Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Self Driving Cars - the missing stats

In January I described the results of my December survey on autonomous vehicles and the next day another surprising report came out on this topic. Google - a major promoter of this technology - often mentions that their cars have been involved in a tiny number of accidents and the majority were not serious or the other driver's fault.

It turns out there is a more important metric that was recently reported - how often did the test driver have to take control when the car "requested" or the driver decided on their own to do it. Companies reported many such incidents but  there is no way to know how many avoided accidents but it is safe to assume this some of them did. It is important to remember that Google's big change in this area was to switch from cars with driver controls to ones that are completely autonomous - no steering wheel in sight. They decided it would be impossible for most ordinary drivers - not the test drivers in their current vehicles - to be sufficiently alert to respond to emergencies.

We know that airplanes can and do fly themselves much of the time but there is still a pilot in the cockpit. These pilots are highly skilled and take their jobs more seriously than the average human cruising down the freeway. In spite of these unique circumstances, there is growing concern that airplanes are so automated that even a conscientious pilot may not react properly in an emergency.

As a side note - much of the research in this area is focused on tech enhancements that improve the driving experience and safety but stop far short of autonomous operation. These changes range from self-parking technology to adaptive cruise control that alters speed based on the vehicle ahead.

This Forbes report is a good read on this topic.

Two mobile photo apps that will help you get to the next level

It's been a while since I've taken a "deep dive" into photography so I think it's time. If you want to take your smartphone photography to the next step, you should get two types of apps. The first will help you take better pictures; the second will help you understand how images are captured so you can go back to step one and take better pictures.

There are many apps that will do these things. I'm going to describe Shoot and Exif Photos for the iPhone; DSLR Camera Pro and JPEG Exif Viewer for Android appear to be similar although I have not used them.

Exif Metadata shown on the left
It's easy to "point and shoot" with any camera today but if you wonder why your pictures don't look as good as you think they should, these two apps will help. The camera app in your smartphone can be replaced by many others that you download. I really like Shoot that allows you to control exposure settings like you would with "real" cameras. If the scene is too dark and you can hold the camera steady, you might slow the shutter speed below 1/15 Sec - the default value for Apple's camera app.

Second, you should install an app like Exif Photos that lets you see the metadata - the information about a photograph - after it's taken. In addition to date and location, you can then see why a picture was bad - or maybe good! If it looks grainy, you could see that the ISO was very high; if it's blurry, you might notice the shutter speed was too slow for an action shot. Remember there are really only three settings that determine image quality - shutter speed, ISO and lens opening (aperture). By using these apps, you can learn the basics of how a camera works and gradually improve your own images.