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Transportation AI Google

Google: Our Robot Cars Are Better Drivers Than You 722

Posted by Soulskill
from the then-would-you-mind-taking-the-kids-to-school-every-day dept.
An anonymous reader writes "At a robotics conference in Santa Clara, California, the head of Google's autonomous car project presented results of a study showing that the company's autonomous cars are already safer than human drivers — including trained professionals. 'We're spending less time in near-collision states,' he said. 'In addition to painting a rosy picture of his vehicles' autonomous capabilities, Urmson showed a new dashboard display that his group has developed to help people understand what an autonomous car is doing and when they might want to take over.' This follows another (non-Google) study earlier this week that found the adoption of autonomous cars could save thousands of lives and billions of dollars each year. Urmson also pointed out that determining liability for an accident is much easier using the data collected by the autonomous cars. At one point, a test car was read-ended, and the data showed it smoothly braking to a stop before being struck. 'We don't have to rely on eyewitnesses that can't be trusted as to what happened — we actually have the data. The guy around us wasn't paying enough attention. The data will set you free.'"
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Google: Our Robot Cars Are Better Drivers Than You

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  • Re:Autopilots (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sique (173459) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @09:54AM (#45244617) Homepage
    If you had read TFA, you would have noticed that the robot car operates more safely than humans in the highway infrastructure that is in place today. We don't need to redesign today's infrastructure, if we switch over to autonomous cars.
  • by mbone (558574) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @10:01AM (#45244671)

    Get it into production, allow for Moore's law, and these could be competitively priced in a very few years.

  • Good, good ... (Score:4, Informative)

    by LordKaT (619540) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @10:19AM (#45244801) Homepage Journal

    Now go and take this out into New York City on 5th avenue at 5pm ET rush hour during the work week.

    No, seriously, I want to see how well this car performs in a city where the posted 40mph speed limit oin the Staten Island Expressway is ignored by the vast majority of cops and motorists, the normal speed is about 70mph or so, and people will rear end you out of spite if you go too slow for them.

    Then get me the data on how much less it costs to run this car.

  • Re:Show time (Score:5, Informative)

    by hawguy (1600213) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @10:59AM (#45245079)

    call me when your injured and they want one of these to drive you to the hospital. then tell me how you think of these "autonomous" cars. i'm alive because someone put me in their car as kid and drove me to the hospital as a kid doing 80 the entire drive. believe me these things are going to kill people and the makers are going to be all "it's a flawless system"

    Of course, a parent rushing a child to the hospital is not in the best frame of mind for driving, and is more likely to get into an accident, like this: []

    So maybe the 2 minutes saved by driving 15 miles to the hospital at 80mph instead of 65 mph isn't worth the risk to others on the road. And definitely the 6 minutes saved by driving 80mph instead of 45mph isn't worth the risk to other drivers from driving nearly twice the speed limit on that 45 mph road. There's a reason why emergency vehicles have those bright flashing lights and sirens - and even emergency vehicles get into accidents while rushing to and emergency.

    In most cases, you're going to be better off calling an Advanced Life Support ambulance so the paramedics can evaluate and stabilize you on the way to the hospital, but if you choose to drive there yourself, you're likely going to be safer in a self-driving car that's not going to take unwise risks.

  • Re:Show time (Score:5, Informative)

    by rjh (40933) <> on Saturday October 26, 2013 @12:00PM (#45245537)

    Detroit is infamously bad, yeah. 58 minutes is the *official* Detroit response time. A few years ago I had to call the ambulance in Detroit for a neighbor who was having a stroke. We never found out what the response time was. We called the ER, who told us to bring her down ourselves. By the time we took her to the ER, sat with her through her diagnosis and admission and returned home, the ambulance *still* hadn't arrived. So I called 911 and canceled the ambulance call.

  • Re:Show time (Score:5, Informative)

    by rjh (40933) <> on Saturday October 26, 2013 @12:34PM (#45245805)

    Mostly Detroit having been in a state of slow-motion collapse for 30+ years. Even the bankruptcy is caused by that -- it's not as if it suddenly came out of the blue.

    30 years ago Detroit had 1.8 million people. Today it has about 700,000. A lot of businesses have also left, too. The city has spent 30 years acting as if nothing has really changed while the entire tax base has fled. Now the city is in a financial emergency of unthinkable proportions. Something like two-thirds of the ambulances have over 200,000 miles (320,000km) on them; there are 40% fewer police patrolling the streets than there were a decade ago; to save money, the city has shut off streetlights in something like half the city.

    To make matters worse, half the city is functionally illiterate and thus can't find work in a modern economy. Unemployment in Detroit hovers around 50%.

    Detroit's problems are the result of the city itself collapsing. The bankruptcy is just a symptom of the much bigger problems. Even if the federal government were to cut a $20 billion check to bail Detroit out of bankruptcy, these deeper problems would still exist.

  • Re:Show time (Score:2, Informative)

    by realityimpaired (1668397) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @12:46PM (#45245879)

    Hmm my father once had a heart attack, he lived a 3 minute drive from the hospital. The options were to call emergency units possibly longer than that 3 minute drive or to load him in the car and drive like hell the few blocks to the hospital. Of note my brother did call 911, of note after I arrived after 5 minutes, the ambulance still hadn't arrived so I chose to drive him the short distance.

    Bad idea... absolutely disgusting that it took that long for the ambulance to arrive, but you're treated with lower priority for triage because you were able to get to the hospital under your own power. Unless it's a small/quiet hospital where there's usually no wait to begin with (they do exist, usually in rural areas), you're better off waiting the 10 minutes for an ambulance and riding with them.

    That, of course, depends on rural versus urban. I've been to urban hospitals where you can expect to wait 8 hours when you present with respiratory distress/asthma, and I've been to hospitals in rural areas where you can expect to be seen for a broken foot within 15 minutes of hobbling in the front door. If you're in the latter situation you're probably fine self-presenting, but if it's the former, you absolutely should wait for the ambulance. That being said, the city I live in has 9 minutes or less for 90% of calls response time for EMT in the urban area, and I've seen them arrive in under 5 minutes in the downtown core, and there's people in thread saying that their cities can be over an hour *average* (let alone 90% rate). I really don't understand how a for-profit system like the US can have response times that pathetically slow (I'm in Ottawa, Canada): the patient can't pay the bill if he dies, and they're more likely to get sued, to boot. And Americans complain that *our* health care system is slow/inefficient?

  • Re:At what speed? (Score:4, Informative)

    by TheLink (130905) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @01:51PM (#45246305) Journal

    If you lane change rapidly so that you can go fast it may cause other drivers to brake suddenly. That can create a "traffic wave jam" that persists till the rush hour is over or till the "traffic wave" moves to a light/empty traffic are before then. []

    That said you don't have to speed to cause other drivers to brake suddenly.

  • by Animats (122034) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @01:55PM (#45246339) Homepage

    Having worked on self-driving cars (2005 Grand Challenge), a few points:

    The comment about minimizing "near-collision states" is significant. A near-collision state is one where a reasonable variance of the behavior of another vehicle could cause a collision. It's about predicting other-vehicle behavior. That's an important area to study. Aviation people put a lot of effort into minimizing near-misses, and it pays off.

    Incidentally, Tesla's announcement that they're starting work on an "autopilot" is them playing catch-up. Audi, BMW, Cadillac, and Ford are already demoing automatic driving systems. It looks like Cadillac will be the first to ship hands-off highway driving, in 2015. All these early systems are highway driving only, although Cadillac includes stop-and-go driving in traffic jams. That's likely to be a very popular feature.

    On the sensor side, more progress is needed, and it's coming. That rotating LIDAR contraption on top of Google's self-driving cars is from Velodyne. [] It's 64 LIDAR units on a spinning turntable. That's a research device, not a production one. There are better ways to do LIDAR [], but the cost needs to come down. The approaches used in the Kinect and the XBox One will not work outdoors in bright sunlight. Outdoor LIDAR systems work fine, but they're pulsed, not continuous. For a nanosecond, at one frequency (color) they far outshine the sun. But the total energy per pulse is low, so they're eye-safe. Currently, such devices are very expensive, but that's not for any good reason. It's because some exotic ICs have to be made in tiny quantities.

    Radars are getting better, too. A decade ago, in the Grand Challenge, we had to use Eaton VORAD radars, which operate at 24GHz. These could reliably range cars, trucks, and larger bicycles, but not people at long range, or signposts. (Such radars return range, azimuth, and range rate; this isn't a speed gun. I used to have one of these looking out my window at at an intersection, with a display plotting the traffic.) Today's automotive radars are running at 77GHz, with plans to move to 79GHz. There's an effort to standardize on 79GHz internationally. Tripling the frequency, plus applying more compute power to the processing, means that most objects a car might hit are detectable. These radars are getting cheap and small, so a car will have enough of them to provide full-circle data. Long range is needed mostly in front; on the side and in back, much lower power can be used.

    A key issue is a high viewpoint. This isn't just about obstacle detection. You also need to profile the road. This was a big deal for the off-road DARPA Grand Challenge, but even on paved roads you need to be able to detect junk on the pavement and potholes. Google has their sensor on top of the roof. This will probably be unacceptable in a production car. I'd go for flash LIDARs at the top corners of the front windows. One possibility is a narrow strip just above the windshield, to contain all the sensors. This is one way to combine vehicle aesthetics and field of view.

    Cameras are useful, but computer vision is still kind of dumb. Distance from stereo only works at short ranges, and range rate info from cameras is poor. Digital cameras are so cheap now, so it's tempting to think they can do the whole job. Not yet. Computer vision isn't good enough. Tesla is probably putting too much hope into camera processing. You need cameras to recognize signs, traffic lights, and such. Also, you need multiple sensors because not all objects are visible on all sensors. Radars can't see insulators. Cameras can't see objects with little contrast against the background. LIDARs can't see some materials, such as the charcoal fabric used on many office chairs. Sensor fusion is essential.

    Enough for now. This looks quite do-able.

"Mr. Watson, come here, I want you." -- Alexander Graham Bell