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My Reflections on FSD, Driving Norms, and Regional Etiquette (long)

TechOps

Member
Jun 4, 2017
202
224
Austin, TX
This weekend, I watched Lex Fridman interviews with Elon Musk (part 1- Autopilot), as well as discussions around Moore's Law, Processors, and FSD with Jim Keller. The relevant extracts of these interviews are contained in this video (LINK). For the purposes of this discussion, the last link is the best. If you're an engineer or want to dive deep, watch the first two links.

As someone who has designed communication protocols, as well as studied fundamental truths of human nature and behavior, it appears to me that a lot of the orchestration of vehicles and driving is viewed in an overly simplistic way by those who work on autopilot. But maybe I just don't have enough data about the thought that has gone into those systems. While AP and FSD have no doubt been making great advances, I'm curious as to how these issues are viewed, since I haven't heard them publically discussed, so I wanted to share my thoughts and observations here. Warning, this is a long post written linearly and unedited, so take this as raw opinion.

First, let me give you my background since it certainly colors my views and experience in this area. I was born and learned to drive in Boston 30 years ago, without GPS devices, where the legitimate answer to a navigation query was sometimes "You can't get theyah from heyah." I received my BS and MS in Electrical & Computer Engineering at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, spent 25 years working in hardware design, network engineering, and hyperscale datacenter infrastructure operations in San Francisco and Silicon Valley. I am also a Reserve Police Officer, went through the full police academy, and worked part-time as a solo patrol officer in the Bay Area for 15 years. So I know the vehicle code very well, and have carefully observed (and given warnings / written citations for) various driving behaviors. I have also traveled to over 70 countries, and driven in more than 10 of them. I now reside in Austin, Texas where I work remote for a Silicon Valley startup that creates advanced data center network automation and orchestration software.
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During his interview, Lex pushed back pretty hard against Jim Keller regarding whether driving (and FSD) can be easily accomplished by machines. Jim's postulate is that "You don't have to be super smart to drive a car." He later states that it's harder to affix brightwork (chrome trim) to a vehicle in a factory than it is to drive a car and that it (the former) is something that Lex Fridman couldn't do. I found the flippant comments (which Lex alluded to by saying that Jim was mocking him) a bit distasteful, but given the substandard alignment of brightwork on my 2017 Model S, I can understand why Jim thinks it's so hard. Tesla is still learning how complex and difficult manufacturing is. And while AI systems get exponentially better at mimicking human behaviors of various kinds, it's not clear to me that that's "enough" to allow them to mingle, unsupervised, with human drivers in various scenarios. I have to side with Fridman on this topic. (Though Jim is a brilliant computer designer and I loved listening to him in this interview. He made many excellent and amazing points.)

Something that is entirely lacking in Jim's and Elon's dialog regarding autopilot and FSD is a discussion around the etiquette and interactions that occur when driving. There is a tremendous amount of gray area regarding how we navigate our vehicles with respect to others' vehicles, yield or protect our right of way, let others merge, resolve deadlocks in parking lots or driveways when vehicles are blocking each other, and many other driving scenarios where facial expressions, hand gestures, yelling out the window, honking of the horn, and other verbal and nonverbal communication methods are used. While US state laws are clear, they are by no means exhaustive, and there are many gray areas. Here, we rely on human interaction and common sense to resolve situations. Machines do not have common sense; they do not have ambiguity resolution capabilities. None of this has been discussed in any of the interviews I've heard from these guys. My impression given Jim's comments is that you can just "muscle in" to any open spot, or simply create one by forcing others to yield right of way to you.

Now, let's consider that the etiquette on how to resolve these situations, and what is polite. From my perspective, having driven around the country and around the world, it is *highly* differentiated in terms of how you request, and grant, a yielding of the right of way based on the region that you're in and local rules. Even in the Bay Area, I've seen driving norms and etiquette change quite dramatically in the 30+ years I've watched drivers there. What's OK to do in downtown Boston, New York, New Delhi, or Ho Chi Minh City, would inspire anger and even rage, in Texas or Switzerland or Idaho.

How do drivers handle this? What's the psychological aspect? When drivers get enraged, what happens? How does law enforcement evaluate the justness of a maneuver? If you came up to a 4-way intersection, and three other cars stopped at exactly the same time as you, and the three other cars in the intersection had deeply tinted windows and windshield so that you could not see the drivers' faces at all, how would you go about proceeding through the intersection? What if the driver of the deeply tinted windows (e.g. FSD computer) wanted to yield right of way to you, how would it signify this? By waving you through? What does it look like when an FSD computer "waves" you through to yield right of way?

What if a driver is a total "a-hole"? Maybe we are not super surprised if the person is driving a specific model of car, because people with those personality traits tend to buy a car that fits a specific stereotype. Will we expect a Toyota Prius FSD and a BMW M3 FSD to behave differently? What about a Tesla Model 2 and a Tesla Roadster 2020? Will their FSDs also behave and interact with other cars differently?

When a Tesla in FSD mode is pulled over by a police officer (which Elon has commented that they've prepared for and it's pretty easy) because it just got in a crash, will the officer be able to ask questions of the driver as to why they did what they did? Will the software have an API to query the various layers of the deep learning model, so that the officer can understand that the computer thought it saw a cat running into the street and slammed on its brakes, even though what it really saw was the shadow from a plastic bag flying through the air?

Each state has standards about the tests a driver must pass in order to be granted a driver license and be given the authority to drive, and responsibility to be penalized, under civil or criminal penalties, for violating the vehicle codes. How will Tesla FSD pass these tests? Will they be regression tests that are run nightly when the CI/CD pipeline has new code that developers have checked in? What if the software goes wonky and drives like someone who is under the influence, passes over the center divider, and causes a head-on collision with a mom driving her kids home? Who will be criminally responsible for these deaths? The owner of the car who was sleeping in the back seat? The developer who checked in a buggy piece of code two weeks before, that was pushed with last night's software update? Tesla as a corporation?

Now, while a 25 year old PhD graduate on Pete Bannon's team may have sufficient knowledge to work on cutting-edge chip microarchitecture or deep learning pipeline for the next FSD chip, and a software developer in Andrej Karpathy's team may be able to implement the best object recognition or bounding box capabilities in the industry, what I'm really curious about is Stuart Bowers's work regarding the FSD software itself. During Autonomy Day, he said that they review all the times that autopilot is disengaged, crashes, etc, and try to learn from those. But what are they really learning? He said that they choose behaviors from "good" drivers, even when in shadow mode, to train the AI. But what is a good driver? If I take someone who's never been in an accident in rural Idaho, and also never traveled outside the state, and put them into downtown LA traffic, on a busy road where they slow down so much that people are honking at them, angry that they haven't acted, and maybe a fast moving delivery van comes up behind this car at 50 mph, the Idaho driver slowly changes lanes in front of the 50 MPH driver, causing a sudden rear-end collision and two fatalities.

Likewise, the delivery driver going 50 mph (in a 35 mph zone), who has only had two minor fender benders (and 1 traffic citation) in 5 years of driving 60k miles per year, goes to rural Idaho, what's going to happen? If he's so aggressive in this small town that he gains a bad reputation, what are the consequences? What if the AI running in small town Idaho was trained by the vast number of miles of this delivery driver in a Tesla Semi in LA? The point I'm trying to illustrate is that driving is not abstract; it's not in a vacuum; and local norms vary significantly and are context dependent.

If a new playground can be created for FSD, new roads, a town, or an area where we all agree that the protocol people use for acquiring and yielding right of way, signaling intent, and agreeing on norms and opportunistic intensity level ("chill" vs "Mad Max" on changing lanes to get ahead), that will make sense. When all cars are FSD, will they have a communication protocol to exchange navigation and right of way / synchronization / orchestration info? What is the protocol expected to be between humans and FSD computers? If FSD cars are just thrown into the mix all over the country / world, these issues will grind and cause issues, and probably some serious injuries or deaths will emerge, specifically because of this choice.

Note, I'm not talking about the ability of FSD to detect objects, plan routes, respond to condition changes, and follow standard routes in light to moderate traffic. Those will undoubtedly improve at a fast pace. I'm talking about the propensity of FSD to create dangerous situations due to its AI mimicking human behaviors that are not appropriate for the situation, and its, as of yet, inability to decide appropriateness, break ties, and make other complex judgments that are necessary to drive.

Well, those are my thoughts, I hope it is at least somewhat thought provoking or illuminative. I have the utmost respect for Jim and Elon, and I believe Lex brought up some great points which I hope I have elaborated on further in this post. Please share your thoughts, reactions, or additional knowledge in this area that can help develop the conversation further.
 

S4WRXTTCS

Well-Known Member
May 3, 2015
5,390
6,111
Snohomish, WA
I strongly believe that as a nation that we're going about self-driving cars the wrong way. That somehow Waymo or Cruise will simply solve the self-driving cars thing, and we won't need to invest billions of dollars improving our infrastructure.

That if you add enough intelligence into a car it will suddenly somehow be 10x safer than a good human driver or something along those lines.

But, even with a highly intelligent car you still run into issues that human drivers face everyday.

It doesn't do anything to improve traffic because it doesn't change the vehicle carrying capacity of any road or traffic light system.
It doesn't improve the navigation maps that are often left outdated
It doesn't improve ambiguous areas like one on-ramp in Seattle has a yield sign BEFORE the light where the yield sign is telling you to yield after the light because that lane merges into another lane after the light.

The solution to a lot of what the OP brought up is V2X communication. This way cars can communicate to each other including human driven cars to autonomous cars. Now sure that won't happen overnight, but why are vehicles even allowed on the road that aren't registered to the grid? Lots of people are worried about hacking or about "freedom of the open road", but they fail to understand its pretty easy to "hack" a road (by removing a sign). And, that you already really have no privacy on the road. Law enforcement has enough license plate readers to track you throughout a city. Connecting vehicles to the grid should allow the road system itself to direct the cars, and traffic lights appropriately to optimize the efficiency. Where eventually you'd disallow any human driven car. Humans are the ones that add the ambiguity. We're the ones that act emotional and unpredictable on the roads.

The solution to the maps is to have a centralized open-source "official" navigation map that construction companies were obligated to keep up to date. That way map data always matched visual data, and the second they didn't they'd be flagged for review and the road would be marked as "non-compliant".

We're still a long ways away from general L4 driving where a lot of human/computer interactions happen in the city. But. if we had gotten started on this years ago we'd be in a much better position of having more optimal autonomous driving.

Now even without those infrastructure improvements I don't think autonomous cars are dead in the water. We'll just see a slower roll out as various roads are added to the white list of approved roads, and a lot less benefit from the automation.

Overtime I think humans will simply adapt to autonomous cars the same way they adapt to different driving convention in different parts of the world. Autonomous cars will be pretty predictable because they're likely always going to follow the rules of the road precisely. So predictable the biggest issue is probably going to be humans bullying them. Even to the point where the L4 has to call home to get a human to drive it out of some place humans have trapped it.

But, at the same time other humans will start to change their behavior around the autonomous car. Where they'll start to follow the road rules when they're around it because humans do tend to follow. We're social creatures that adjust our behavior to fit the area or situation we're in. The autonomous car will be essentially herding cattle. :p

As to liability I think that's pretty well covered

Anything L2 or below is on the human driver and their insurance

Any driving done with L3 or above is the manufactures insurance. Lots of companies like Volvo have pledged to take responsibility when their self-driving cars get into an accident. Also, keep in mind most if not all L4 vehicles in the beginning will be fleet vehicles like a Waymo. Where they assume responsibility for any vehicle at fault accidents.

Tesla has an interesting plan with their Tesla insurance. I think this is a proactive way of having a vehicle insured in a way that it won't really matter who's fault it was (the driver or the Tesla vehicle).
 
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diplomat33

Well-Known Member
Aug 3, 2017
7,102
8,148
Terre Haute, IN USA
I strongly believe that as a nation that we're going about self-driving cars the wrong way. That somehow Waymo or Cruise will simply solve the self-driving cars thing, and we won't need to invest billions of dollars improving our infrastructure.

It looks to me like Waymo and Cruise are well on their way to solving autonomous driving. They have the right approach, they have millions of miles of autonomous driving and they have L4 robotaxis operating in some areas.

We're still a long ways away from general L4 driving where a lot of human/computer interactions happen in the city.

I don't think we are that far away.

This is L4 autonomous driving in the city now:


 

S4WRXTTCS

Well-Known Member
May 3, 2015
5,390
6,111
Snohomish, WA
It looks to me like Waymo and Cruise are well on their way to solving autonomous driving. They have the right approach, they have millions of miles of autonomous driving and they have L4 robotaxis operating in some areas.

I don't think we are that far away.

I think we're far away in a general autonomous driving sense where you can buy a car that can autonomously drive you back, and forth to work over 30+ miles of mixed road types.

But, we're not that far away with highly geofenced robotaxis from either Waymo or Cruise. Probably 2 or 3 more years before I can ride in one in Seattle.

The biggest problem with general autonomous driving is much of what it's going to take isn't currently in place.

From a technology side no one currently has a vehicle intended for sale to the public that can do L4 driving. I'm also not aware of any federal level regulations that define what the validation requirements will be.

It's really going to take at least an L3 vehicle available to North American consumers to breach the L2 wall that we seem to be stuck on. My best guess for that is early 2021.
 
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diplomat33

Well-Known Member
Aug 3, 2017
7,102
8,148
Terre Haute, IN USA
I think we're far away in a general autonomous driving sense where you can buy a car that can autonomously drive you back, and forth to work over 30+ miles of mixed road types.

But, we're not that far away with highly geofenced robotaxis from either Waymo or Cruise. Probably 2 or 3 more years before I can ride in one in Seattle.

The biggest problem with general autonomous driving is much of what it's going to take isn't currently in place.

From a technology side no one currently has a vehicle intended for sale to the public that can do L4 driving. I'm also not aware of any federal level regulations that define what the validation requirements will be.

It's really going to take at least an L3 vehicle available to North American consumers to breach the L2 wall that we seem to be stuck on. My best guess for that is early 2021.

By "general autonomous driving", you mean L5?

I would add that geofencing is useful because it allows the company to tightly control the testing and make sure the autonomous driving is safe within that space. And geofencing makes perfect sense for a robotaxi service. Waymo and Cruise are starting with L4 for those reasons but they have a clear path to L5 once their autonomous driving is safe enough.

But geofencing does not really make sense for consumer cars because consumers exist all over the country. You are not going to sell a car that is geofenced to just LA and sell a different car in NY that is geofenced to just NY for example. That makes no sense. And consumers need to driver everywhere. They are not going to want to be geofenced. So I think for consumers the logical path is really L2 to L3 to L5 or L2 directly to L5 if you are feeling really bold. I am not sure a L4 autonomous car makes sense for consumers since consumers probably would not want an autonomous car with a limited ODD.
 
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S4WRXTTCS

Well-Known Member
May 3, 2015
5,390
6,111
Snohomish, WA
By "general autonomous driving", you mean L5?

I would add that geofencing is useful because it allows the company to tightly control the testing and make sure the autonomous driving is safe within that space. And geofencing makes perfect sense for a robotaxi service. Waymo and Cruise are starting with L4 for those reasons but they have a clear path to L5 once their autonomous driving is safe enough.

But geofencing does not really make sense for consumer cars because consumers exist all over the country. You are not going to sell a car that is geofenced to just LA and sell a different car in NY that is geofenced to just NY for example. That makes no sense. And consumers need to driver everywhere. They are not going to want to be geofenced. So I think for consumers the logical path is really L2 to L3 to L5 or L2 directly to L5 if you are feeling really bold. I am not sure a L4 autonomous car makes sense for consumers since consumers probably would not want an autonomous car with a limited ODD.

No, I'm referring to consumer available L4 vehicles.

My expectation is that we're going to go from L2 to L4. I don't have a strong conviction that L3 will be that widely available outside of traffic assistance only implementations. But, L3 will help us break through the L2 wall.

Consumers have already shown an appetite for limited autonomous cars. Lots of people want the car to take over at least part of the journey. Like 90% of a road trip is likely well within a realistic ODD for an L4 car.

I don't expect ODD's to differ that much from one manufacture to another. Instead I expect some regions to have quicker adoption than other regions. Like NY still has the law that you have to have hands on the steering wheel.

I don't think L5 is worth talking about at this point. I simply see L5 being some point where the ODD of L4 vehicles have reached the point where most people feel they match the expected ODD of typical professional driver.
 
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