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Google AI Transportation

Will the Google Car Turn Out To Be the Apple Newton of Automobiles? 287

An anonymous reader writes The better question may be whether it will ever be ready for the road at all? The car has fewer capabilities than most people seem to be aware of. The notion that it will be widely available any time soon is a stretch. From the article: "Noting that the Google car might not be able to handle an unmapped traffic light might sound like a cynical game of 'gotcha.' But MIT roboticist John Leonard says it goes to the heart of why the Google car project is so daunting. 'While the probability of a single driver encountering a newly installed traffic light is very low, the probability of at least one driver encountering one on a given day is very high,' Leonard says. The list of these 'rare' events is practically endless, said Leonard, who does not expect a full self-driving car in his lifetime (he’s 49)."
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Will the Google Car Turn Out To Be the Apple Newton of Automobiles?

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  • by Spy Handler ( 822350 ) on Wednesday October 22, 2014 @07:36PM (#48208555) Homepage Journal

    didnt RTFA but seriously? Google car can't recognize a red light??

    I would've thought some of the better Slashdotters could write software that recognizes a traffic light from a camera feed, let alone the geniuses at Google.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 22, 2014 @07:42PM (#48208599)

      I'd imagine it's pretty damn hard. Harder still is figuring out whether that stop light applies to the lane you're in, and the direction you're turning. Stop lights don't always line up with lanes exactly, they don't always point straight, etc etc.

      • by mestar ( 121800 )

        Considering the benefits, bring on the laws that mandate that each stop light wifi/bluetooth/whatever broadcasts its state .

    • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Wednesday October 22, 2014 @07:53PM (#48208723)

      didnt RTFA but seriously? Google car can't recognize a red light??

      Yes, the Google car can recognize a traffic light. TFA is written by a confused journalist. He found out that Google maps out roads, keeping a database of signs, lane markings, etc. He then concluded that the Google car only works on pre-mapped roads. That is not true. If the car is driving on a pre-mapped road, it will use the info from the database. But it can still drive on other roads with good accuracy. There are still come problems to be worked out, and plenty of testing to be done, before SDCs are ready for sale to the public. But TFA is a very inaccurate description of those problems.

      • by Ichijo ( 607641 )

        I'm interested in whether the car can set an appropriate speed when it comes upon a sign saying "Speed Limit 35 When Children Are Present" or "...When School In Session", and whether the car can read and obey hand signals, and whether the car knows right turns are prohibited at a particular intersection during rush hour.

        • I'm interested in whether the car can set an appropriate speed when it comes upon a sign saying "Speed Limit 35 When Children Are Present" or "...When School In Session"

          It can use OCR to read signs. It also can make a decision about whether school is in session. Since it cannot reliably detect when children are present, it would most likely just default to the lower speed.

          whether the car can read and obey hand signals

          Hand signals are a problem. Google is working on it. But SDCs aren't going to just pop up on the road one day. Their release will be coordinated with the police. So one solution is for the police to use LED flashlight wands that the SDCs are programmed to recognize.

          whether the car knows right turns are prohibited at a particular intersection during rush hour.

          Sure. An SDC would know the same

        • That should be easier then identifying a stoplight, because the signs are very standard, are in easily predictable places, and don't look like anything else. You simply program the car to recognize that a sign with this format means this speed limit under these circumstances.

          Stoplights can be multiple colors (most are yellow, but some are black), look like quite a few things you drive by every day (ie: a police car with lights on, or a street sign warning there's a light ahead), may be strung across the roa

        • I walk my children to school past a "When Children Are Present" sing. I've never seen a single driver obey the lower speed limit. So if that's appropriate action, then yes, I'll bet it can do that. I'd take just obeying the posted normal limit.

          • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

            Really, the problem is that "when children are present" is kind of ambiguous. What if there's only one child? And is the concern really all children, or just unaccompanied children? Are high school students children? Do kids in strollers count? And so on.

            Most drivers would assume that the intended purpose is to increase safety around the time when kids are arriving at school or leaving school en masse. So they would interpret it to mean "Speed Limit [X] on Monday through Friday, from 7:15–8:00 a

        • by Zynder ( 2773551 )
          I am fairly certain my Garmin knows where the school zones are, though it's been awhile since I've turned it on. Google ought to know too. If that "when children are present" part bothers you and/or the google car, wouldn't it be easier to remove that part and just say 35mph between 0730-0830 & 1430-1530? The cars know what time it is and where they are.
      • Sorry but this article [wired.com] has different information.

        The key advantage is that the car isn’t just seeing and figuring out the world as it drives along. It’s basing its actions on vast amounts of data the Google Self-Driving Car Project has already compiled about every road it travels. Before the car drives itself into new territory, the project team collects detailed information on permanent features: lane markers, the precise location of the curbs, the height of traffic lights, local speed limits, and so forth.

        “We require digital maps in order for our cars to be able to drive,” Andrew Chatham, who leads mapping on the project, said at a press event Tuesday. That data “makes the job of building the self-driving car software much simpler.”

        The car has a good idea of what to expect from any stretch of road, freeing up the software to deal with cars, pedestrians, cyclists, construction, and any other new obstacles in real time.

        That’s the “magic of maps,” Software Lead Dmitri Dolgov said. But that “magic” inherently limits the range of the self-driving car to areas Google has the data for. As Chatham pointed out, “If we have not already built our own maps in an area, the car cannot drive there.” He noted that as the car’s sensors get better, they will rely less on perfect accuracy, but Chris Urmson, the project director, emphasized the key role these maps play.

        Regular Google maps do not have enough accuracy.

      • Yes, the Google car can recognize a traffic light. TFA is written by a confused journalist.

        If you're going to quibble about credentials, you ought to at least read the summary, where the MIT roboticist says he doesn't expect to see fully self-driving cars in his lifetime. Do you think he is confused too?

        • the MIT roboticist says he doesn't expect to see fully self-driving cars in his lifetime. Do you think he is confused too?

          If he actually believes that, then yes, I think he is confused. He is 49. If even 10% of life extension research pans out, he should easily live to 90. That is 41 years. Computers will be thousands, if not millions, of times more capable. Even if we don't yet have general AI by then, huge progress will be made in algorithms for computer vision, pervasive sensors, etc. Even ten years ago, the car that won the DARPA Grand Challenge was able to navigate dirt roads through the desert. We can do far bette

      • Incidentally, the author may be confused, but Google themselves have confirmed that the car has problems in a number of scenarios, including:

        The Google car doesn’t know much about parking: It can’t currently find a space in a supermarket lot or multilevel garage.
        It can't consistently handle coned-off road construction sites, and
        its video cameras can sometimes be blinded by the sun when trying to detect the color of a traffic signal.
        it can't tell the difference between a big rock and a crum
        • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

          its video cameras can sometimes be blinded by the sun when trying to detect the color of a traffic signal.

          So can people. One possible solution would be radio signals in every traffic light to indicate the light's state. No signal and can't see the light? Stop the car and tell the driver to take over. This would be useful for eliminating confusion when you have multiple lights as well, so it might be worth pursuing.

          That said, the simpler fix is to use a higher quality camera with better lens coatings. I

          • I guess you've solved all the problems. Maybe you should write to John Leonard and tell him?
            • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

              No, I haven't solved any of the hard problems, because determining whether a colored ball or arrow is meaningful really isn't one of them. The hard problems are things like:

              • recognizing and handling road signs
              • dealing with potentially contradictory lane markings
              • dealing with rain on the cameras
              • determining which way to swerve when avoiding obstacles (like a dog running across the road), and whether to brake instead, or do both
              • choosing whether it is better to hit the object in the road or swerve into the ne
      • by DrXym ( 126579 )

        But it can still drive on other roads with good accuracy.

        The lights are out at a junction. How does "good accuracy" help the car figure out when it's safe to proceed, or the order to proceed when there are buses, cars, trucks coming from all direction with an implied priority based on conditions and time people have waited?

        Now a cop turns up to direct the traffic because of a fender bender. How does the car with "good accuracy" know to obey the cop's hand signals?

        Now the repair crew turn up to fix the lights and put cones out so people turning have to do so f

    • Doing it is easy. Doing it with a very very high degree of confidence? Hard.

      You just have to miss that one stop light for something bad to happen.

    • I imagine that the hard part would be recognizing every traffic signal when the signals are dark (power is out).
    • Describe for me, programmatically, the difference between a stoplight and a taillight.
      and a police light
      and a neon sign
      and every other red light on earth...

      and also, please include all the many shapes and sizes of the various stoplights all over the country.

      Stop signs have a very specific shape, and text printed on them. They do not very from place to place. They're piratically a damned bar code as far software is concerned. It's almost like they were designed for the task.

      • by dgatwood ( 11270 )

        Describe for me, programmatically, the difference between a stoplight and a taillight.

        That's easy. The stoplight is above you. Two cameras at different angle provide sufficient parallax to tell the difference between something far away on a hill and something nearby above the car. And you're done.

        and a police light

        Same answer.

        and a neon sign

        Same answer, plus the stoplight is not on the side of the road, as computed based on distance to the edge of the road when looking forward.

        and also, please include al

      • It's almost like they were designed for the task.

        They were indeed designed for the task. The idea of that octogonal shape in almost every part of the world is for people to be able to recognize that sign without any confusion. It also allows drivers facing the back of the sign to identify that drivers from other lanes have a stop sign. It is also identifiable by night (because original signs were not reflective and cars lights were not particularly effective).

    • IMHO, cars won't be (safely) automated until roads are. Yeah, I know, catch-22.

  • Rain and snow? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by iotaborg ( 167569 ) <exa@softhome . n et> on Wednesday October 22, 2014 @07:39PM (#48208577) Homepage

    Perhaps more of a concern is the issue where the car will fail in rain/snow, both of things people in the Bay Area rarely experience.

    • That's not true. I've lived in the Bay Area, there's a lot of rain and fog. SoCal is completely different: no rain, occasional fog.

    • Re:Rain and snow? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Wednesday October 22, 2014 @07:59PM (#48208763)

      Perhaps more of a concern is the issue where the car will fail in rain/snow

      LIDAR does not "fail" in rain/snow/fog. It just doesn't work as well. So what? Neither do human eyeballs. Sure performance will be degraded in bad weather, and the car will have to slow down to compensate. Which is exactly what humans do.

      • by unimacs ( 597299 )
        Yes, but how badly does it degrade? Will it just stop if there is too much ice or snow on its sensors to "see" adequately. Will it just sit at a green light not knowing whether it's safe to proceed? Can it determine what the road conditions 10 to 30 yards ahead are and react accordingly?
      • by Type44Q ( 1233630 ) on Wednesday October 22, 2014 @11:21PM (#48209873)

        Sure performance will be degraded in bad weather, and the car will have to slow down to compensate. Which is exactly what humans do.

        Considering that Texans and Okies tend to speed up when the streets are slippery and visibility's been reduced, I suspect this confirms my suspicion: hicks aren't human! :p

      • by Guspaz ( 556486 )

        LIDAR still works to detect surfaces, but when the road is covered in snow, the surface it's seeing isn't the road.

        How can the car know where the lanes are if it can't even tell where the road starts and ends? GPS isn't accurate enough for the car to guess which lane it's in without visual cues, and if there are no visual cues, then the car effectively can't operate.

        And, as it happens, Google does say that their cars don't work on snow-covered roads. That's a bit of a problem where I live, where you can hav

  • by ArcadeNut ( 85398 ) on Wednesday October 22, 2014 @07:45PM (#48208647) Homepage

    If they built special lanes or only worked on places like the Freeway. It would be nice to have a self driving car for a 6 hour road trip and then manually take over in the cities or where the car had issues.

  • It isn't clear to me that Google ever intended this to be a commercial product, or at least not in the short-to-medium term. Treated as a research project, it is impressive regardless of the practical limitations.

  • Limited Vision (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pubwvj ( 1045960 ) on Wednesday October 22, 2014 @07:52PM (#48208715)

    "said Leonard, who does not expect a full self-driving car in his lifetime (heâ(TM)s 49)."

    He is a man of limited vision. I did a lot of AI research and development, long ago, back in the dark ages of computing, and I disagree. I'm only a few years older and I do expect to see fully self-driving cars in my lifetime. Perhaps I merely will live longer...

  • At least the Newton was a bit revolutionary. It could have been worse. At least it isn't the iPod HiFi of Automobiles.

  • by Bryan Bytehead ( 9631 ) <<me> <at> <bryanlprice.com>> on Wednesday October 22, 2014 @08:10PM (#48208837) Homepage

    The first vehicle with this technology is not going to be a personal car, or anything that resembles a personal car (like a taxi). It's going to be semi trucks with trailers.

    From a conference I sat in on last week (dealing with railroads, not trucks themselves), the turnover rate for truck drivers is over 100% per year. This is considered a plus for the railroads. I say that this is a plus for autonomous trucks. They drive autonomously site to site, and then, a driver takes over to get them parked into the loading dock (most likely), the trucks manage to do this autonomously (maybe, but not the scenario I see winning out, not at the beginning), or the docks are redesigned to make it easy for the autonomous trucks to park them in loading position (what will happen once autonomous trucks are widely used).

    Yes, I realize other changes will have to be made. Refueling will have to be done manually in the beginning. That may mean the truck stop hires a person or two, that then takes care of the autonomous trucks, and I'm sure the owners will gladly pay a bit of a premium to get their trucks fueled. At least until the automated fuel pumps for the trucks are in place, at existing or new truck stops.

    I have zero doubt that my great grandchildren won't have to learn how to drive a vehicle. I have grandchildren, and yes, I expect that they will have to learn how to drive, the technology is moving that fast.

    Yet.

    • by Osgeld ( 1900440 )

      over 100% turnover per year?

      think they are selling you something...

      for instance there is a driver in my family, been driving for a few decades and at least 1 decade for the same company

    • Sounds like a dream scenario for robbers. The truck will drive defensively and will stop when blocked by another car. It won't evade. So now we need a terminator on each truck.

      • Sounds like a nightmare scenario for robbers: any decent software will send all data to the owner (and police) in such an event. Data like images of the robbers, location, images of the cars (with license plates) and which way they went.

        Most truck thefts in the Netherlands are done on truck stops. When the driver sleeps. Guess what? An SDC doesn't do that.

  • Is it start with a limited environment. Have these operate in large resorts, amusement parks, wildlife reserves etc. Build a big base of realworld usage before venturing further afield.

  • by Beeftopia ( 1846720 ) on Wednesday October 22, 2014 @08:16PM (#48208873)

    Humans have rules for driving. For example:

    -> If you see a traffic light, identify what color it is, then continue, slow down, or stop based on one of those 3 colors.

    So the Google Car cannot identify a traffic light? Or if it does, it cannot identify its color? If so, is that a weakness in the computing power? Like, a supercomputer could do these things, but a reasonably sized onboard computer cannot? Or a weakness in "vision" sensors?

    -> Paper versus rock in the road: This, I can understand. There are a myriad things in the road. The decision here is, can the car safely pass over it? Inability to determine this is due to vision sensors or limitations in computing power?

    I saw an interesting problem the other day: a piece of wood baseboard trim (for a wall) blew off a truck. It seemingly hung suspended in air then came down. I hit my brakes but kept going straight, hoping for the best. It hit the ground, bounced and lay flat. I imagine that might legitimately freak out an autonomous car.

    A moron can drive safely, through city traffic, if he's highly motivated, manages to keep his attention on the road and his speed down. I guess a moron is still more capable of navigating the world than a computer.

  • by Beck_Neard ( 3612467 ) on Wednesday October 22, 2014 @08:28PM (#48208933)

    almost genius in its idiocy. If self-driving cars really start to hit the roads, cities would definitely mandate that all traffic lights show up in maps, and require that traffic lights show up in maps before being installed. This is not a problem of the driving car, it's a problem of trying to imagine future technology in a current context, which is of course always going to lead you astray.

    Plus, as other commenters have said, self-driving cars can definitely recognize traffic lights. It's just that right now they aren't quite as good at doing that as humans are. The reason is that traffic lights and construction cones and stuff like that are optimized for human visibility, not robot visibility. It's quite trivial to adapt them for robot visibility as well (perhaps even incorporating stuff like specialized radio signals).

    I predict that horseless carriages will never take off because without an animal like a horse with hooves on the ground, you could hit rocks and fall into ditches without knowing it.

    • I predict that horseless carriages will never take off because without an animal like a horse with hooves on the ground, you could hit rocks and fall into ditches without knowing it.

      A horseless carriage still has a human driver with much more intelligence than a computer. Computers do not yet have the AI to recognize most objects and figure out what to do about them.

    • It's quite trivial to adapt them for robot visibility as well (perhaps even incorporating stuff like specialized radio signals).

      Or blink a bright IR diode... In the short term the cars will need to learn how humans do it. In the longer term the cars may have their own information channel to augment how we currently do it.

  • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Wednesday October 22, 2014 @08:45PM (#48209031) Journal
    Here is a list of issues mentioned in the article, but not in the summary:

    The Google car doesn’t know much about parking: It can’t currently find a space in a supermarket lot or multilevel garage.
    It can't consistently handle coned-off road construction sites, and
    its video cameras can sometimes be blinded by the sun when trying to detect the color of a traffic signal.
    Because it can't tell the difference between a big rock and a crumbled-up piece of newspaper, it will try to drive around both if it encounters either sitting in the middle of the road.

    Use a little imagination and you can surely think of other issues.

    • For added amusement: a rock inside a crumpled-up piece of newspaper. They might actually fair better than a human on that test.

    • Right now objects are just blobs of pixels. The way the current car tells the difference between a postbox and a person is that the route has been pre scanned and gone over by a person to identify all post boxes. What happens when a post box is installed after the scan is done? The Google car will assume it is a person.

      The second issue is that Google car is very good at not running into a person that is moving but not so good a yielding to a person waiting to cross. Say you have a person standing on a corne

  • The expectation of this article is that Google will somehow shortly produce a car which will completely replace drivers in all circumstances. Clearly, that's the eventual goal, but that's not needed to produce something useful. Car companies are already churning out various incomplete solutions that help with highway driving or parking.

    I expect their initial product to be something that works as a taxi in semi-controlled circumstances, or something that makes driving more convenient, but which requires inte

    • Early cell phones were overpriced bricks.

      That is a very bad comparison. The reason cell phones replaced land lines is that cell phones became smaller and had longer battery life. Cell phones do not need artificial intelligence to recognize the objects on or near a road. For example, someone standing on a corner with a crosswalk going in both directions. Are they waiting for someone? Are they waiting for you to yield? Are they waiting for other cars to yield in other direction? A human can figure that out by watching what the person is doing. Compu

  • Much like the flying car, it is possible, and coming next year.....
  • RE: "who does not expect a full self-driving car in his lifetime (he’s 49)." Provided he's not suicidal, here is a man who does not understand the potential growth from exponential progress.
  • Comparing the Apple Newton and the iPhone... I'd say that the iCar would be a car that's well connected and essentially controlled by Apple. It would not work on roads not approved by Apple. It would probably be controlled by a touch screen or voice. However it would not drive by itself, as that feature has been proven to be complicated. Of course it won't have a driving wheel, instead it'll have a software driving wheel on a large touch screen in front of you.

    Functionality wise, the iPhone was a _huge_ ste

  • Anyone who thinks self drive is coming to a vehicle near them soon is living in cloud cuckoo land.

    Self drive cars might work on a closed track where the number of external factors are limited and can be controlled. e.g. an airport loop, or a theme park transfer. It might even work on some stretches of public road e.g. some motorways although it is more likely to be an advanced driver assist mode.

    It sure as hell wouldn't work in urban settings, or for atypical conditions. It's trivial to think of scenari

  • by iamacat ( 583406 ) on Thursday October 23, 2014 @09:31AM (#48212135)

    Sounds good! Newton was commercially available, has a loyal fan base and inspired successive generations of more polished and popular products, including Palm and Apple's own iPhone. True, there is no guarantee that just because you release an early adopter product, you will reap most of the benefits when technology matures. But not being on a lookout for new things guarantees slide into irrelevance, like Kodak or Borders. Besides someone got to do it.

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