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Google Transportation Robotics Hardware

Blind Man Test Drives Google's Autonomous Car 273

Posted by Soulskill
from the sight-to-site-transport dept.
Velcroman1 writes "'This is some of the best driving I've ever done,' Steve Mahan said the other day. Mahan was behind the wheel of a Toyota Prius tooling the small California town of Morgan Hill in late January, a routine trip to pick up the dry cleaning and drop by the Taco Bell drive-in for a snack. He also happens to be 95 percent blind. Mahan, head of the Santa Clara Valley Blind Center, 'drove' along a specially programmed route thanks to Google's autonomous driving technology. Google announced the self-driving car project in 2010. It relies upon laser range finders, radar sensors, and video cameras to navigate the road ahead, in order to make driving safer, more enjoyable and more efficient — and clearly more accessible. In a Wednesday afternoon post on Google+, the company noted that it has hundreds of thousands of miles of testing under its belt, letting the company feel confident enough in the system to put Mahan behind the wheel."
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Blind Man Test Drives Google's Autonomous Car

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  • by Jeremiah Cornelius (137) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @06:56AM (#39507097) Homepage Journal

    Boy, if that's not one of the most appropriate metaphors for our time...

    Soon, they'll just jack us into our pods, and grow us for the power we generate. :-)

  • In the UK you are not allowed to drive unless your eye-sight meets a minimum standard [direct.gov.uk]. Is it legal for a 95% blind man to drive in the USA?
    • by Alioth (221270)

      However, in the UK, eyes are no longer tested after you do your driving test. So in reality there are many drivers on the roads with substandard vision who have not been tested in decades (I got rear-ended on my bike by one on a straight road, in good visibility, while wearing bright clothing. It was an elderly gentleman who had no corrective lenses - he just ploughed into the back of me). At least when I was in Texas you got an eye test for driving every 4 years, not a "squint at this numberplate" eye test

      • by Chrisq (894406)

        However, in the UK, eyes are no longer tested after you do your driving test. So in reality there are many drivers on the roads with substandard vision who have not been tested in decades (I got rear-ended on my bike by one on a straight road, in good visibility, while wearing bright clothing. It was an elderly gentleman who had no corrective lenses - he just ploughed into the back of me). At least when I was in Texas you got an eye test for driving every 4 years, not a "squint at this numberplate" eye test, but one using an optician's machine.

        True up to the age of 70, after which it is part of the medical carried out every three years. In theory drivers are responsible for getting their eyes tested and reporting themselves to the DVLA if they cannot see well enough to meet the requirements. In practice many people who think that their site is not good enough and cannot be corrected avoid being tested so that they can continue driving. I even knew someone who drove a 3-wheeler car as he had only passed a mtorcycle test before his eyesight deterio

      • Too true (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @07:18AM (#39507245)
        Many years ago, in the UK, my wife volunteered to do the school crossing patrol. She was nearly killed (along with several kids) when a man drove straight across the crossing without slowing down. But she got the number and called the police.

        Later she was called to the police station to make a statement. The police had arrested the driver. He said he had not seen the crossing because there was thick fog (mildly overcast). Then they discovered that he was registered partially sighted. He had cataracts.

        He was convicted of:

        • Careless driving
        • Driving while unfit
        • Driving while uninsured (because his insurance was invalid from the moment he lied on the form).

        His comment to my wife at the police station? "You've spoiled my day". He simply did not realise how serious his offense was.

        So I applaud what Google is doing, because I've worked with computers for nearly 35 years, and human beings for over 40, and if the system is designed I would trust the computer over the human being any day of the week, and double on Sundays (drunks with hangovers).

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The law currently states that it's illegal to drive when legally blind, which is defined as a visual acuity of 20/200 or less using best correction possible. If your vision is better than 20/200 but still bad, you're assessed on a per-case basis. This suggests that anyone with visual acuity better than 20/200 may be allowed to drive using this technology (or future derivitives of) if it is considered to be a corrective device. How they would measure such improvement is unknown, since visual acuity tests cer

      • by jamesh (87723)

        This is speculatory, of course, since there will have to be a review of driving law if this kind of thing becomes commonplace.

        Interesting times ahead. For all my reservations, there will eventually come a time when a self drive car is better under all driving situations than the average road user, and the generation after that actually "driving" a car will be "retro" and a steering wheel will be something kids ask about when they see one in a movie.

        Alternatively, by then kids will be plugged into their computers at birth and never move from their beds...

    • Re:Is this legal? (Score:5, Informative)

      by JasterBobaMereel (1102861) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @07:29AM (#39507305)

      He had a policeman sitting next to him ...

      "Mahan has no driver's license, of course -- just one of the hurdles that had to be crossed: Google enlisted the aid of Sergeant Troy Hoefling with the Morgan Hill Police Department to accompany the drive."

    • I'm not sure what the exact cutoff is(probably varies by state); but they do do some eye testing during the licensing process and you can lose your license for doing sufficiently dreadfully on the test. There are also certain conditions, it is my understanding, that can trigger a compulsory re-test.

      Trouble is, the licensing tests are quite infrequent and people can go rather rapidly downhill between them(and, in much of the country, once you are too old to drive, you might as well go to the nursing home
  • Blind Spot (Score:5, Funny)

    by coinreturn (617535) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @07:19AM (#39507255)

    "'This is some of the best driving I've ever done,' Steve Mahan said the other day.

    I guess he usually uses those pavement reflector thingies to drive by braille.

    • by c0lo (1497653)

      "'This is some of the best driving I've ever done,' Steve Mahan said the other day.

      I guess he usually uses those pavement reflector thingies to drive by braille.

      Joking aside (... or not quite...), after staring (with your remaining eye) too much on those laser finders of the incoming traffic, you will appreciate this braille pavement yourself.

      • You do know that the rangefinders use rapidly moving lasers which are far less bright than, say, sun light reflecting off a piece of chrome? Even if you were somehow able to stare into one for a long time, it wouldn't be bright enough to do anything to you.

        My real worry is how well the car reacts to other cars' laser rangefinders. Do the lasers cause interference?

        • by c0lo (1497653)

          Joking aside (... or not quite...), after staring (with your remaining eye)

          You do know that the rangefinders use rapidly moving lasers which are far less bright than,

          So...whoosh!

          ---

          Do the lasers cause interference?

          Just kidding (... or maybe not?): yes, they do [scienceblogs.com]. The result... the cars will observe a hologram [wikipedia.org], possibly detecting the objects from around the corners [gizmodo.com.au].

  • human factor (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jamesh (87723) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @07:21AM (#39507261)

    Driving home tonight there was a young kid playing quite near the road, so I dropped my speed in anticipation of him doing something stupid. He didn't, but I did wonder about the google car making those sorts of calls. I'm sure these google guys are pretty clever and have thought of all these things... are there any video's of self drive cars reacting to these sort of situations?

    Like that feeling you get when you see someone else on or near the road and you aren't completely sure that they have seen you and you react by lowering your speed to avoid a potential collision. It's got me out of trouble a few times. If there was an accident you probably wouldn't be at fault, but you've gone one better and seen the accident coming and avoided it.

    I'd want to see lots of video evidence of a self drive car doing this sort of thing before I'd be happy sharing the road with one.

    • by JustOK (667959)

      what if the the video camera and the car were in cahoots?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I'm inclined to favor greatly improved reaction time and unerring robotic focus over your spidey sense.

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @07:49AM (#39507477) Journal
      The google car not only knows to slow down, it displays a tasteful unobtrusive contextual advertisement, based on the type of play being conducted, to the kid as it drives past...
    • Slowing down (Score:5, Informative)

      by DrYak (748999) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @08:48AM (#39507925) Homepage

      As explained by other, the car *does* slow down, and even eventually halt when exposed to situation it thinks it can't handle.

      Also, the car has much lower reaction times. So in some situations, it doen't really need to slow down, it will react immediatly if needed, whereas a human driver will need to slow down to make room for slower refelexes.
      (The distance between autonomous vs human-driven cars on the motorway, for example).

    • Re:human factor (Score:5, Interesting)

      by RivenAleem (1590553) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @10:24AM (#39509101)

      Well, I hope they are thinking more long term, where all cars on the road are automatically driven, and in constant communication with eachother. Then you only have to worry about the pavement, which can be partially solved by erecting foot-high barriers.

      What I think would be the biggest issue is cyclists griefing the cars by passing in front of them or riding up really close to their side, as the car will be programmed to avoid or stop when ANYTHING on the road could be at risk, or put them at risk.

      I guess cars will have to be fitted with deterrents (tranq dart guns) to deal with griefers.

      The vast majority of collisions between cars and people happen in carparks and people reversing out of their driveways.

      When you think about it, once everywhere has selfdriving cars (once it is governmentally mandated that all cars on the road must be self drive) then you do away with the traffic corps, signalling at junctions, speeding cameras and all the cost that goes along with maintaining all that and set up proper cycle routes and barriers to separate traffic from pedestrians.

      Courts no longer have to deal with DUIs or speeding tickets, again reducing the cost to the government, and it stops people getting killed, which is a net tax gain, I think...

      No, once self driving takes off properly, you are then able to make a whole lot of other changes that will prevent the situations that you predict.

      Next time you are 20 cars back at a traffic light junction, count the length of time from when the light turns green to when you get to move off. Is it possible that you don't even get to get through the junction if you are that far back? Now imagine if all 20 cars are computer driven. Light turns green, Every Car Moves Together. Journeys are greatly reduced, there are much much fewer cars on the road at the same time because everyone got to where they were going already. Areas of road that are completely walled off from outside so no cyclist or pedestrian can interfere has convoys of cars 10cm apart doing 150 kph. Nobody ever is stopped because cross roads are gone, replaced with roundabouts where every car knows in advance where all the other cars are going to be and can adjust the speed so they hit the junction just at the right time, when no other car is in their path.

      That's what self driving cars means. And if you think that we should throw that away because your intuition is better than engineering a system that make such accidents impossible, then I accuse you of being very narrow minded.

    • Re:human factor (Score:5, Informative)

      by ematic (217513) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @11:35AM (#39510481)

      I am currently enrolled in Sebastian Thrun's robot car course CS373. He's the Stanford professor and Google Fellow that headed the group that WON the DARPA Grand Challenge. My understanding, from taking this course, is that their self-driving car is not only able to navavigate to a goal-destination in unfamiliar territory (as in the Grand Challenge, which took place in a desert), but the car is able to identify urban obstacles: crosswalks, stop signs, traffic lights, and can also predict the motion of potential obstacles around it (i.e. cars and pedestrians). The robot car uses controllers with statistical models, so it is able to identify the probability of an obstacle entering the trajectory of the vehicle and respond accordingly -- slowing down like you would in that situation.

      Watch some videos of the Stanford car.

      Here's the class at Udacity if you're interested.
      http://www.udacity.com/overview/Course/cs373

    • by Beerdood (1451859) on Thursday March 29, 2012 @05:52PM (#39516009)
      Speaking of reacting to situations, what if a nearby driver cuts you off or makes a bonehead move that almost results in an accident with your vehicle? Can we expect some sort of autonomous honking combined with some robotic middle finger deployment? It would be nice if I didn't have to express my own road rage - that would look a little silly coming from the passenger or back seat.
  • The drive-up ATM's at Citibank branches in the NY area have had Braille labels on all the buttons for years. Seemed kind of silly up until now, you certainly would not want a blind person standing in the driveway using the ATM, and I certainly hope a person requiring Braille labels on an ATM would not be behind the wheel of a car. Not knowing Braille myself, I always assumed the labels said "Get out of the way!!! You're standing in a driveway!!!".

    But now I realize that Citibank was preparing for the eventual release of the autonomous car.

    • by audacity242 (324061) <`audacity242' `at' `yahoo.com'> on Thursday March 29, 2012 @09:50AM (#39508667) Homepage

      Drive-up ATMs have braille for two reasons.

      1. It's cheaper and more efficient to make all your ATMs the same, so walk-up and drive-through models are often the same.

      2. Blind people need to have access to cash, too, and it's not uncommon for them to be driven to an ATM by a sighted driver. Usually they sit in the rear driver's side seat and the driver just pulls a little more forward than normal so the blind person can access the ATM.

      • by John3 (85454)

        Very true. I was being kind of snarky so I appreciate you taking the high ground and explaining the likely reasons for Braille on drive-thru ATM's.

  • ...Steve Mahan != Steve Mann.

    (Note to Google: a similar test with Steve Mann has the potential to be really, really interesting.)

For every bloke who makes his mark, there's half a dozen waiting to rub it out. -- Andy Capp

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