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Autonomy: The Quest to Build the Driverless Car—And How It Will Reshape Our World

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An automotive and tech world insider investigates the quest to develop and perfect the driverless car—an innovation that promises to be the most disruptive change to our way of life since the smartphone We stand on the brink of a technological revolution. Soon, few of us will own our own automobiles and instead will get around in driverless electric vehicles that we summon An automotive and tech world insider investigates the quest to develop and perfect the driverless car—an innovation that promises to be the most disruptive change to our way of life since the smartphone We stand on the brink of a technological revolution. Soon, few of us will own our own automobiles and instead will get around in driverless electric vehicles that we summon with the touch of an app. We will be liberated from driving, prevent over 90% of car crashes, provide freedom of mobility to the elderly and disabled, and decrease our dependence on fossil fuels.  Autonomy is the story of the maverick engineers and computer nerds who are creating the revolution. Longtime advisor to the Google Self-Driving Car team and former GM research and development chief Lawrence D. Burns provides the perfectly-timed history of how we arrived at this point, in a character-driven and heavily reported account of the unlikely thinkers who accomplished what billion-dollar automakers never dared. Beginning with the way 9/11 spurred the U.S. government to set a million-dollar prize for a series of off-road robot races in the Mojave Desert up to the early 2016 stampede to develop driverless technology, Autonomy is a page-turner that represents a chronicle of the past, diagnosis of the present, and prediction of the future—the ultimate guide to understanding the driverless car and navigating the revolution it sparks.


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An automotive and tech world insider investigates the quest to develop and perfect the driverless car—an innovation that promises to be the most disruptive change to our way of life since the smartphone We stand on the brink of a technological revolution. Soon, few of us will own our own automobiles and instead will get around in driverless electric vehicles that we summon An automotive and tech world insider investigates the quest to develop and perfect the driverless car—an innovation that promises to be the most disruptive change to our way of life since the smartphone We stand on the brink of a technological revolution. Soon, few of us will own our own automobiles and instead will get around in driverless electric vehicles that we summon with the touch of an app. We will be liberated from driving, prevent over 90% of car crashes, provide freedom of mobility to the elderly and disabled, and decrease our dependence on fossil fuels.  Autonomy is the story of the maverick engineers and computer nerds who are creating the revolution. Longtime advisor to the Google Self-Driving Car team and former GM research and development chief Lawrence D. Burns provides the perfectly-timed history of how we arrived at this point, in a character-driven and heavily reported account of the unlikely thinkers who accomplished what billion-dollar automakers never dared. Beginning with the way 9/11 spurred the U.S. government to set a million-dollar prize for a series of off-road robot races in the Mojave Desert up to the early 2016 stampede to develop driverless technology, Autonomy is a page-turner that represents a chronicle of the past, diagnosis of the present, and prediction of the future—the ultimate guide to understanding the driverless car and navigating the revolution it sparks.

30 review for Autonomy: The Quest to Build the Driverless Car—And How It Will Reshape Our World

  1. 5 out of 5

    Peter Tillman

    Tech history, starting with the DARPA self-driving challenge races in 2004. His info is good; his writing is, well, adequate. But the material pretty much makes up for that. 3.5 stars, rounded down for the fluff and filler. Book needed a more critical final edit, which you, the reader, will have to supply. For an old GM guy, the author sure is anti personal car, and anti-gasoline. And he goes on, and on, and on. Big cars! One driver! Unused 95% of the time! Yada, yada. Early self-driving players Tech history, starting with the DARPA self-driving challenge races in 2004. His info is good; his writing is, well, adequate. But the material pretty much makes up for that. 3.5 stars, rounded down for the fluff and filler. Book needed a more critical final edit, which you, the reader, will have to supply. For an old GM guy, the author sure is anti personal car, and anti-gasoline. And he goes on, and on, and on. Big cars! One driver! Unused 95% of the time! Yada, yada. Early self-driving players include the Carnegie-Mellon robotics lab (Pittsburgh) and later, the Stanford robotics people. Google’s Chauffeur self-driving project was launched in late 2008, with Sebastian Thrum as CEO and Chris Urmson as chief engineer. Intital goal: drive the toughest roads in California. Street View photos central to project. Lots of interesting info, as this is the project he's been personally involved in. First trial: the Big Sur highway. This one was pretty easy, except for the software bugs, and the cliffs. (It’s not the fall, it’s the sudden stop.) Second: El Camino Real, from Palo Alto to San Jose airport. 200 traffic lights! Cyclists! Pedestrians! Congestion! Impressive that they could patch code on the fly. This took a month of hard work. Freeway driving on the Peninsula/South Bay: “The jerk came out of nowhere!” Robot anticipated the sudden cut-off. Better than a human driver! Their reception in Detroit: “They just kind of laughed and thought it was cute that we were doing this.” A 2011 Chrysler TV commercial: “ …. An unmanned car driven by a search-engine company. We’ve seen that movie. It ends with robots harvesting our bodies for energy.” And as the muscle car accelerates past the camera, the voice concludes, “This is the all-new 2011 Dodge Charger. Leader of the human resistance.” Author’s 2011 consulting report to Google (which goes on forever): His guess is, electric self-driving car-on-demand service for 20c./mi. Is this realistic? Who knows? They don’t exist yet (electric self-driving taxis). Further guesses: they could initially capture 10% of the American market of around 300 billion commuter miles per year. Potential profit = 10c./mi = $30 billion/yr. Whoa! Competitors? Again, who knows if this is realizable? But lots of interest, and serious money invested, now including the previously-reluctant car companies. Sensibly, people are building self-driving versions of existing cars. Many of the newer models (Prius, Tesla, Chrysler Pacifica) are "drive by wire," easily converted to computer-control. Google’s test of Driver Assist, their earlier version of Tesla’s Autopilot: “what convinced the team to halt testing was the guy who fell asleep, for an astonishing twenty-seven minutes, as he cruised along at 60 mph on the freeway. “ Tesla’s Autopilot was a really bad idea, as it was promoted by Elon Musk: Beta software that has killed (so far) three drivers. Google warned against it: “We understand how hard this is. This will not work.” Estimated 1.3 million roadway fatalities per year, worldwide. (Many fewer in the developed world. 37,500 in US in 2016.). Humans are TERRIBLE drivers! “… more than ninety percent of accidents are caused by humans.” — Kevin Krafcik, CEO Waymo. So, lots of potential for saving lives with self-driving cars. Per author, Waymo (Google) is now offering limited fully-autonomous taxi service in Phoenix, as of 2018.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Barry

    I was at the Urban Challenge in 2007 (still have the T shirt). It was amazing standing next to the road watching cars and trucks go by with no one in them, including 32,000-pound TerraMax, which had to be deactivated before it took out a building. The MIT entry kept braking for shadows across the road. One car was confused about something and came to a stop. Another car started going around it, and as soon as it started pulling in front, the stopped car decided to go, and there was a low speed c I was at the Urban Challenge in 2007 (still have the T shirt). It was amazing standing next to the road watching cars and trucks go by with no one in them, including 32,000-pound TerraMax, which had to be deactivated before it took out a building. The MIT entry kept braking for shadows across the road. One car was confused about something and came to a stop. Another car started going around it, and as soon as it started pulling in front, the stopped car decided to go, and there was a low speed collision. The race was paused and the cars were soon surrounded by an army of engineers who were relieved to find no damage. The cars were separated and allowed to continue. I saw the cars handle four-way stops, driving in traffic with human drivers and parking in a lot. First and second place went to expected leaders Carnegie Mellon and Stanford, but third place went to Virginia Tech. Later I learned that elsewhere in the crowd were Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who soon started the Google self-driving car project.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Joe A.

    Want to understand autonomous cars? Start here No, seriously. This book goes all the way back to concept cars like Sandstorm and Autonomy to today's developers like Tesla, Uber and Waymo. Complete with the office politics, the engineering and the political problems. I also recommend reading "The Upstarts" as a companion to this book. Helps when I read that one first. However, this book never really addresses the issue of what will happen to public transit. Food for thought left to your imagination Want to understand autonomous cars? Start here No, seriously. This book goes all the way back to concept cars like Sandstorm and Autonomy to today's developers like Tesla, Uber and Waymo. Complete with the office politics, the engineering and the political problems. I also recommend reading "The Upstarts" as a companion to this book. Helps when I read that one first. However, this book never really addresses the issue of what will happen to public transit. Food for thought left to your imagination, but understand this: Autonomous electric cars will make personal transportation much, much more cheaper.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Joonas Kiminki

    A beautifully written view into the past, present and future of mobility. I hugely enjoyed the fluent storytelling and balanced handling of the topics covered, respecting the accomplishents of both Detroit and Silicon Valley. I don’t always rate my books ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ but when I do, they deserve it. This story changed my perception for good, even if I admit being looking for such perspective update. A beautifully written view into the past, present and future of mobility. I hugely enjoyed the fluent storytelling and balanced handling of the topics covered, respecting the accomplishents of both Detroit and Silicon Valley. I don’t always rate my books ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ but when I do, they deserve it. This story changed my perception for good, even if I admit being looking for such perspective update.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    Great read> This will change your view of the future. Highly recommend.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Daniel

    Overall a good read on the history and major players in the AV space. My major complaint is that the author only acknowledges the positive AV scenario, but doesn’t consider things such as more vehicle miles traveled due to the fact that the car is driving for you, or potentially worse congestion depending on how ownership plays out. Google “heaven or hell autonomous vehicles” for a more balanced perspective.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ken Hamner

    One of the best books I’ve read about emerging technologies and the impact they will have. Highly recommended.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Pete

    Autonomy : The Quest to Build the Driverless Car - And How It Will Reshape Our World (2018) by Lawrence D Burns and Christopher Shulgan is the first insider account of efforts by big companies to create self-driving vehicles.  Burns worked for decades for General Motors and was a Vice President there and he has a PhD so he knows GM and Detroit intimately. He also points the billions of dollars that Detroit has poured into research for fuel cells and other technology.  This book looks at the way th Autonomy : The Quest to Build the Driverless Car - And How It Will Reshape Our World (2018) by Lawrence D Burns and Christopher Shulgan is the first insider account of efforts by big companies to create self-driving vehicles.  Burns worked for decades for General Motors and was a Vice President there and he has a PhD so he knows GM and Detroit intimately. He also points the billions of dollars that Detroit has poured into research for fuel cells and other technology.  This book looks at the way the self-driving car was developed from the 2006 Darpa Challenge onwards. The earlier work at Carnegie Mellon and by Mercedes is not mentioned. Nor, unfortunately are the role that Neural Networks have played.  The book concentrates on the people who entered the 2006 Darpa challenge, in particular Red Whittaker and Chris Urmson. There drive and the Stanford team lead by Sebastian Thrun are also profiled. It's a pretty enjoyable read. The challenges of getting equipment that works and writing the software is brought to life.  The book then shifts to Google's Chauffeur project that would eventually become Waymo. Here the drive and targets and challenges of the effort are well portrayed and Burns also joins the team.  The book concludes in the present (mid to late 2018) with Waymo on the cusp of launching their first autonomous taxi service. The fatalities caused by Tesla and Waymo are also gone into in some depth.  For anyone who is interested in self-driving cars and the future of mobility the book is well worth a read. Burns is a smart insider who has a great deal of interesting material to work with. He also provides a really interesting perspective of the different cultures of Detroit and Silicon and how they are now interacting. The only downside of the book is that there is little real insight into how remarkable the technology is. No doubt other books will follow that examine the remarkable developments of Lidar, neural networks and big data that are enabling autonomous vehicles. 

  9. 4 out of 5

    Stephen

    The definitive history of AVs to date if you want to understand where we are and how we got here, read this book. Balances technical and non technical concepts well. Tells the story of all the key milestones with first hand accounts in many cases. Burns himself has had a front row seat and makes this far more engaging as a result. A couple minor bits seem excluded, such as shift away from Google's custom vehicle, firefly.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Tim Dugan

    Good info But why are electrics so rare? Why no self driving? Those are the obvious questions But also, he said electric cars will be cheaper....why is Tesla so damn pricy? And one of the things a fleet of taxis won’t handle: rush hour. This has to be solved by better mass transit. Here in houston—everywhere?—it sucks

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy

    Autonomy The book is full of great stories and Burns’s first-person account of what happened in the development of autonomous and non-gas vehicles. It also tells stories about some of the key contributors to the technology--Chris Urmson, Red Whittaker, Sebastian Thrun, Anthony Levandowski, and others. The book combines these anecdotes with reflections on technical and economic changes affecting the automobile industry. Burns is an advisor to Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving car subsidiary. He worked Autonomy The book is full of great stories and Burns’s first-person account of what happened in the development of autonomous and non-gas vehicles. It also tells stories about some of the key contributors to the technology--Chris Urmson, Red Whittaker, Sebastian Thrun, Anthony Levandowski, and others. The book combines these anecdotes with reflections on technical and economic changes affecting the automobile industry. Burns is an advisor to Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving car subsidiary. He worked at GM for 40 years, eventually serving as corporate vice president for research and development reporting to the CEO. He was unusual--as Detroit car executive who cared deeply about sustainability. He sponsored projects like hydrogen fuel cell propulsion systems and a collaboration with Segway that built a two-wheeled, two-person electric vehicle that looks a little like an auto rickshaw without a driver. Burns sees three trends coming together that will transform the automotive industry: Driverless technology Electric vehicles Transportation as a service The first two are technical changes. The third is a new business model. The book begins with a narrative about the DARPA autonomous vehicle challenges, particularly the CMU team that was funded by GM. The Stanford team enters the story, and it continues when a set of them wind up working on Google’s Chauffeur project. The story mixes in more background about engineering these systems. Burns did some modeling work around 2010-2011 to see how transport-as-a-service would work. He found a surprisingly small fleet could serve a city like Ann Arbor, Mich. He also looked at total costs of our current cars-- $4.5 trillion/year to operate. If we make a large-scale transition to autonomous, electric vehicles, it will represent a tremendous economic improvement. Transportation should cost 10x less per mile, bring the benefits of on-demand cars to many more people. These savings mean less money flowing to established economic players. Auto manufacturing would employ many fewer people, which will be a burden for people employed by the industry today. Oil companies probably get the majority of this $4.5 trillion. We need to shift away from fossil fuels, but oil companies are going to fight to preserve this revenue. Electric cars will be far more efficient than big gas-powered automobiles that often just carry one or two people. But we’ll probably still rely on fossil fuels to produce much of the electricity. He talks about safety, which comes up a in a few different guises. Early on there’s someone at GM appalled at the way CMU was testing the Boss car for the DARPA challenge. (Funny story.) Sadly there have been fatalities recently--both Tesla drivers and a pedestrian killed by an Uber self-driving car test. There are two distinct approaches that are being pursued right now. One is the driver assist technology like Tesla autopilot, and another is the fully driverless car--the Firefly prototype doesn’t have a steering wheel, just an on-off button. He’s deeply skeptical of driver assistance, and probably appalled at the way Tesla and Musk seems to down-play the serious risks of driver assistance.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Guillaume Boisset

    Burns is a former GM exec who for years engaged in the thankless task of reforming the company from within, to steer it toward a greener future. He scored some successes by securing GM sponsorship of prestigious teams in autonomous driving competitions in the early 2000’s, but ultimately inertia of the old guard combined with economic downturns and bankruptcy convinced him that he could effect more change by being outside of GM than staying within. This is a riveting insider tale of the first dec Burns is a former GM exec who for years engaged in the thankless task of reforming the company from within, to steer it toward a greener future. He scored some successes by securing GM sponsorship of prestigious teams in autonomous driving competitions in the early 2000’s, but ultimately inertia of the old guard combined with economic downturns and bankruptcy convinced him that he could effect more change by being outside of GM than staying within. This is a riveting insider tale of the first decades in the quest for developing and marketing autonomous vehicles. Featuring enough technical information to give geeks something to enjoy while not burying the reader with arcane engineering detail, this work strikes the perfect mix. The chapters on the first DARPA autonomous vehicle challenges are particularly compelling and are told in a vivid, page-turning manner. The author retells the many personal conflicts that plagued the business in the later years, some of which impacted him, but by and large he manages to put his personal biases aside and tell the story in an informative and reasonable manner. However, despite his intentions, the reader can still detect an anti-Uber tilt, although he is open about his allegiances and interests. Another improvement could have been to address some of the autonomous vehicle activity outside of North America. While North America in general and the Detroit-Silicon Valley rivalry (which eventually, as he points out, became a collaboration) in particular were a clear driving force in the development of the autonomous car, there could have been a few more comments on what was happening outside the continent. Ethical issues, too, could have benefited from a little more coverage. But these are quibbles. Written in a very readable style by a man with deep knowledge of the car business, this is an excellent introduction to the field and a must-read for all who want to know how we got here and where we’re going. It will make you an optimist.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sunni Yuen

    Riveting and compelling narrative on the innovation engines in Detroit v. Silicon Valley

  14. 5 out of 5

    David Johnson

    The future is thrilling with on-demand car-hailing and without personal car ownership. The steering wheel and pedal will be gone too.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Steven Nurenberg

  16. 5 out of 5

    Holly

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kelvin

  18. 5 out of 5

    Marcus

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sean Beaubien

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kim

  21. 4 out of 5

    Mike

  22. 4 out of 5

    Nisha Mendonsa

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jerry Andrews

  24. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Terrazas

  25. 5 out of 5

    Satchidanand Haridas

  26. 4 out of 5

    Dianne CobbPennisi

  27. 4 out of 5

    German Simonet

  28. 5 out of 5

    Chris Elam

  29. 5 out of 5

    Lschult

  30. 4 out of 5

    Martin

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