Just around the corner

We’ve got a robot vacuum cleaner at home. It does a pretty good job of trundling around the house. It’s pretty great. We put it on when we go out and when we come home the floor is cleaned.

Except when it’s not. Then, what happens is we get to play hide-and-seek with the robot to find out where it’s gotten stuck or confused. It occasionally gets stuck on a rug it has previously managed without a problem. It sometimes gets a bit lost under a table if we don’t pick the chairs up first. Sometimes it has a problem with one of its myriad sensors being stuck or dirty which leads to it being confused or just stopping in the middle of the room and asking for help.

A colleague has a different brand of robot vacuum which consistently tries to crawl up the leg of a table.

There are a lot of videos on youtube of “stuck” robot vacuums. They’re not funny so much as tedious. Robot vacuums move at about 1m/s and the worst they do, when they get confused, is maybe the try to eat the tassels on your good rug. Generally, your house doesn’t move around as the robot vacuum is trying to find its way.

But self-driving cars weigh several hundred kilograms, up to several tonnes, and travel at typical road speeds. Roads are incredibly complex environments full of moving objects. A lot of people expect them to be near enough to perfect in a couple of years.

I’m with Scoble on this. It’s not going to happen any time soon. We might find that self-driving cars are just around the corner, hopelessly stuck because someone’s bin is just a bit too close to the curb.

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