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Google Transportation Technology

Google Cars Drive Themselves, In Traffic 293

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the invite-me-to-ted-darn-it dept.
An anonymous reader noted that "At the TED 2011 conference this week, Google has been giving extremely rare demos of its self-driving cars. TED attendees have even been allowed to travel inside them, on a closed course. The car is a project of Google, which has been working in secret but in plain view 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."
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Google Cars Drive Themselves, In Traffic

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  • Can't wait ... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by antdude (79039) on Friday March 04, 2011 @11:57PM (#35386620) Homepage Journal

    I can't drive due to my disabilities. This would be useful. Of course, it has to be bug free (OK almost). It probably won't be ready until after I am dead though. I always wanted KITT type of car! :(

    • by Gorimek (61128)

      It only has to be better than the average driver.

      At least from a rational standpoint. From a legal standpoint it probably has to be 100 times better and wait 10 years "just in case".

      • by AmiMoJo (196126)

        The trick will be to introduce the anti-collision technology as a driver aid. That way it can be proven and become normal and thus pave the way to fully automatic cars.

      • by Velex (120469)

        Sadly true. For some reason people will continue to want faulty human drivers on the road who kill tens of thousands of innocents every year.

        I guess it must be because when a computer error results in a death, who do you blame? When a human error results in a death you can blame, cuss, guilt-trip, defame, and more. It's a much more satisfying experience when you have someone to blame.

    • by magarity (164372)

      I can't drive due to my disabilities. This would be useful. Of course, it has to be bug free (OK almost). It probably won't be ready until after I am dead though. I always wanted KITT type of car! :(

      Keep in mind the guy with the robotic arms whose car swerved off the road and crashed for no apparent reason when they offer to give out these cars to the handicapped.

      • by trawg (308495)

        People with regular arms do that all the time - for no apparent reason, or for reasons that are truly terrible - they're drunk, they're speeding dangerously, they're too old to drive safely, they're exhausted, they're just plain old terrible drivers. At least with GoogleDrive, you know they'll have logs, will generally be able to look at what caused an accident, and then code around it for next time!

        I look forward to robot drivers not just because I find driving a painful chore, but also because I don't lik

    • Not only are there significant technological hurdles, of course, since you have to make your self-driving car capable of coping with all the regular cars and pedestrians and so on, but there are legal hurdles. The first time your car gets in a major accident, you are getting sued big time and it'll be humans, not car computers, on the jury. Say your car hits and kills a pedestrian because there was simply no way to avoid it at all. Their family will sue you for tons.

      As such you have to be able to prove, bey

      • by Mr. Freeman (933986) on Saturday March 05, 2011 @07:30AM (#35388062)
        Well, the good news is that you'll probably have all the telemetry data from the sensors, including the visible spectrum imaging system. This should give you enough evidence to prove that the car did the best possible thing... or to prove that it failed and that it's the fault of the company that sold you the car.* Once this happens once or twice every manufacturer will be required to provide a system that can take the sensor data and generate a 3d simulation of the situation for use in court. Hopefully that will help stop nonsense lawsuits.

        *(Not that I agree with holding the manufacturer liable for a pedestrian jumping out in front of a car. I just think it's better that the family frivolously sue a car company with plenty of lawyers than an average citizen with no money for extended legal shenanigans.)
  • 2nd order effects (Score:4, Interesting)

    by hajus (990255) on Friday March 04, 2011 @11:57PM (#35386622)

    The 2nd order effects from this are going to be interesting. If you only have robot drivers (and you will, cause with lower accident rates, you'll have lower insurance rates if you always let the computer drive), you won't need visible signs or traffic lights. How would this affect pedestrian crossings? Would pedestrians feel irrationally unsafe crossing a road with robot drivers on it? Will we remove speed limits as computer reaction and cognitive ability gets faster?

    • by Jeremi (14640)

      If you only have robot drivers (and you will, cause with lower accident rates, you'll have lower insurance rates if you always let the computer drive), you won't need visible signs or traffic lights.

      Until humans driving cars is actually made illegal, there will always be some cars still driven by humans (if only because some people like doing the driving themselves, or want to use a "classic" car that doesn't support auto-drive, or -- most likely -- don't trust a computer to drive them safely). And as lon

      • Pedestrian crossings aren't EVER going to disappear. Doesn't matter if 100% of cars are automated, it's going to cause hell if someone tries to jump in front of a stream of cars barreling down an interstate at 50-100 MPH.
    • Would pedestrians feel irrationally unsafe crossing a road with robot drivers on it?

      Maybe, but I don't think it'd last for long. Do you feel irrationally unsafe whenever you're walking past an automatic door? I mean, it could close right on you if it malfunctions. And don't even get me started on what could happen if it's an elevator door!

    • by Sarten-X (1102295)

      I'd assume there will always be visible signs. It doesn't make much sense to equip every car with automated systems, because each one would likely require custom programming. Also, in the event of a computer malfunction, you don't want the human backup drivers, who are already not used to driving, trying to work without direction.

      Speed limits are an interesting question. Assuming that cars actually did reach that point, I'd expect to see speed limits become raised or lowered to adjust traffic rates as neede

    • Re:2nd order effects (Score:5, Interesting)

      by NicknamesAreStupid (1040118) on Saturday March 05, 2011 @03:03AM (#35387252)
      Cabbies, bus drivers, truckers -- all expensive and unnecessary with automated autos (is that redundant or what?). Automated taxis would replace mass transit at a fraction of the cost, and it would become pointless for many people to even own a car when they could summons one at a small charge. The social and business effects would actually be 1st order. The blowback will be F5.
  • In Soviet Russia, car drive you.
  • well... an average human driver could take the wheel.
    • by SuperQ (431) *

      Absolutely true. Every time I watch traffic from my commuter bus on the highway I feel very very glad I'm not out there driving.

      It gets worse when I'm out cycling. I was cycling on a nice quiet park road in SF (Washington+Arguello Blvd) the other weekend and some tourists were driving 15mph swerving in and out of the shoulder/bike lane. I ended up picking a safe time to pull around and pass them on the left since I wasn't interested in waiting for them to do something stupid like slam on the brakes.

  • I hate to give credence to hollywood scripts like IRobot but there could be potential downfalls to having a pure AI computer controlling a potentially fatal machine on public streets. Suppose for whatever reason, an accident occurs in which a computer going 70 mph must choose between hitting a 7-year old girl or killing the driver. The human driver might sacrifice himself at all costs. A purely logical computer might not.

    All in all it would probably be better than normal drivers out there but food for
    • by Raptoer (984438)

      You're giving the computer too much credit. The choice that the computer makes is dependent on how it was programmed. No computer at the application level is purely logical.
      An AI isn't going to be driving your car, an automated driving program is. The driving program won't even consider your worth compared to the 7-year old. It's likely that it will be programmed to chose paths which will cause the least damage while prioritizing some types of damage.

      Having an AI driving your car is silly, I don't want my c

      • by Jeremi (14640)

        I don't want my car to have an existential crisis while on the freeway.

        Here I am, brain the size of a planet, and they ask me to drive to the AM/PM to pick up beer. Call that job satisfaction? 'Cause I don't.

  • Google isn't the first to do this, not by a long shot. Last year, there was a story about an autonomous car driving from Italy to China [ieee.org]. There were humans on board to take over in the event of a problem, of course. I'm sure there are other examples as well.

    It is cool tech, but I think it'll be a long time before it's mature, and an even longer time before it gains acceptance. People want to be in control of their lives, even if they're better off relinquishing control. Whether it's long road trips due

    • by xnpu (963139)

      Just a matter of time really. My parents will think it's ridiculous, I'll think it's "scary" for the reasons you mentioned, but my kids (or their kids if this needs a lot more time) will know no better.

    • People want to be in control of their lives, even if they're better off relinquishing control.

      That's true only until the first iCar is released.

    • Not many people will be willing to trust a computer to drive them, even if it's safer.

      Actually, users won't have to. People think that robocars = no human drivers, but I don't think this is really true. All they need to do is have the same algorithms, but give the human drivers say 1 foot of play back and forth in the lane and say 2 seconds ahead and behind. Then people will still feel like they're in control, driving will still be fun for those of us who enjoy it, and those of us who would get sick to our stomachs in a robocar would feel better.

      Under normal driving conditions, a human

      • by Cederic (9623)

        Under normal driving conditions, a human is not really better than a robot. It's the extreme conditions, where the driver is not paying attention to the road, or a sudden even, or ice and snow or a mechanical problem that gets you.

        It's normal conditions, such as rain, boring roadworks and heavy traffic that a robot will be infinitely better than a distracted, incompetent or stupid driver.

        It's extreme conditions where the human has infinitely better capacity to understand what's happening and choose the least bad outcome where the robot would be fucked.

        I know I can put my car onto snow at speed, go into a semi-controlled slide and come out the other side in full control pointing the right way. A robot can't (yet) plan ahead like that,

    • While I understand the sentiment, you have to make it worth my while before I'll relinquish control.

      Step 1: The Automated Vehicle Lane on the Freeway.
      Take out those annoying carpool lanes and replace them with "Automated Vehicle Lanes." Since the vehicles are automated, they can travel at a faster rate. So I get to work in 20 minutes instead of 40 minutes. I'd sign up for that.
      Step 2: DUIs
      So I can go out drinking, stagger to my car, climb in and slur "Home, James!" and I don't have to worry about a DUI

  • by bdwoolman (561635) on Saturday March 05, 2011 @02:24AM (#35387126) Homepage

    Thirty thousand people dead each year in US car accidents. That's over half a million dead each generation. Robots could not do worse. And I think they could do a lot better. Especially if the cars talk to each other.

    In fifty years people may well look back upon our manual driving culture as next to insane. That said. I love to drive. But really. It's hell out there

  • Really, I can't wait for the first DIY experimenters to hit the highways in their homemade robocars. Slogan: DIY Robocars - making safety dangerous - your car, your code, our road.
  • Access to all the worlds information, self-driving cars.. just imagine if it were to become self-aware.
  • quite a lot of cars seem to be drive without the engagement of a human brain. Perhaps Google is on to something here?
  • by Animats (122034) on Saturday March 05, 2011 @04:24AM (#35387518) Homepage

    This is just funded by Google. It's the group at Stanford which did the DARPA Urban Challenge that's doing the work. It's essentially the same technology. They're getting very good at this.

    The thing on top of the car is a rotating cone of LIDAR scanners. The original version of that was developed by Team DAD for the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge. The prototype, which was a much bigger wheel of scanners, fell off the vehicle. But they then built a more compact production version, the Velodyne scanner, with 64 lasers. It costs about $100K per unit, but automatic driving became much better once that came out. Most of the teams in the DARPA Urban Challenge used that.

    Personally, I think the rotating machinery approach is too expensive for production, and that the Advanced Scientific Concepts flash LIDAR has more promise as a production product. The ASC system requires some exotic custom imaging ICs, with a time-of-flight timer behind each pixel. That's the kind of thing that's incredibly expensive when you make 10 of them, and cheap when you make 10 million.

    • by AmiMoJo (196126)

      Standard cars should get it too. On the old Daytona USA racing game you had a little on-screen "radar" that showed your car in the middle and the position of other cars to the side and behind it. It made up for the lack of a rear view mirror and the ability to look out the side windows.

      Having something similar projected on the windscreen would be an amazing driving aid, especially on motorways where idiots seem to change lane without checking their blind spot as a matter of course.

  • I think this is pretty cool and all, but in my eyes, JR's talk at TED was the real noisemaker. Watch it if you haven't.
  • While I really like this development, there's one thing I'd like to see resolved: eye contact with the driver. When passing in front of a car I always try to make eye contact with the driver. For me this is the best way judge if the driver has spotted me and if I can cross safely. A robot driver should have some really simple visual way of saying: Hey, I've spotted you and I will break for you.

Man must shape his tools lest they shape him. -- Arthur R. Miller

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