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How Google's Autonomous Vehicles Work

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the up-on-the-sidewalk-thump-thump-thump dept.

Transportation 295

An anonymous reader writes "IEEE reports that Google's autonomous cars have logged more than 190,000 miles driving in all kinds of traffic, and the company is also testing a fleet of self-driving golf carts on its campus. In a recent talk, Sebastian Thrun and Chris Urmson of Google gave details of the project and showed videos of the robot cars driving themselves and even doing some stunts. The goal is that the technology will help reduce congestion, fuel waste, and accidents."

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But... (1)

MichaelKristopeitDad (2488356) | more than 2 years ago | (#37759696)

To be honest, I don't know if I'm ready letting go the controls of my car. Given Stuxnet and other stuff, I am seriously worried that this automated driving stuff will break down ad 75mph on the highway. Heck, I'm still driving a manual shift car!

Re:But... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37759724)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCPJQGTaHJI
Disclaimer: I like robot cars but the ad is funny :)

Re:But... (1)

markus_baertschi (259069) | more than 2 years ago | (#37759728)

I'm very much in favor of my car driving instead of me. I'm sure it will drive safer and better. For me the daily commute is a chore and I'd be very happy to leave it to a machine.

I'm sure there will be viruses/sabotage. But I'm also sure human drives cause more accidents than viruses/sabotage will.

Markus

Re:But... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37759762)

You ever hear of these things called "buses" or "trains"?

Re:But... (1)

TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) | more than 2 years ago | (#37759820)

He is in the US. So probably not ;)

Re:But... (1)

ozbon (99708) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760248)

When the bus/train doesn't take me longer to commute, and costs less than driving, I'll consider it. For example, my current commute is 85 miles each way, and takes an average of two hours. A bit excessive even by my (UK) standards, but there we go. 75 miles of that is driving, which takes me an hour. The last 10 miles is done by train, which takes me - an hour. If I were to go with public transport the entire way, it would take me three-and-a-half hours each way. Driving costs me roughly £120 per week in fuel. Public transport costs me £100 PER DAY.

Re:But... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37760332)

Hmmm... 75 miles of driving... which takes you an hour.

Would sir mind stepping out of the car and accompanying me into my patrol car. Sir appears to have been speeding ;)

Re:But... (1)

ozbon (99708) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760494)

Sir appears to have been within the applicable limits (max speed limit + 10% ) , so sir is fine. :-)

Re:But... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37760440)

New passenger light rail service recently opened near me. The wife and I decided to make a day of it and see if rail could offset some of our driving to and fro work. Ignorantly we headed to the local station because getting comprehensible facts online was almost impossible.

We arrived to buy our tickets and the terminology used on the ticket vending machine was completely foriegn. Spent roughly five minutes staring on the even more cryptic instructions on the very terse instructions available during the ticket buying process. Needless to say, we didn't buy tickets.

There was a couple of people at the other end of the station so we go and talk to them. They're kind enough to explain how it works, where the stops are at (which we know) and the terminology. Turns out this rail line ends two miles from the station we need to get to. To go that last two miles means an extra transfer fee for both of us and waiting on a second train. We'll ignore the fact that most of the people who ride the train need to do that transfer.

So armed with out new knowledge, its back to the ticket vending machine. We quickly do the math for a FOUR round trips plus FOUR transfers for two people (2 + 2; plus 2 + 2 transfers). The total round trip distance is roughly 80 miles. The total for us to commute is $60. We elect to not buy tickets.

I then look around and realize that they have entire train coming out here on a Saturday afternoon to pick up four people. I'm scratching my head with the obvious conclusion they are losing money because no one rides the fucking train because the fucktards who created weekend pricing are apparently incapable of thought without mouth breathing.

That $60 round trip, by the way, would pay for both of us to go a little over 600 miles in my car; or more than a week of round trips to work; which the train doesn't even deliver all the way there. So its in no way cost effective unless we're willing to commit to buying service for a year at time. That's when it occurred to me, here in the US, most rail service is heavily subsidized. The less its used the more they are paid by the federal government. While I don't know for a fact, I'm guessing they're already getting their money from us tax payers so they don't really give a shit if its used or not. Honestly, since that day I've starting looking at how much travel is done by train on the weekends. Almost none and yet they still have trains go all day long; albeit fewer than during a work day. The added cost of moving passengers compared to the mass of the train itself is not worth mentioning. To not lower costs during the weekend to encourage passenger travel on empty, ghost town trains wonderfully shows just how broken public transportation of wasteful the entire system is of US tax dollars.

Re:But... (2)

Politburo (640618) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760616)

Your car very likely does not cost $0.10 to operate. $60 for 600 miles is 35 mpg, which is certainly doable.. but that doesn't consider any maintenance, insurance, etc.

It seems unnecessary to buy a 2nd RT ticket if you're purchasing a transfer (the whole point of a transfer is to avoid charging a double fare).. but since you neglected to identify the system you were trying to use, your post is kind of worthless.

Re:But... (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760816)

I then look around and realize that they have entire train coming out here on a Saturday afternoon to pick up four people.

Well, it depends on whether you want people to use cars less or not have one at all. After all, there's a lot of sunk costs just having a car for weekends if you go by public service on week days. I've taken a lot of bus and tram lines that in isolation are probably a loss. But if those lines weren't going, I'd cancel my whole subscription and drive instead.

Trains are often mismanaged though, here it's not price as much as reliability. By skimping on the rail maintenance and trains not being very good at passing each other or take detours when it stops everything stops. One bus breaking down doesn't create chaos, one train does.

Re:But... (1)

flappinbooger (574405) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760776)

You ever hear of these things called "buses" or "trains"?

James May Quote (Top Gear) on a self driving car (paraphrase):

They invented self driving cars ages ago. You get in and tell it where to go and just sit back. They call them taxi cabs!

Re:But... (1)

MichaelKristopeitDad (2488356) | more than 2 years ago | (#37759772)

Well, yeah, but the thought of putting your life in the hands of a computer is not something I'm comfortable with.

Re:But... (1)

TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) | more than 2 years ago | (#37759832)

Which doesn't change the fact that its probably a better driver than you and you will be safer. *Feeling* safe is irrelevant.

Re:But... (1)

epyT-R (613989) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760056)

..only as good as the programmer who programmed it..

But unlike a human proven with age (1)

BlueCoder (223005) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760544)

A new program has unknown reliability, But a production program gains refinement and confidence with age. While it can still fail it becomes less likely. Just look at all the Fortran code still running.

Re:But... (1)

MichaelKristopeitDad (2488356) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760058)

Definitely irrational, I agree with you.

Much like fear of the airplanes is irrational, since it's the safest way to travel (ahead of trains, cars, buses and motorcycle). But in an airplane you're not in control and if the plane falls, you're toast. Not true for others means of transportation.

Re:But... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37760150)

Plus people are used to going on trains, cars etc daily while most people probably fly perhaps twice a year. You're going to feel far safer in something that you're used to enough that they've become routine. I bet the air stewardesses feel just as safe flying as they would pushing the tea trolley on a train.

airline software (2)

ImWithBrilliant (741796) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760416)

the impressive math to prove that airline software operates correctly, obviating the familiar testing found in most software development efforts, is also not popularly recognized.

Re:airline software (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760672)

Does it prove that the software design operates correctly, or the implementation? I'd think you'd still want to run some tests.

Re:But... (1)

indyogb (1517319) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760868)

*Feeling* safe is irrelevant.

Tell that to the TSA. I digress... I wouldn't mind a computer driving my commute for me. As long as I can disable it for drives I take for enjoyment, I don't really have a problem with it. I also would prefer some sort of over-ride (like being able to still use the wheel when I want) just in case an evil computer virus strikes. Barring the end of civilization, I believe computers driving cars is inevitable. For countries with poor rail infrastructure, this makes some sense.

Re:But... (1)

lorinc (2470890) | more than 2 years ago | (#37759850)

If you take a look at how many safety systems are handled by on board computers in any modern car, you'll see you already put your life in the hand of some computer engineer's work. And all of this is based on the search for profitability maximum.

Re:But... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37760096)

And those safety systems are well known to backfire and produce unexpected results exactly when you need them. Frankly invest in actually training drivers to realise they are in charge of a very lethal device and skill them appropriatly is by far the best idea.

Also most of those safety systems dont prevent the majority of accidents.

Re:But... (1)

Chrisq (894406) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760202)

And those safety systems are well known to backfire and produce unexpected results exactly when you need them.

More accurately the very few incidents when they go wrong are widely reported. You don't hear the many hundreds of thousands of "Man saved from skid by ABS", or "Electronic Stability Control keeps car on road during snow" that you would get if the successes were reported. -- ~~~~

Re:But... (1)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760502)

"Electronic Stability Control keeps car on road during snow"

I will say that I was once saved from ending up in a ditch due to traction control. I was also driving faster than was prudent, though, because I knew the car had traction control to begin with. Success or not?

Re:But... (1)

gTsiros (205624) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760574)

you are the cause of the problems, then; not the TC.

Re:But... (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760694)

That depends on if you ended up on the wrong side of the road, and therefore it was only luck that stopped anyone else from crashing into you even if you were sure that you weren't going to actually go off the road.

Re:But... (1)

Riceballsan (816702) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760268)

Not really, I'm not saying they are flawless, but when they do work, when they save a life, or prevent an accient, it does not make the news. Would you care to even ballpark the human error vs mechanical error ratio on car accidents? 50 human errors for every 1 technical one? or maybe closer to 100? We've all heard the stories on the news from the 2 or 3 flaws. That batch of cars that had trouble breaking, I believe there were like 20 accidents as a result, and that was considered an epidemic of mass proportions in terms of mechanical failures in vehicles. Yet you have to think that huge disaster, wasn't even a blip on the radar as far as total number of accidents.

Re:But... (2)

epyT-R (613989) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760140)

compared to the logistics of driving, those systems are simplistic, only requiring a few inputs of simplistic data sampled at low rates, and one or maybe two outcomes based on that data (deploy airbag/antilock brakes etc).. even the cars that have auto-max braking concern me because they may anticipate when I most definitely do not want it to. computers are faster than humans, no question, but they are not as aware. hell even the electronic throttles in modern cars overanticipate, often getting the wrong idea..they also lag. I had the 'pleasure' of driving a 2011 with electronic everything, including throttle. it's a crapshoot whether the car will do nothing for a second, or rocket out from under me after a light change. in situations like this, consistency is safer than some lame heuristic programmed into a microcontroller somewhere. Keep it simple stupid is key here. stupid simple doesn't break or create unexpected behavior either.

then there's the messy issues of politicians and businessmen inserting themselves into the programming once the machine is placed between you and your car. until you can guarantee a society that will respect my freedoms and liberty, stay away from my steering wheel and shifter.

Re:But... (1)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 2 years ago | (#37759852)

It's a bit late for that thought. Traffic lights and modern braking systems have been electronically controlled for many years...

Re:But... (1)

epyT-R (613989) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760050)

yeah the instances of it will be less, but when they do happen, they'll happen en masse. think about it.

Re:But... (1)

DrXym (126579) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760066)

There is absolutely no way for a car to drive safely by itself short of only permitting it to do so on a "smart" road where all the other traffic is also self driven. The "smart" road would have to relay information to the car about ice, water, fog, traffic ahead, road works, lane closures, diversions, potholes, debris / obstacles, humans, animals etc. Otherwise the "smart" car is going to crest a hill and run smack into a fallen tree whereas an observant human might have taken more notice of the prevailing conditions in the first place.

The best that could be hoped for in the time being is computer assisted where perhaps the driver is still requires to steer the vehicle or at least have their hands on the wheel but some of the braking / acceleration is handled automatically by sensing the distance between cars, reacting more quickly to sudden braking and so on.

Re:But... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37760200)

There is absolutely no way for a car to drive safely by itself [...]

Perfect safety isn't the goal, a few times less accident prone then human drivers would be plenty, and not that hard (humans are quite bad drivers, and usually overestimate their own skills).

the "smart" car is going to crest a hill and run smack into a fallen tree whereas an observant human might have taken more notice of the prevailing conditions in the first place.

1. How big a proportion of the drivers can be described as observant?

2. Why is it impossible for a car to be observant?

Re:But... (1)

rich_hudds (1360617) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760548)

Have you seen the footage of the google car? It has 360 degree vision via lasers mounted on the roof, it's gonna see that fallen tree before any human would.

Apparently it has already racked up 190,000 miles on real roads without an accident.

Re:But... (2)

markus_baertschi (259069) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760602)

This Google experiment proves that you can build a self driving car who can drive safely for thousands of miles on actual public roads. Yes, there are some additional conditions which are not practical (like the driving the path manually before to record a precise map), but it has been done.

Most drivers are not very much 'observing', I just read somewhere that the Blackberry outage caused vehicle accidents to drop by 20-40% in some Gulf states. Observing drivers, Ha !

Just compare how many accidents are caused by trees falling onto the street compared to texting.

The biggest problems to solve are the cultural, legal and liability issues.

Markus

Re:But... (-1, Offtopic)

MichaelKristopeitBro (2488396) | more than 2 years ago | (#37759756)

Hi Dad!

I'm going to see mike to get a little fuck. [slashdot.org] Wanna join?

Re:But... (-1, Offtopic)

MichaelKristopeitDad (2488356) | more than 2 years ago | (#37759810)

Son,

This is not the place for this kind of crap. It's bad enough you're getting stuffed by your big brother, but keep it private for god's sake.

Wait until I put my hands on Mike. He'll be in for a rough ride, I'll tell you that.

Re:But... (-1, Offtopic)

MichaelKristopeitBro (2488396) | more than 2 years ago | (#37759848)

Sorry Dad. But you know how Mike is. He'll never get laid if I don't help him. Plus he doesn't give me a choice, so there's that too.

I'll keep it for me then. Thanks for caring.

Re:But... (0)

Chrisq (894406) | more than 2 years ago | (#37759932)

Sorry Dad. But you know how Mike is. He'll never get laid if I don't help him. Plus he doesn't give me a choice, so there's that too.

I'll keep it for me then. Thanks for caring.

At leat try and keep it on topic and ask him to do it in the back of a robot-controlled car.

Re:But... (-1, Offtopic)

MichaelKristopeitBro (2488396) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760068)

I know, I am a failure of a human being. I wonder if it is a family trait?

Re:But... (-1, Offtopic)

MichaelKristopeitDad (2488356) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760250)

Don't you think MichaelKristopeit is already robot-controlled? Or at least, that it has the brainz (Sorry, been around the poll lately) of a AI program running on a 16MHz 386?

Now, what we need to find is a link to some form of vehicle. Then it would be on topic.

Re:But... (1)

lynnae (2439544) | more than 2 years ago | (#37759798)

unless your car is very old, it still has a ECU and possibly a programmable ECU

Maybe I missed the part in the article where the car's OS was open to internet, so how would it be vulnerable to virus in a way that a programmable ECU isn't?

Re:But... (1)

MichaelKristopeitDad (2488356) | more than 2 years ago | (#37759856)

I think (memory speaking here) that someone successfully started a Mercedes by inserting a CD with a virus on it in the CD player. No key or anything else involved.

I can see Sony from here: We'll stop all your cars unless you pay your royalties! We 0wn you 'cause you bought the latest Britney Spears album !

Re:But... (1)

EsbenMoseHansen (731150) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760010)

I can see Sony from here: We'll stop all your cars unless you pay your royalties! We 0wn you 'cause you bought the latest Britney Spears album !

I should be fairly safe, then.

Re:But... (1)

EsbenMoseHansen (731150) | more than 2 years ago | (#37759990)

Well, you'll soon be sharing the road with cars without drivers.

I wonder if this push the number of occupants per car (including driver) to under 1?

Re:But... (1)

pacinpm (631330) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760266)

It's actually very good idea. You may send a package to your wife in automatic car instead of driving there.

Re:But... (2)

BlueStrat (756137) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760674)

It's actually very good idea. You may send a package to your wife in automatic car instead of driving there.

I'm sure there's probably some law against sending explosive devices in automatic vehicles. :)

On the other hand, I'm sure terrorists would love the idea...well, except for missing out on the 72 virgins.

Strat

Re:But... (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760022)

Well, the Prius was known to drive on its own even without Google. [slashdot.org] :-)

Re: Heck, I'm still driving a manual shift car! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37760598)

Just about everyone outside of US drive manual as well

first post? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37759698)

first post?

Re:first post? (0)

Pieroxy (222434) | more than 2 years ago | (#37759818)

first post?

No.

If Perfected, This Is Huge (2)

rally2xs (1093023) | more than 2 years ago | (#37759766)

We desperately need this tech. Aging populations drive less well after some kinds of age-related degradations, where automatic driving mechanisms could maintain mobility for affected people. Cars could also take kids to school, and park themselves in the parking lot, making the kids much less vulnerable to child molesters and bullies, as well as freeing Mom and Dad from transportation duties.

For everyone else, automation in driving will do a better job than people that are blabbing on cell phones, eating, drinking, fiddling with the radio, changing CD's, etc. etc. If drivers don't normally do these things, then automatic driving will enable them to do so, as well as a lot of other things that might be productive, like office work or simply enjoyable things like reading the newspaper or surfing the internet.

Re:If Perfected, This Is Huge (1)

epyT-R (613989) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760192)

we still can't even perfect automated train signaling systems... there are still people in the loop because sometimes equipment fails, or is programmed incorrectly...and this is a simplistic cart-on-rails A leaves houston at 90Mph, and cart-on-rails B leaves chicago at 87Mph.. style problem compared to the result you speak of. at most you're dealing with a half dozen trains with known speeds and precise routes.. forget about piles of cars on streets.

Re:If Perfected, This Is Huge (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37760462)

but nobody here can even stay between the lines or use a turn signal or turn into the proper lane... i'll take my chances with the computer

Re:If Perfected, This Is Huge (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37760848)

Come on, nobody told me there would be word problems involved.

Re:If Perfected, This Is Huge (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37760412)

Or maybe kids could walk and learn some independence (disclaimer: having been shown the way for a week or two I walked a 4 mile round trip to school from age 5 to 10 on my own and it did me the world of good)

The idea that there are paedophiles waiting to pounce on you from behind every bush is a load of tripe. You're more likely to get hit with a piece of falling sattelite. (disclaimer: we had a paedophile who lived in the next street. I never got molested because, like all the local kids, we'd worked out something was odd about him and we stayed the hell away !)

Or how about having some reliable, free, public transport for the elderly, incapacitated, mums with kids etc. etc. Paid for by a fuel tax which will hit all the selfish pricks who drive on their own hardest.

Legal framework (4, Insightful)

wisebabo (638845) | more than 2 years ago | (#37759816)

I'm all for autonomous vehicles but I think before it goes forward (ha ha) shouldn't there be some sort of legal framework in place? I mean the first fatal accident that can be even possibly attributed to an autonomous vehicle could very well kill the industry for a while at least. (I'm reminded of how the fatal crash of one of Buckminster Fuller's super efficient teardrop shaped 3 wheeled vehicles killed that concept).

How about for all "certified" (through rigorous federal testing) vehicles, there be "no-fault" collision insurance (or limits on damages). Unfortunately I'm neither a transportation expert nor lawyer so I'm just guessing.

Re:Legal framework (1)

FrootLoops (1817694) | more than 2 years ago | (#37759996)

Agreed. I've always loved the idea of automated cars, even since I was young. There are so many benefits: greatly reduced traffic fatalities, alleviation of most traffic jams*, optimized stoplights, higher fuel efficiency--and, of course, convenience. But, there would almost inevitably be deaths and injuries caused by the machines. Liability for traffic fatalities nowadays is pretty much on the human behind the wheel. Even if the machines lower traffic accidents greatly, I don't see how the company that produced it can get away with not taking on all that formerly human liability. An informed legal analysis would be wonderful.

*Suppose an accident blocked 4 out of 8 lanes of traffic. In a perfect world, everybody upstream of the blockage would slow to half their original speed, and whenever you got to the blockage you would speed up to your regular speed. The number of cars/minute past any point is then constant. In reality, average humans cannot hope to manage such logistical feats, and so everyone uses a greedy algorithm where they go as fast as they can as long as they can. After a bunch of inefficiencies build up, you're stopped, and throughput through the blockage is well below its optimal capacity. A sufficiently advanced computer network could coordinate optimized strategies for handling things that would otherwise cause huge traffic jams. This would be both extremely convenient and fuel efficient.

There are similar potential benefits to networked cars in regular traffic. For instance, you could optimize light timing in real-time so that a bunch of cars get through without having to stop at multiple lights. Even getting started after a light could stand to benefit, since a group of automated cars could all accelerate together, rather than one after another as humans do. You could dynamically route people around jams as well.

I imagine such advanced functions would take years or decades to set up even after automated cars catch on. Still, their benefits are so great and their downsides so minimal that I have difficulty understanding how anyone could not be excited by the prospect of (networked) automated cars.

Re:Legal framework (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37760042)

I dont know why people keep saying this, did the first airplane crash forever destroy the airline industry. No not at all.

Re:Legal framework (1)

thoughtspace (1444717) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760346)

But legality did a lot to kill the Segway.
Seen plenty of great ideas die because ... well just because.

Re:Legal framework (1)

Phydaux (1135819) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760370)

Maybe not, but the Hindenburg disaster killed off zeppelin travel. The crash of Concorde flight 4590 ended Concorde travel. The fatal accident of an autonomous vehicle could kill off autonomous vehicle transport.

Re:Legal framework (1)

varcher (156670) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760546)

The crash of Concorde flight 4590 ended Concorde travel.

No. Economics ended Concorde travel well before 4590. It was just prestige flying of an overpriced dinosaur, and the crash ended that era.

If there had been a serious market for concorde flights, they would still fly, and they would still be built, crash or not.

kid in front, semi in the back. (1)

bronney (638318) | more than 2 years ago | (#37759876)

When I was learning to drive, my teacher told me before you dodge (or brake for) any deer on the road, always check rear view mirror to make sure a semi trailer isn't following you to brake and kill 15 people behind that. It's easy to say deer.

But what if it's a kid. Gets harder right?

I am glad this robot car takes that decision off my hands yeah? :D

Re:kid in front, semi in the back. (2)

MagusSlurpy (592575) | more than 2 years ago | (#37759918)

You mean the "Speed up and turn on the windscreen wipers" decision? :D

Re:kid in front, semi in the back. (1)

bronney (638318) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760286)

Of course! It wipes faster as you speed up too ;)

Re:kid in front, semi in the back. (1)

MemoryDragon (544441) | more than 2 years ago | (#37759956)

Good advice but I rather doubt you have the time to check your rearview if you are in a dangerous emergency break situation.
As far as I can remember i never had it.

Re:kid in front, semi in the back. (1)

bronney (638318) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760290)

True. But the preceding lesson was always be aware of your surroundings. :)

Re:kid in front, semi in the back. (1)

rally2xs (1093023) | more than 2 years ago | (#37759976)

Difference between avoiding a person and an animal is what's going to make this a thing of the future for quite a while. Visual recognition software and artificial intelligence need to make the right choices when evading disaster. Hit the deer, drive into the ditch to avoid a person. Things like that. Automatic cars could have an advantage of networking with other automatic cars ahead which would inform it of people walking along the road, deer standing by the side of the road, patches of ice or deep water, etc.

The thing that will most likely keep this tech from happening: Nobody will buy it, because the software will HAVE to be set to obey the speed limits, and most drivers drive 10 - 20 mph higher than the speed limits on certain roads, like the DC beltway for instance. SL there is 55. Traffic flow is 75 - 85 quite often. A car at 55 is asking for disaster.

Re:kid in front, semi in the back. (1)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760632)

Hit the deer, drive into the ditch to avoid a person.

Nobody will buy it, because the software will HAVE to be set to obey the speed limits, and most drivers drive 10 - 20 mph higher

You know, freedom and equality were great ideals and all, but Americans still had slaves. Do you really think, when push comes to shove, that anyone will choose to maintain the idiosyncrasies of our crappy, broken system of government over automated cars?

Any government-mandated stupidity will be immediately hacked out of these things the minute they hit the market. I sure as hell am not riding in a car that tries to kill me in order to avoid hitting some idiot who is playing in traffic.

Re:kid in front, semi in the back. (1)

MatthewCCNA (1405885) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760670)

Having increased my morning commute from 10 minutes to 1.5 to 2.5 hours, given the choice between even 20 KM below the speed limit and stopping and starting several times I would rather keep moving.

Re:kid in front, semi in the back. (1)

swilver (617741) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760320)

The decision is the same. You brake. How hard you brake depends on traffic behind you. A good driver always knows if there is something behind them, so no need to check the rear view mirror before braking (you should have checked it 10 seconds ago already).

I certainly would not endanger my live and the live of those behind me because a deer/kid/granny is in a spot they donot belong.

Re:kid in front, semi in the back. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37760570)

I certainly would not endanger my live and the live of those behind me because a deer/kid/granny is in a spot they donot belong.

Then you get to go to jail for vehicular manslaughter when witnesses report that you made no attempt to stop or avoid the kid/granny.

Re:kid in front, semi in the back. (4, Insightful)

gTsiros (205624) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760662)

the kid/granny in front of you are not at fault. if you hit them you are at fault.

someone who is behind you *must* be at a safe distance to stop even if you perform emergency braking. if they hit you, they are at fault.

fill the rest yourself. in short you are just plain wrong. and dangerous.

Re:kid in front, semi in the back. (1)

Dcnjoe60 (682885) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760856)

You must have never hit a deer at speed. Your car will stop whether you hit the brakes or not. Then the guy behind you will still hit you if you are following to closely. Plowing through an accident works in NASCAR, but not so much on a public highway.

Re:kid in front, semi in the back. (1)

poofmeisterp (650750) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760744)

...I am glad this robot car takes that decision off my hands yeah? :D

Oh, and I can't wait for a major solar flare to occur that takes out the navigation backbone very quickly, causing a major pile-up wherever these automated cars exist.

Nobody mentions that in any article I've read, including all of the subs, now or at any point in the past.

Re:kid in front, semi in the back. (1)

edumacator (910819) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760750)

Or having a kid with a fifteen percent chance to live, while I have an 85% chance of making it. Any human would know to save the child.

Don't forget "Tell Google everywhere you go!" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37759908)

I'm sure Google's thinking of ways to monetize your travels by selling your private data.

"Don't be evil"? Ha. Sounds like an empty marketing slogan dreamed up by a giant ad agency. Oh, wait...

Re:Don't forget "Tell Google everywhere you go!" (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760236)

I'm sure Google's thinking of ways to monetize your travels by selling your private data.

Selling your data? Don't forget that they are an advertising company themselves. The data is their most valuable asset, and selling it would only decrease the value of their ad service by allowing others to get better.

how does this thing handle higher level decisions? (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37759982)

Like:

Can it, like I do, notice that the baseball rolling down a driveway may be followed by a child who is currently invisible behind a parked SUV?

Can it, like I do, notice that the driver *behind* me is distracted by her cell phone, has started late at the last three lights, so I should give myself more than average room between me and the car in front of me, so in case it stops suddenly, SHE won't have to stop as suddenly and will be less likely to rear-end me?

Can it, like I do, notice that even though the road has been clear of ice and snow, the next curve up ahead is deeply shaded and is likely to be slick?

Can it, like I do, notice that the baby deer is one one side of the road and his mother on the other, and even though he isn't charging across, it looks like he's about to do so, so I better slow down? Because this happened to me not one week ago, and it DID charge across.

Can it react to the highly dynamic and unpredictable world in ways that require human intelligence? And before you claim it's going to be a better driver than I am, note that I got my license in 1973, and have YET to have any sort of accident. Because I can provide human intelligence to the task of driving, and unless you want to claim the machine is as smart as a person, I am not so sure I believe I want to leave these choices up to it. I'll gladly fly on a computer flown aircraft, because that's a very, very different kind of task. No children appear in the sky from behind parked vehicles, and the pilot stands by the entire time to take over if something doesn't go right. Car drivers won't be that alert: they'll just doze off or play with their phones and not even glance out the window the whole time.

Re:how does this thing handle higher level decisio (1)

Riceballsan (816702) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760294)

I wouldn't claim the machine is smarter then the smartest humans, but I would be willing to bet it is smarter then the average human (Just look around walmart, what you see represents the majority of the people on the road).

Re:how does this thing handle higher level decisio (0)

ozbon (99708) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760584)

What scares me most about Walmart et al is that all those mouth-breathing 'tards who can't even steer a shopping cart/trolley have driven to get there.

Re:how does this thing handle higher level decisio (1)

Dcnjoe60 (682885) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760896)

I wouldn't claim the machine is smarter then the smartest humans, but I would be willing to bet it is smarter then the average human (Just look around walmart, what you see represents the majority of the people on the road).

I would bet the machine is dumber than sh*t. It might be able to react quicker, but it isn't smart. All it will do is analyze a bunch of algorithms and choose what it is programmed to choose as the best one. That doesn't make it smart, just efficient.

Besides, Mr. Spock was definitely smarter than Captain Kirk, but Kirk seemed to excel at making the better choice.

Reduce congestion it will not. (2)

Sqr(twg) (2126054) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760038)

If automatic drivers initially reduce congestion (due to smoother driving) that effect will soon be diminished by increasing amounts of traffic.

Judging by my friends, most of them seem to prefer driving their own car if it will take them no more than 1.5 times as long as using the subway. If they had automatic drivers, they would probably accept even longer delays, so they might take their car instead of the subway even in rush hour when it would take more than 3 times as long.

This will also reduce incentives to move closer to your place of work or taking other measures to reduce your dependence on cars.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for this technology. But make sure to combine with substantially increased gasoline taxes or you will be spending a large part of your life trapped inside a car.

Re:Reduce congestion it will not. (1)

epyT-R (613989) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760252)

yes, after all, the point of taxation is to modify behavior that goes against the collective good, not to simply fund a service we all share a need for. this creates lots of good will among the citizenry...

Re:Reduce congestion it will not. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37760630)

It must be nice to live in a place with good public transport. I have a 6 mile commute. By car it takes me 11 minutes, by bike it takes about an hour (taking a bike safe route bumps the mileage up to about 8 miles). Taking public transport takes about 1 hour 25 minutes. Plus public transit also costs about 1.5x what I'm spending on gas, car payment, and insurance over a month. I still considered it just because it'd be nice to have over an hour where I could sit and read a book or something every morning (I'm too cheap though).

Sure automated driving might suck for the people where traffic already sucks. You're in a big city, traffic will always suck. Always. No exceptions. And even if it somehow didn't suck you'd still all complain about it anyway. So yes for the 85 million Americans that choose to live in the top 10 most populated cities, this would probably be a wash. For the rest of the 220 million+ of us that decided not to all try to live on top of each other this would be a big plus.

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saftey (1)

tyler_durdin (2488476) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760148)

this doesn't seem safe

Re:saftey (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37760474)

oh shit, I doubt they've thought of that

oh well, another idea ruined

whoops! (1)

lkcl (517947) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760152)

i love the summary. the technology will help reduce congestion, will help fuel waste, and will help accidents. whoops :)

This seems nice but I remain sceptical (1)

Hentes (2461350) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760194)

Until it gets tested by an independent group, it's still just a company's claims about their own product.

golf carts? (1)

Ixne (599904) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760452)

... and the company is also testing a fleet of self-driving golf carts on its campus.

Highschool coaches everywhere are jumping for joy.

Killer app, Driving you home from a bar! (3, Insightful)

BlueCoder (223005) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760468)

Seriously. And it's more than enough reason to get it legal on the streets.

Just have a way to lock out the manual override until you can pass the built in breathalyzer. It can transmit encrypted times and duration of computer control to local police vehicles in addition to the fact that you locked yourself out so they won't bother pulling you over.

Of course you will probably have to pre train it to park. Or have a parking assist mode that you can engage even while intoxicated that won't let you get into an accident. And of course a button to pull over just in case you need to throw up.

No more drunk driving or risking the fine and you have your car to get to work in the morning. And no $50 one way taxi ride or having trouble getting a taxi at last call. Besides most people would probably prefer to nap on their way home anyway.

Re:Killer app, Driving you home from a bar! (1)

Dcnjoe60 (682885) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760828)

Wouldn't it be simpler not to just get drunk/wasted? Buying a $40,000 vehicle to save on $50 taxi rides doesn't seem to offer a good ROI.

Motive? (1)

sincewhen (640526) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760512)

This is interesting, but I have to ask, why is Google doing this? What is in it for them?

It's nice that they are doing it, but as a business, they can't be sinking money into it (and risking being sued or damaging their reputation) without the expectation of a reasonable return.

So, how are they making money on this? Perhaps while you are driven around you have more time to make use of Google ad-supported services?

Re:Motive? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37760716)

Well, maybe they're going to license the technology to car manufacturers? Or possibly just sell the kit directly to consumers. Either way, I imagine they'll be patenting the crap out of it, and I can't see them giving it away for free.

Step 1: Develop something
Step 2: Patent it
Step 3: Sell or License it
Step 4: Profit!

Re:Motive? (2)

necro81 (917438) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760808)

Part of how their system works is to have a fairly extensive database of what the local roads look like. Not just GPS and a roadmap, mind you, but actual 3D laser scans of a particular area taken from the ground. The first database was generated with humans behind the wheel of these cars; the autonomous vehicles used that information later for their own driving. That may seem like a big investment - building a detailed 3D map of an area just for a handful of vehicles. But like the web-crawler database that underpins Google's search engine, the same dataset, well distributed, can be used by near infinite clients. And once you have some number of these vehicles out there, they are continuously updating and adding to that database. Think of it like google street view, but where the streets are visible from any car-accessible vantage, and you can get synthesized live views from nearly any vantage. The images of buildings are no longer just images, but rather complete 3D models.

Google's stated motives are vaguely altruistic: reduce traffic and fuel consumption, make the roadways safer and more efficient. That's great and all, but hardly generates direct revenue for Google. But I think that having a very detailed, 3D, realtime map of most of the roads of the US would be a very valuable asset. How you monetize it is, right now anyway, somewhat speculative. On the other hand, I think Google, with tens of billions of dollar cash-on-hand, can sink a lot into this just on speculation without risk or immediate justification. There was a time not too long ago that companies would do that kind of thing: spend money on speculative research without immediate plans for payout. AT&T Bell Labs panned out as a pretty good benefit for the world.

There are, of course, a whole lot of 1984-esque aspects to this project that need to be addressed, too, so I wouldn't say this project is all upside.

farmers market ahoy (1)

benjamindees (441808) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760690)

I think this is an acceptable alternative to taking drivers licenses away from the elderly.

Other benefits (1)

AlecC (512609) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760804)

The goal is that the technology will help reduce congestion, fuel waste, and accidents."

A much bigger goal for me is that it will increase mobility for the elderly and disabled. I saw my parents lives become dramatically circumscribed when they lost the ability to drive. I am within long view of the same thing myself, and I hope that these cars will be available before I get there.

And, to answer some other points, it doesn't have to be as good as the best driver, it only has to be as good as the average driver. In fact, if these cars existed, we could be more draconian about banning the very worst drivers. How would road safety change if we replaced the worst 10% of drivers with a automated car equal to the (raised) average?

And how many accidents are caused by drink, tiredness, texting/phoning etc? I am not saying they would all disappear, but if you could hand over to an automated system while you sent a text, the roads would be much safer. (I know you are an idiot if you test while driving, but empirically idiots exist).

In fact, the system could observe the driver and offer/demand to take over if the driver was below standard. (And call the police or refuse to run if way below standard?).

The goal is.... (0)

Dcnjoe60 (682885) | more than 2 years ago | (#37760806)

"The goal is that the technology will help reduce congestion, fuel waste, and accidents."

The goal is to make Google a lot of money.

as a cyclist I would welcome these (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37760810)

right now I put my life in the hands of the other people on the street. the ones already playing with their phones or yelling at their kids in the back (commute is past 3 schools, 1 a HS)

If the drivers aren't watching the road now, at least put in a computer to watch for them. Hell, just have it apply the brakes if something gets in front of the car and it'd be an improvement

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