Driving autonomy: Car czar confidential

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The Waterloo Centre for Autonomous Research (WatCAR) is the local leader in the development of software for use in autonomous technology.

Imprint recently spoke to Professor Krzysztof Czarnecki of the Autonomous Perception and Planning subdivision on the group’s research.

WatCAR has many researchers with various specialities and research interests, but at its core, the group is software-based.

The crown jewel of the group is a prototype self-driving vehicle which is among the first in Canada to be tested on public roads.

“We have been doing tests in a closed environment…but we are hopeful that we will receive permission to test on public roads in Waterloo sometime next week,” Czarnecki said.

When asked about the differences between the group’s software and that of competing industry groups, Czarnecki said, “our software is focused on establishing architecture, we are not a hardware-focused group.”

There are other groups within WatCAR that focus on hardware including, “tracking software and technology used to create waypoints.”

The greatest challenge for the group is, “…collecting data, [as they] don’t have a fleet of cars, [they] just have the two.” As such, the group “can’t gather data as quickly as [they] want to.”

When it comes to machine learning algorithms, the amount of available data is crucial, so with only one or two test vehicles, the process is not yet as efficient as possible.

Professor Czarnecki also commented on the often-discussed ethical implications of self driving vehicles. For example, would a car prioritize itself over human life?

“Even the big companies have not figured this out yet,” Czarnecki said.

He further mentioned that an ethics board in Germany had recently released an extensive paper on the issue, which might provide further guidance.

Professor Czarnecki also spoke about upcoming opportunities for the group, like showing how their vehicle performs in difficult weather.

As one of the primary vehicle automation groups in Canada, demonstrating the project’s feasibility in winter weather is crucial, especially to maintain sponsorship from industry partners,  who have vested interest in the group’s success.

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