Torc self-driving test vehicles
Torc self-driving test vehicles

Manufacturers and their PR people are all, “Self-driving cars will be here tomorrow! Throw away your keys and get ready for naps on the way home from work!” Engineers are like, “Um, please don’t throw away your keys. We’ve got years before the tech is ready.” And regular people are like, “What are you all even talking about?”

We at Carsplaining are trying to address that last question, and we recently got some help from Torc Robotics. It makes a self-driving system called Asimov that can be outfitted onto vehicles for testing. It’ll be doing just that at CES 2018, so keep your eyes peeled.

In the meantime, Torc has created a list of all the things Asimov can do right now. That list is up to 35 tasks, and more are being added all the time. Do you even realize, in addition to changing radio stations and thinking about what to make for dinner that you are also doing upwards of 35 tasks while you drive? Asimov isn’t even thinking about dinner; it’s too busy trying to deal with three-way stops and stay away from pedestrians. Stuff you take for granted.

Here are some specific driving tasks that you do every damn day that I’m sure you never even notice. People had to program these, and Asimov had to learn them and execute them.

  • Drive through the rain on highways and drive through the rain in urban environments. These are two separate skills, and they are different from driving in dry conditions. Sensors see rain differently than human eyeballs, and Asimov had to be told that it’s okay to drive through raindrops. Even at night. Even in a neighborhood.
  • Drive over bridges. My friend John hates driving over bridges; some people are like that. Other people take in the view. Most of us think nothing of it. Asmiov thinks very hard about it because to sensors and algorithms, bridges are weird. And to John.
  • Perform high-speed and low-speed merges. Okay, Asmiov, we humans feel you this one. Merging is hard, especially if you live in Portland, Oregon.
  • Classify objects and people. You don’t know me, Asimov! You can’t put me in your little boxes. Oh, wait. You mean learn the difference between objects and people, plus learn what each is likely to do. Like, a person at a curb is likely to step off it and cross the street. Don’t hit that person. But a small, wet cardboard box in the road is okay to run over.

You can get in-depth descriptions of all of Asimov’s self-driving functions so far over on Torc’s website. It’s posting 30 Days of Capabilities so that people can understand exactly how far this technology has come—and how far it has to go.


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