Recent Links: Waymo’s Cars, ARCore, and Fantasy Maps

August 31, 2017 • #

📱 Google Announces ARCore

This is Google’s answer to Apple’s recently announced ARKit coming in iOS 11. After years of buzz with little substance, it’s great to see AR coming around to fruition with real commercial potential. The confluence of hardware fast enough for SLAM, mature OS platforms, and the APIs making it simple for developers to drop in and experiment with.

🛣 Inside Waymo’s Secret World for Training Self-Driving Cars

Waymo seems clearly in the lead in vehicle automation. This piece has some stunning figures on what they’re doing not only with their well known Fireflies and minivans, but also in simulated models for teaching the algorithms:

At any time, there are now 25,000 virtual self-driving cars making their way through fully modeled versions of Austin, Mountain View, and Phoenix, as well as test-track scenarios. Waymo might simulate driving down a particularly tricky road hundreds of thousands of times in a single day. Collectively, they now drive 8 million miles per day in the virtual world. In 2016, they logged 2.5 billion virtual miles versus a little over 3 million miles by Google’s IRL self-driving cars that run on public roads. And crucially, the virtual miles focus on what Waymo people invariably call “interesting” miles in which they might learn something new. These are not boring highway commuter miles.

The article mentions a facility where they’ve built real-life replicas of difficult lane configurations and traffic scenarios. I did a little hunting and found the location north of Merced, CA.

Here at the End of All Things

While cartographers have developed so many ways to present geographic information, the maps that accompany fantasy novels don’t vary a lot in terms of the information they display. They are about location, distance, and terrain for characters to hike through and for us to follow along. They are rarely political maps. They focus on geography over borders and on movement over status. The scholar Stefan Ekman suggests one reason why that may be: a lot of the borders and boundaries around fantasy realms are dictated by natural or supernatural features and have to do with states of being rather than simple movement in space. The kinds of borders we are familiar with — the result of historic processes or Gertrude Bell-style whim — are mostly banished. Concepts that we have grown distrustful of in our world — border, nation, identity — are magically appropriate in describing elf kingdoms, misty isles, or corsair ports.

I feel the same as the author. Fantasy novels read without their accompanying maps feels wrong for me. Any work that includes maps I prefer reading in hard copy. When I first read the Song of Ice and Fire books on Kindle, I would always have images of maps of Westeros open on another device for continued reference.