least, that’s what this great expert, former Google heavyweight, says.
Anthony Levandoski, the man behind Google Car seems jaded with self-driving cars despite what Elon Musk thinks
Anthony Levandowski is a Franco-American automotive engineer. Until 2016, this pioneer was technical lead for Google’s self-driving car program, which was called “Google Car” at the time and which was (re)named “Waymo” thereafter. Better, Anthony Levandowski even co-founded this ultra ambitious project.
As a reminder, a autonomous car is a vehicle whose driving is partially or totally automated, therefore managed by super-powerful artificial intelligence. In other words, an autonomous car is able to drive more or less without driver intervention.
This sector of the automotive industry is taking up more and more space and represents approximately 100 billion dollars of investments all manufacturers combined. Anthony Levandowski is the biggest star in this world and his work served as the basis for the entire market.
The former Google executive recently confided in our colleagues at Bloomberg, and we can say that he went there cash. For him, the results of researchers in the sector are too disappointing and the future of autonomous electric cars is not as clear as most people believe.
He then said the following sentence, translated by us:
Good luck finding another industry that has invested so much money in research and development for such meager results.
– Anthony Lewandoski
In parallel to these cold but realistic remarks billionaire Elon Musk keeps bragging about the advancements of his Teslas and continues to promise a completely autonomous near future…wrongly?
Tesla, Google… the electric cars of the future may need you behind the wheel
Everyone knows it, Elon Musk is a character with a loose tongue. The big mouth of the boss of Tesla cannot hide the harsh reality for his sector: AIs are nowhere near good enough, the technology needed for fully self-driving cars won’t be ready for a while.
It is obviously not us who say it, but Anthony Levandowski, always so sharp, who declared:
For now, autonomous driving is above all an illusion
– Anthony Levandowski
This illusion is maintained by manufacturers and their 3D demo tapes. Behind the “wow” videos shared by figures like Elon Musk, the Franco-American engineer reveals a much duller reality: the world’s leading experts on the subject of autonomous cars still come up against basic problems.
Simple example: a left turn in an intersection without a traffic light is still extremely complex for the most recent AIs.
And let’s not even talk about complex cases like moral dilemmas to which the AIs will have to respond in the event of incidents (for example: is it better to protect the lives of pedestrians or car occupants?).
For Anthony Levandowski and other specialists in the field, the world of autonomous cars today is more a vector of risk than profit.
Understanding self-driving cars with this very simple scale
There is a scale that measures the range of electric cars. This scale goes from 0 to 5.
- Level 0: 100% of the driving is done by a human beingthe overwhelming majority of vehicles produced today are still there.
- Level 1: Driving assistance, but the driver must keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel. Here, we are talking about a light aid to help you follow a white line, regulate your speed in relation to the vehicles around you, brake automatically in the event of an emergency and/or even benefit from a slight power steering.
- Level 2: You can let go of your hands but not your vigilance. Some high-end vehicles embed this partial automation. Level 2 self-driving cars are not fully aware of their surroundings and can manage under certain conditions, but the driver remains fully responsible for supervision.
- Level 3: The car can do everything on its own under certain conditions, but you must be able to regain control at any time. A level 3 car is aware of its environment thanks to a range of sensors, and can even overtake for example. In the simplest conditions, such as a highway or a traffic jam, it is possible to delegate everything to a level 3 autonomous car (the Tesla Autopilot oscillates between levels 2 and 3).
- Level 4: Under certain conditions, you can watch a Netflix series in the car. At Level 4, you don’t even need to stay alert and vigilant in the simplest of driving conditions. When all the criteria for autopilot activation are met, everything is delegated to the machine. The person behind the wheel must still be able to maneuver in difficult conditions and to stop on their own.
- Level 5: Even more need for a steering wheel, perfect autonomy.
You have understood it, the dream, the objective to be achieved, and the mental image of the general public when talking about autonomous vehicles, is this famous level 5. Experts in the field are quite unanimous on the question: it will still take years and billions before reaching this Grail.