Self Driving cars have made virtually every mistake imaginable inside the office of Applied Intuition. One braked hard to miss a pup that had run into the street, another barely avoided a truck with a blown tire barreling down the freeway. And the second-floor office in Sunnyvale, California, where none of the employees wear shoes, isn’t big enough to execute a three-point turn.
The newcomer has deals with Voyage and Kodiak Robotics Inc., a company formed this year working on autonomous trucks, but declined to name other customers citing confidentiality agreements. Peter Ludwig, a co-founder, showed off his startup’s product, something he believes dozens of automakers and tech startups trying to perfect autonomous driving will need. An image of a self-driving car appeared on his screen, taking a left turn at an intersection. A stick figure flashed in front, a sudden jaywalker, forcing the car to slam on its brakes.
Ludwig dragged his mouse across the bottom of the screen, reversing the four-second scene, and then he played it out again.
Applied Intuition sells software for the simulation of autonomous driving. By testing on virtual streets, companies can expose robot cars to a wide variety of road conditions and scenarios that might spring up, and without any of the danger. Without performing elaborate physical experiments it’s hard to know how a robot would respond to a speeding motorcycle or a small child running into the street.
A self-driving simulator works like a video game. There’s an elaborate 3-D world, programmed with millions of different theoretical outcomes, run by tremendous computing horsepower. One plucky former Uber Technologies Inc. engineer, in fact, built a simulator for autonomous vehicles using the classic video game Grand Theft Auto. Applied Intuition’s set of software tools lets customers play out more than 100,000 different road scenarios. On Ludwig’s screen, a dashboard measured how each virtual intersection and obstacle affected the car’s speed, acceleration rate and something called calculated longitudinal jerk, a measure of how comfortable the ride would be for passengers.