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Google: Our Robot Cars Are Better Drivers Than You 722

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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  • Show time (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mjwalshe ( 1680392 ) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @10:50AM (#45244581)
    Have the Google robot take on the Stig round the top gear test track.
    • by HxBro ( 98275 ) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @11:04AM (#45244681)

      Some say, "he is actually the robot driving the autonomous cars... All at the same time"

    • They had a robot car from Audi (I think?) a couple of years ago doing a lap around the track... it did pretty well, I recall.

  • by Big Smirk ( 692056 ) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @10:52AM (#45244599)

    Autonomous cars will more than likely drive at exactly the speed limit. So on that stretch of highway you were used to doing 65mph in a 55 zone... well that slow car (hopefully in the right lane) will be the Google one.

    I guess that's when the human takes over?

    • Re:At what speed? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by mbone ( 558574 ) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @11:17AM (#45244781)

      I can see this as having a raft of unanticipated consequences.

      Suppose that driverless cars never broke the speed limit & other traffic laws, except in an emergency. Then, revenue from traffic tickets would disappear. Now, many police departments rely on those revenues. So, will they shrink, or find some other source of revenue? (I suspect the latter, and worry what that might be.) And, both the safety and the revenue desire to keep speed limits low will largely disappear, so many speed limits are likely to rise. Likewise, low speed limits are also used to keep people out of residential areas, and that could be accomplished by setting navigation preferences in the autodriver's GPS system, so those could rise too.

      And, of course, if you want to have a mistress, she had better be within walking distance, or accessible by public transportation, lest Google start sending your wife ads for Private Investigators and Divorce Attorneys ...

      • Never underestimate the creativity of the government when it comes to taxes.

      • Re:At what speed? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by drkim ( 1559875 ) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @03:42PM (#45246681)

        revenue from traffic tickets would disappear. Now, many police departments rely on those revenues. So, will they shrink, or find some other source of revenue?

        Conversely, city costs would shrink. There is a good deal of tax and ticket revenue money that goes toward special police traffic units, driver instruction, court costs, emergency services for accidents, highway signage, etc. that would decrease dramatically.

        It's possible that auto-drive cars could actually save the city costs.

    • Maybe if everyone's cars drive at exactly the speed limit, then people will realize how ridiculous some of them are and get them changed.

      • Re:At what speed? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @11:38AM (#45244953) Journal
        I think we'll see some high-speed lanes (like diamond lanes) for robo-drivers only. They can do 160km/h safely, bumper to bumper. When there are enough robo-cars, the main reason to impose a speed limit at all is noise or environmental concerns
    • Autonomous cars will more than likely drive at exactly the speed limit.

      Most cars already have an automated system to control speed. It is called "cruise control". It does not cause cars to drive exactly the speed limit. Instead, it does what a human tells it to do, including exceeding the limit.

  • by jeffb (2.718) ( 1189693 ) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @10:53AM (#45244603)

    We'll soon reach a point where autonomous vehicles are orders of magnitude less likely than human-driven vehicles to have an accident. It won't matter, though; people would rather face a daily one-in-a-million chance of dying due to their own mistake than a daily one-in-a-billion chance of dying due to a machine failure.

    Autonomous vehicles will still take over in the end. It's just that this particular rational motive to make it happen won't be contributing very much. So, it'll take longer than it should, and more people will die.

    • by rogueippacket ( 1977626 ) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @11:09AM (#45244707)
      Your assertion that autonomous vehicles will take over fails to take into account one of the major reasons we have such a large automotive industry - people like to drive. They like to buy new cars, repair old cars, and do stupid things in fast cars. At most, a car with auto-pilot would be a convenience feature for the daily commute, but so long as people get an adrenaline rush when they put the pedal to the floor, this will not change.
      • by qbzzt ( 11136 )

        It won't go away, but it might end up being like riding. It used to be a common skill, necessary for daily life in many cases. Now it is an expensive hobby, and an extremely rare skill. When my son is 16, I'd much rather he get into a Google car that drives for him than drive. By the time he is an adult and able to buy a car for himself, that pattern will be set and he'll probably be looking for thrills elsewhere.

        • I agree. I love driving and enjoy my advanced footwork skills and I regret the evolution but it will proceed despite people regretting it.

      • by demonlapin ( 527802 ) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @11:30AM (#45244901) Homepage Journal
        Very few people, even those who enjoy driving, enjoy more than a tiny fraction of the driving they do. In these situations, I find that the best touchstone is asking what very, very wealthy people do. They have essentially unlimited options, and what they do is reflective of human desire not limited by constraints.

        Overwhelmingly, they choose to be driven. They choose to fly private jets. If you could afford it, you would do the same thing most of the time, because most of the time getting there is just a task, not a joy.

        It will be the same with regular people. Imagine what society looks like when there are zero deaths due to drunk driving, distracted driving, and falling asleep at the wheel. Imagine how much lower car insurance premiums are when the risk of an at fault accident is nearly zero. People will still buy cars, because they will want one customized to them, but imagine all the things that can change when a human pilot no longer has to be accommodated: cars set up so that parents and children can face each other and play games together while traveling, lay-flat seats for overnight driving. You can leave Washington after work on Friday and eat lunch in New Orleans.
      • We like to be ABLE to drive. We don't like to HAVE to drive.

        I'll be fine with limiting my driving to some self driving counties or some weekend race track options if I don't have to
        1. drive my work commute
        2. sit in traffic
        3. worry about my family getting in an accident
        4. worry about parking
        5. own a car
        6. maintain a car
        7. assume liability for a car and/or car accident
        8. destroy the environment

      • Outside of young adults with sports cars, few people like to drive. Most drivers, myself included, would love to never need to drive again. In fact, some people even suffer public transit because of their dislike of driving (or inability to drive).

        A bigger problem for autonomous vehicles may be price. When can they do it all for $1000 on a low end car?

    • by Khyber ( 864651 )

      "We'll soon reach a point where autonomous vehicles are orders of magnitude less likely than human-driven vehicles to have an accident."

      No, we will not. You're too ignorant to think of the other thousands of extraneous factors that can make things go wrong outside of both human and computer control. Like metal fatigue causing physical wear and tear on brakes, rotors, axles, etc.

      • I also think that autonomous vehicles will be much safer than human-driven vehicles. We can keep making them better based on experience while on the other hand we would keep adding new inexperienced human drivers. I'm sure that we can correct any problems that we may find with early autonomous vehicles. I doubt that we'll ever be able to correct human distraction, emotional reactions, bad judgement and general stupidity.

        Do you have any stats on the percentage of accidents caused by physical wear and tear o

  • Is it Google? Is it the consumer?

    They are right that the data will have a lot of power over you in these situations...

    • No way the consumer can control the data. If he could alter it, he could claim innocence while he is liable. So the "carputer" (it's an ugly name so somebody is going to use it eventually) will be closed source or DRM. It's great for public transport, but not for something you want to call My car.

      • It doesn't have to be closed source, or DRM, which i think is not the term you want anyway. Having some kind of non-repudiation would be nice, but still not completely required. Just take speeding tickets now. The cop catches you on radar speeding and does what? Writes it on a piece of paper. Could he be lying? Absolutely! It's still accepted as evidence.

  • by cronostitan ( 573676 ) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @10:54AM (#45244607) the future you are being looked at as being crazy if you tell other people that you are still driving yourself.
    "Seriously, how can you live with that - risking the life of others. Robot-Cars are much safer."

    • by mbone ( 558574 )

      I suspect that that will be driven (or not) by insurance; an insurance policy that allows for non-emergency personal driving might become prohibitively expensive.

      In the very early days of automobiles, it was assumed that the market would always be small because only professionals (chauffeurs) would learn how to drive, and only the wealthy could afford chauffeurs.

      • Why would emergency personnel be allowed to drive?

        By the time you get to 90% autonomous vehicles on the road it starts to make sense to just ban non-autonomous ones, because the autonomous one can then use the space much more efficiently, travelling faster, and closer together (but communicating with each other to not collide). Even an emergency vehicle in this situation will 1) get there faster if driven autonomously, 2) be safer than if not driven autonomously.

    • Love for cars and love of driving is too ingrained in our culture to permit the future you have just described. People don't simply buy the safest vehicle they can afford - they buy something that's fun/sporty/responsive/peppy/powerful/fast/etc. and safe. Safety is almost an implied feature, but it always takes second fiddle to something a driver can enjoy. At most, self-driving will be a switch for the morning commute.
  • by TubeSteak ( 669689 ) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @10:54AM (#45244613) Journal

    if {collision}
    then {arbitrary braking profile}
    else {real data}

  • by mbone ( 558574 ) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @11:00AM (#45244665)

    "The data will set you free.'"

    Or imprison you, as the case may be.

  • Perfect Synergy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by some old guy ( 674482 ) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @11:03AM (#45244677)

    Thanks to our dear friends at the NSA, law enforcement will soon have the ability to override the destination selection of autonomous cars and have any driver/passenger they wish promptly delivered to a convenient jail or donut shop.

    I love technology!

    • more so, they will know exactly where everyone is intending to go, the second they get in their car.

      that's why Google's pursuing this tech. they know what we're searching for online. now they will know where we are going in real life.
      your dash becomes the perfect targeted ad platform.

  • Liability (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Dan East ( 318230 )

    I commented about insurance and liability a couple days ago when another autonomous vehicle story was posted. This answered my question:

    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

    Well there you have it. As long as a human has the ability to take over, and it's a decision they have to make, then the liability goes from Google to the person sitting in the driver's seat. Subtle but clear as day. Google wants to transfer liability off of their system onto a person in the vehicle. I can see it in court now "Our dashboard clearly indicated to the dri

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Provocateur ( 133110 )

      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

      How come you left out the next two words "the world"?

  • "we actually have the data. The guy around us wasn't paying enough attention. The data will set you free.'"
    The old argument we collect all your data and IF you are acused of a crime we can set you free if we have ALL YOUR DATA, but with the data
    we can adjust the payment for your insurance even if you have no accident.

    This circumvents and undermines the common principles of law: You don't have to proof that you are innocent, an acuser must proof that you are guilty.

    These are many steps that will eliminate th

  • Driverless Cars Are Further Away Than You Think []: "Most daunting, however, are the remaining computer science and artificial-intelligence challenges. Automated driving will at first be limited to relatively simple situations, mainly highway driving, because the technology still can't respond to uncertainties posed by oncoming traffic, rotaries, and pedestrians. And drivers will also almost certainly be expected to assume some sort of supervisory role, requiring them to be ready to retake control as soon as t

    • Which would mean they're not yet suited for the two things I would like to have them for:
      - taking me home when I've(we've) drunk more alcohol than allowed for driving
      - dropping me off in the city and being able to find a parking spot by itself or just drive around till I call it up again.

  • by Dr. Eggman ( 932300 ) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @11:16AM (#45244771)
    That's all well and good until you're given a notice that they will be shutting down the automated driving service because they have Google Taxi now.
  • Good, good ... (Score:4, Informative)

    by LordKaT ( 619540 ) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @11:19AM (#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.

  • by almostadnsguy ( 2009458 ) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @11:22AM (#45244837)
    1. Will you still be drving drunk if you have your autonomous car drive you home after a night of drinking? 2. What if you are driving link and ass and rear-end someone, will they be able to use that data against you? What if both people are at fault? 3. Who's going to absorb the liability for these cars when something unexpected breaks? The large automotives are going to drag their feet for years on self-driving cars. Their will need to be a lot of testing in real life before they mass produce any cars.
    • I figure there needs to be something similar to the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program []: here, something that makes society safer overall (vaccines) is promoted by reducing the risk of an individual harm (a rare side effect). This says: "Pay in and help make society safer, and if it individually harms you, we've got your back."

      So, why not something for driverless cars? You opt into a driverless car with the societal benefit of reduced accidents, and if your driverless car harms you individually (ph

  • The summary looks like a collection of vaguely-related sentences.
  • by HockeyPuck ( 141947 ) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @11:27AM (#45244885)

    So when you're driving today you're in a state of being aware of the situation and are engaged with the surroundings.

    If you're letting the car drive, I highly doubt you're paying that much attention. Why wouldn't I let the car drive and I read, do email, surf the web or turn around and talk to the passengers in the rear seats.

    In the event where you need to take an emergency action, it's much easy in the first case to go to heightened state than in the second one. Atleast in the first one you aren't completely surprised by the events you're facing before you.

    Think of the case of a gravel truck that has a loose load. If I know there's a truck in front of me, I'm not 100% surprised if some gravel comes out, whereby if i'm reading/emailing and I'm forced to take over to avoid gravel, it's more of a surprise and I'm forced to figure quite a bit more out about the situation before I can act. One could also panic because of the amount of elevated emotion or adrenaline dump that would be taking place since you'd go from "reading iPad" to "dodging gravel".

    • by Guppy06 ( 410832 ) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @01:36PM (#45245815)

      Think of the case of a gravel truck that has a loose load.

      The good driver would apply the brakes, gas and turn the wheel to make sure the gravel passes harmlessly over or under the car.

      The better driver would remember that there was still traffic to the sides and behind him and, rather than hoping they all have better reflexes than he does in dealing with his own sudden braking/accelerating/steering, lets the rock chip the windshield, which is later replaced on-site within 30 minutes, with costs covered entirely by his insurer.

      The best driver notes the standardized "STAY BACK" sign on the back of the dump truck and actually stays back.

      Guess which one the autonomous system does!

  • It took me a while to learn what that meant. Basically, be aware of situations where you could be in an accident and get out of them as soon as you can. Also,try to make it a rule that if there's more than 2 things that could go wrong with a driving maneuver I don't do it :).

    It's a hard thing to teach though. When I did driver's Ed as a kid they tried to hammer it into us so hard it just came off as a joke ("Blood on the Highway!"). For me, I'm more than a little neurotic, so it came natural :), but I s
  • Time for a contest []

  • by houghi ( 78078 ) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @11:42AM (#45244979)

    EVERYBODY says they are a good driver and better then others. So why would Google do otherwise?

    I also like the bit at the end: The data will set you free.

    Also : yes, you need eye witnesses. Or at least external experts.
    I would not trust a company saying they are innocent in an accident and back it up by THEIR data. "We promise there was no software error in ANY of the cars. All people need to do is sit on the left cheek and hold the doorknob with the right hand. People just are using it wrong. They also signed a waiver when they opened the door. Look it up. It is in the Company-Is-Always-Right law that was passed last week."

  • I don't want a driverless car.

    I want an automatic chef cook. Because when I go home from work, I still have to sit in the car for 1 hour, and I still have to prepare my food for 45 minutes.

    Now, without a driverless car, but having a chef cook, I'd have to sit in the car for 1 hour, and have a meal waiting for me. A net reduction of 45 minutes.

    • This already exists. On the way out of work, call a restaurant on the way home. Say "I want to place an order for carry out".
      Many places walk it out to your car.
      Expensive, but adds almost no time to the commute, and no cooking.

  • Where I live there is construction season and winter. Call me when it can deal with those.
    I would sincerely like to know how it deals with the this construction situation []. Will the car reroute or stop in the middle of the intersection thinking there is a car in front of it.
  • Try it in Britain (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GrahamCox ( 741991 ) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @12:05PM (#45245135) Homepage
    Last week I had an American friend over and we were talking about driverless cars, and she said she thought they might work in the USA, but having seen what UK roads are like, she was very skeptical they'd work there, so maybe Google should try it!

    For example, many roads in tows date back to roman times, and are too narrow for two-lane traffic. You need to look far ahead and work out when exactly you need to duck into a gap behind a parked car to let oncoming traffic through, and when to go for it when you have right of way so as not to block traffic in either direction. And if a block does occur, will it mount the pavement (sidewalk) to free things up, or know when it's time to back up and give in?

    The UK has very few towns laid out in a grid, and most roads are twisty, and narrow, other than motorways. Can a driverless car cope with such terrain? If Google really want to prove their technology is better than a human, let them bring their cars over to the UK. If they work here, I'll be impressed.
    • For example, many roads in tows date back to roman times, and are too narrow for two-lane traffic. You need to look far ahead and work out when exactly you need to duck into a gap behind a parked car to let oncoming traffic through, and when to go for it when you have right of way so as not to block traffic in either direction.

      Not just Roman roads. Any road through a general urbam residential area (e.g. London Zone 2-6 off the main high street or A roads) is like that. Wide enough easily for 3 cars side by

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Saturday October 26, 2013 @02:55PM (#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.

Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced -- even a proverb is no proverb to you till your life has illustrated it. -- John Keats