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Google Secretly Tests Autonomous Cars In Traffic 561

Posted by timothy
from the just-having-a-bit-of-fun-yer-honor dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Autonomous cars are years from mass production, but technologists who have long dreamed of them believe that they can transform society as profoundly as the Internet has. Now the NY Times reports that Google has been working in secret on vehicles that can drive themselves, using artificial-intelligence software that can sense anything near the car and mimic the decisions made by a human driver. With someone behind the wheel to take control if something went awry and a technician in the passenger seat to monitor the navigation system, seven test cars have driven 1,000 miles without human intervention and more than 140,000 miles with only occasional human control. One even drove itself down Lombard Street in San Francisco, one of the steepest and curviest streets in the nation. The only accident, engineers said, was when one Google car was rear-ended while stopped at a traffic light." Update: 10/09 22:37 GMT by T : Reader harrymcc points out that the dream of self-driving cars is nothing new: "Both Popular Science and Popular Mechanics have regularly reported on such experiments; I rounded up some examples dating as far back as 1933."
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Google Secretly Tests Autonomous Cars In Traffic

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 09, 2010 @05:38PM (#33848008)

    I have to say that I like the idea of a car driving itself. In theory it should be able to be better than any human. However, software is what I do for a living and it seems there are always circumstances that can not be predicted if software but would be easy for a human to handle. It's those situations that I would be paranoid about if the car was driving itself. The problem would be that even if the human could intervene there is no guarantee that you could intervene fast enough or if the system would even let you.

    I think eventually we will get there. I mean I trust the antilock brakes and traction control on my car but those systems are very straightforward with simple goals and it still took a long time to get them right. A car driving itself is ridiculously complex.

  • by Fallingcow (213461) on Saturday October 09, 2010 @05:41PM (#33848026) Homepage

    It'd be awesome not to need a DD (or risk a DUI) to go to the bar in the many US cities with no or inadequate public transit... though I bet the MADD assholes will lobby to make it still illegal, somehow, and probably try to force a breathalyzer to turn the damn auto-drive on in the first place.

  • I think a lot of it is trust and acceptance. I would be willing to start small.

    Imagine if the leftmost highway lane was designed "auto drive lane". This would greatly simplify the potential scenarios. Vehicle would only auto drive when in the auto drive lane.

  • by cosm (1072588) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <3msoceht>> on Saturday October 09, 2010 @05:59PM (#33848166)
    Will it pick up hitchhikers?
    Will it courteously let people pull out who have been waiting?
    Will it flick-off people who drive 30 under?
    Will it flick-off people who drive 30 over?
    Will it flicker brights to warn of speed traps?
    Will it pull over for emergency vehicles?
    Will it draft large semis?
    Will it bring me hookers and blackjack?

    Also, who receives the citation in the event of a stop?
  • by Fallingcow (213461) on Saturday October 09, 2010 @06:03PM (#33848204) Homepage

    And these US cities have no cabs?

    Not everyone can afford to blow $80+ just to get to and from their night out. I practically never go out for that reason, and because I know being a DD sucks and wouldn't impose on someone like that. I go to a bar maybe a couple times a year, but I'd be far more inclined to accompany other friends who go more frequently if the transportation weren't an issue.

    As for MADD, they have a history of pursuing policy that has more to do with neo-Prohibition than keeping people safe. I don't dislike them because they're against drunk driving--hooray for that, in fact--but because they appear to be anti-alcohol. My comment about them trying to find some way to make this technology not a legal option for inebriated transportation was serious; I bet they would.

  • by XanC (644172) on Saturday October 09, 2010 @06:05PM (#33848216)

    They're a big part of this travesty:
    The DUI Exception to the Constitution" []

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 09, 2010 @06:24PM (#33848336)

    Depends on the driver, it's certainly true for most drivers but not all of them. Of course most drivers also overestimate their driving abilities.

    There is no way current technology can make this work. Consider how many things could be coming at your car from the periphery that the system would not be able to detect. Animals running across the road, snow and mud slides, road alligators being flipped up from the car in front of you, etc. There is no way a computer could accurately detect these things coming from a far distance on an intercept course with you. If the driver is preoccupied with something else they won't see it to intervene either (if the driver isn't preoccupied then what's the point of the autodrive).

    Also consider sometimes you have to drive off the road to prevent an accident, no way could this system handle that. I have driven over curbs to prevent someone from hitting me and driven into a ditch and back out to avoid people in the road on a blind corner (and didn't even use the brakes because that would have compromised my steering/handling). Software would not be able to analyze the situation and find an appropriate escape route. The best it could do is slam on the brakes or whatever but often that isn't enough.

  • by Gamma747 (1438537) on Saturday October 09, 2010 @06:26PM (#33848352)
    If your job can be done from your car, then it can also be done from your home.
  • by Colin Smith (2679) on Saturday October 09, 2010 @07:46PM (#33848856)

    I am not alone in enjoying my own private personalized micro-environment while being transported

    Unfortunately, I think you'll find yourself replaced by someone cheaper who pays $3 per day to be driven to and from work using an autonomous cab vs your 50k capital expense and ongoing finance servicing.

    Existing mass transit is group based and suffers some significant disadvantages vs cars and so people who make use of public transport today; cabs, buses, trains, also suffer those disadvantages. With autonomous cabs, those disadvantages go away.

    Cabs are also not economical in many suburban or rural areas as the fuel cost is amortized among too few clients (with possibly many miles of empty transportation between them).

    That is only because so many people have cars. When they don't need to own one, because a low cost cab will pick them up at a call, there will be many more clients.

  • by ScrewMaster (602015) * on Saturday October 09, 2010 @08:08PM (#33848986)

    So you stay home and get hammered there instead?

    And if I'm not driving, is it any fucking business of yours?

    I like to drink. I like to drive. It's really stupid to combine the two, so I do my driving early (to the beer store!) and get it out of the way, and when I get home, it's then that I fire up the grill and have a drink.

    I oppose drunk driving. I oppose MADD. My two positions are consistent. Are yours?

    I was going to reply to the GP but you said it pretty well. I think some people need a roomful of noisy, drunken strangers screaming at sports on a big-screen TV to enjoy a few drinks. Never really understood that, myself.

    I also agree with you about MADD. They've gone completely around the bend, off the deep end, into a bizarre, and completely untenable Prohibitionist position.

  • by ScrewMaster (602015) * on Saturday October 09, 2010 @08:40PM (#33849112)

    This doesn't have anything to do with driving. It has to do with being convicted, and going to jail, without being able to mount a defense.

    It also has to do with the State using highly suspect technology in order to file that DUI in the first place. The Breathalyzer should never, ever have been accepted by the government for that purpose: too many lives have been destroyed by defective, poorly-maintained, badly-designed and improperly used equipment. The same thing applies to police radar, but the difference there is that a speeding ticket is nowhere near as devastating as a drunk-while-under-the-influence.

    The State sees the things as an easy way out, and is willing to tolerate a certain number of false positives (more properly termed "collateral damage" because people can be badly hurt by a false accusation.) I don't drink and drive, but I would refuse a breathalyzer test: if the cop wants to take me to a local hospital and have them give me a blood test (with a sufficient quantity of blood drawn and stored such that my defense attorney could have the test reperformed if necessary) at the State's expense, well, that would be okay. But they don't want that: they want a simple go/no-go test that effectively convicts you, and it's very hard to argue with the results in court. That's because a machine is generally considered more trustworthy and more reliable than any human being. The fact that it may or may not be even remotely accurate is much less relevant to the legal system that it should be.

    There was a case a few years ago, where a man accused of a DUI got the court to force the manufacturer of the Breathalyzer unit in question to turn over the embedded controller's source code for independent review. It was apparently so badly written that not only did the man get off, but all the cases where that model was used had to be readjudicated or otherwise reviewed. Ohio, I think, but I'm too tired to look it up. I hope that outfit lost every government contract it had, and they should probably have been made to pay the legal costs of all the people their gadget fucked over.

    I've been a software developer for thirty years, and I'll be damned if I'm going to allow the legal system to use someone else's drain-bamaged firmware to convict me of something I did not do. Hell, I hate the fact that cars are so totally dependent upon embedded systems nowadays: makes me more nervous the more lines of code they add.

  • by BLKMGK (34057) <> on Saturday October 09, 2010 @08:41PM (#33849120) Homepage Journal

    Company filled with really smart curious guys and a bunch of cash.... I think at least one or two of the Microsoft guys are involved in commercial rocketry efforts BTW...

  • by AK Marc (707885) on Sunday October 10, 2010 @01:30AM (#33850306)
    The issue is that when you have a nonzero number breaking them, you want 40% breaking them. Too many, and it's chaos. Too few, and the few rule breakers cause larger disruptions. 40% has some asses and some who break the rules to essentially cover for the damage the asses would have done. No one should have done a study with 0%, because that doesn't exist in the US, and so couldn't be accurately studied, and if it was accurately studied, wouldn't have any applications. So doing that would be a waste of time and money.

    If 0% were to break the rules, then it should flow better than any other number (assuming the rules are changed to take advantage of the possibilities in a 0% breaking scenario), but we can't determine that until we have some way to enforce the rules well enough find out for sure.
  • by hitmark (640295) on Sunday October 10, 2010 @04:32AM (#33850752) Journal

    How so? why not drill passive RFID into the road-bed that tells the car what lane it is in, what the speed limit is and so on?

    Hell, these could be deployed by a maintenance truck driving up the lane, drilling a hole and shooting down a marker ever so often.

    A cars sensors do not in any way have to conform to the limitations of the human sensory organs.

    a radar or lidar in the front, and it can detect and respond to objects appearing in the path of travel. There is no need for it to be able to tell the different between a kid, a ball or a animal. Only that there is a object there at is in, or will cross travel path, if it maintains the current direction and speed. This is something various radar systems have been doing with aircrafts for decades already, at much longer ranges than what is needed for the usual traffic situations.

    And the biggest win would be that you can in no way distract a computer. A screaming kid in the back seat, changing channel or song on the multimedia system, conversations with other passengers or callers on mobile phones. All those are distractions that can have fatal consequences if it happens at the wrong time.

  • by Builder (103701) on Sunday October 10, 2010 @05:27AM (#33850906)

    In London recently, there was a case where an automated train skipped something like 6 red signals and caused passenger trains to have to stop and wait until someone could get control back.

    This is a train, that goes on rails and can't get into too much trouble. There are limited variables to deal with, and we can't get it right yet. I don't even want to think about doing this with cars in populated areas!

  • by wootest (694923) on Sunday October 10, 2010 @06:08AM (#33850982)

    The composition of the driving logic is the most important part. It can't be a big switch case. It has to be a bunch of interconnecting heuristics, constantly looking for every sign of trouble, being able to figure out context and priority of every such signal and also failing gracefully.

    There are also tough tradeoffs: It's obvious that if someone's running out in front of the car, you can't go even if the light just turned green, but if a small animal ran out in front of the car, you're doing 110 km/h, every lane is packed and you're on a bridge, you're probably best off actually continuing. It becomes an equation with a thousand terms, solved continuously.

  • by TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) on Sunday October 10, 2010 @06:38AM (#33851080)
    Also a car won't be drunk... or get a a ego trip over how awesome a driver they are and speed etc...
  • by HungryHobo (1314109) on Sunday October 10, 2010 @08:01AM (#33851360)

    Sorry to burst your deluded little bubble but you're simply wrong.

    People work more now because they can.
    They want the money more than the time.

    I outlined my situation which you didn't seem to read.
    My parents both worked full time jobs when they were our age and yet barely scraped by from week to week and had little or no disposable income.

    Now both I and my girlfriend only work part time and we have a kitchen filled with fancy appliances, a few computers and I cook because I like cooking.

    face it. your little dream of how we're all worse off nowdays is nothing more than a delusion.
    We're vastly better off than in my parents day, we're vastly wealthier and we can live a comfortable lifestyle working far less hours than they ever did.
    The economy is not a zero sum game.
    People who are sure they absolutely need that massive HD TV that will fill one wall of their living room, a house with 10 rooms per person actually living in it and a boat to be happy work far longer and harder than people in their parents day.
    People who have modest desires can get by far more easily.

    On average people do work more hours now, they also orders of magnitude more wealthy.

  • by mcgrew (92797) * on Sunday October 10, 2010 @10:58AM (#33852306) Homepage Journal

    I don't go to bars to drink, I go to bars to socialize and chase women -- it gets lonely living by yourself. But if you're in a bar, you drink.

    Happily, you can hardly throw a beer bottle in this town without hitting a tavern, so driving to a tavern here is insane. Well, driving home from a tavern -- lots of Saturday mornings I walk to the bar to retrieve my car.

Lo! Men have become the tool of their tools. -- Henry David Thoreau