Digging out from about 16 inches of snow last week. This was after getting stuck, twice, in the middle of it. Photo by Brian Zinchuk

In the midst of the worst blizzard we’ve had in a few years in Estevan, my daughter got a call. Her friend’s dad was stuck, in town, less than a mile from our place. Could we help?

Absolutely. I told both kids to pile into the F-150 to come along. They were going to learn how to tow someone out. As Spencer is in driver training, and Katrina’s about to go out on her own, there was no time like the present to learn some real-life skills.

So we all put on our snow pants, heavy winter boots, parkas and gloves. We made sure we had the heaviest tow strap and a couple clevises, just in case. The three ball hitch was on the back, and a second was under the seat. We were ready.

And then we drove two blocks in nearly total whiteout conditions. The snow was already around 10 inches in depth, so far, and winds were gusting 90 kilometres per hour. The city had thankfully run graders down most of the streets, making a quick single pass so the streets could be at least partially passable (something I never saw when I lived in Saskatoon, which doesn’t believe winter exists). But between the Esso and hospital, at the very edge of town, the whiteout hit and I plowed into the snow bank left by the grader and drifting. It went right to the top of the hood of the truck – at least three feet.

This is where the kids got to learn about getting someone unstuck. Unfortunately, it was now us.

The wind was howling, and visibility was dropping to zero at times. We had to get out of there quick, lest someone pile into us from behind. We all took to shovelling.

Thankfully, a paramedic my wife works with pulled up with his Jeep Cherokee and offered to give us a pull, or what Quick Dick McDick refers to as a “Saskatchewan Yank.”

 

Try as he might, the Jeep, combined with my efforts in the Ford, only got us a few feet. Then a lady who I believe was named Marilyn pulled up in a red Ford F-150 and offered to give us a pull. We swapped out the Jeep, she backed up, and gave several mighty tugs. I directed Katrina, in the driver’s seat, while I stood beside the truck. After about six tries, we were freed.

As soon as we disconnected we pulled into the adjacent Esso lot, hoping to still make it to our planned rescue attempt. We just got past the pumps and got high-centred again. This time we shovelled, and shovelled some more. Then I cut open a sandbag and put sand beneath the tires. Rocking wasn’t working, until Katrina gave it her best push, and combined with the rocking, we got loose.

By this time, the guy we were hoping to rescue had already been rescued, and we turned around for home, not stopping lest we get stuck again. It was definitely a learning experience for all, me included.

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The same day, Elon Musk spoke to TED. In a recorded segment at the beginning of it he talked about the issues they are having developing full self-driving, as in the vehicle does all the thinking, period.

Chris Anderson, the host, asked, “Five years ago, the last time you came to TED, I asked you about full self driving and you said, ‘Yep, this very year I’m confident that we will have a car going from LA to New York without any intervention.”

Musk replied, “I don’t want to blow your mind, but I’m not always right.”

Anderson pressed, “Why has full self driving in particular been so hard to predict?”

 

Musk said, “I mean, the thing that really got me, and I think it’s gonna get a lot of other people, is that there are just so many false dawns with self driving, where you think you think you’ve got the problem, have a handle on the problem, and then, nope. Turns out, you just hit a ceiling. Because what happens, if you were to plot the progress, The progress looks like a log curve. So, it’s like a series of log curves.

Describing a logarithmic curve, he continued, “It goes up sort of, you know, sort of fairly straight right, and then it starts tailing off. And you started as a kind of negotiating diminishing returns. In retrospect, they seem obvious. But in order to solve full self-driving properly, you actually just you have to solve real world AI (artificial intelligence).”

Musk added, “Yeah, because you said, what are the road networks designed to work with, the desire to work with a biological neural net, our brains and with vision, our eyes. And so in order to make it work with computers, you basically need to solve real world AI and vision. Because we need cameras and solid neural nets in order to have to have self driving work, for a system that was designed for AIs and biological neural nets. You know, we, I guess, we put it that way. So, like quite obvious that the only way to solve for self driving is to solve real world AI and sophisticated vision.”

He later said, “These may be infamous last words, but I actually am confident we will solve it this year.”

But he demurred, saying another year could go by, with it not happening.

That got me thinking: If we mortal humans had a tough time navigating in the middle of a blizzard, how on earth will a camera-equipped Tesla, even a Cybertruck, navigate? And LIDAR doesn’t really work very well in snow, as it is literally shooting lasers like radar; lasers that will bounce off the snow.

Now, the argument could be made that neither man nor robot car/truck should have been out in that weather. And you may be correct. But right up until that point we were able to handle it, until we couldn’t. Would an AI vehicle not even try? What happens when they take away the steering wheel on these mechanical monstrosities, and a storm hits?

I’ve argued before that any camera-based self-driving is bound to get bunged up by dead bugs coating the cameras. Similarly, bad snow storms are going to negate a lot of self-driving capability. Would a self-driving Tesla be able to navigate down the one-grader-pass streets we had? Or in 10 inch snow otherwise?

The future may be coming, but it’s a long ways to go. And the richest man in the world is still having problems with it.

 

Brian Zinchuk is editor and owner of Pipeline Online. He can be reached at brian.zinchuk@pipelineonline.ca.

 

  • 0029 Latus Viro updated Latus phone
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  • 0026 Buffalo Potash Quinton Salt
  • 0023 LC Trucking tractor picker hiring mix
  • 0022 Grimes winter hiring
  • 0021 OSY Rentals S8 Promo
  • 0019 Jerry Mainil Ltd hiring dugout
  • 0018 IWS Hiring Royal Summer
  • 0014 Buffalo Potash What if PO
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  • 0013 Panther Drilling PO ad 03 top drive rigs
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  • 0004 Royal Helium PO Ad 02
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