Google’s self-driving car gets confused by cyclist’s track stand

31 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

A Cyclist’s Track Stand Befuddled One of Google’s Self-Driving Cars.

Austin will be the first city outside of Google’s hometown of Mountain View, Calif., to test the company’s first fully self-driving cars, the company announced Saturday.It’s usually easy for our human brains to predict how any given car, pedestrian, or cyclist is going to act, but computers must be programmed to “understand” all of our varying behaviors on the road.If you are one of those who are adamant that no matter how far technology can go, it will never replace the human brain and plain common sense, here’s one more arrow for your quiver.

AUSTIN, Texas – Austin drivers will soon see even more cars on the road thanks to an announcement made by Google Saturday that the company will fully test self-driving car prototypes in the area.We’ve been hearing about ‘s self-driving cars getting into fender-benders before, mostly at the fault of other vehicles with a human behind the wheel, but recently one of the autonomous vehicles got a bit confused by a cyclist at an intersection. Google’s futuristic self-driving cars may have proven themselves to be twice as safe as the average human driver but they are still incapable of predicting other motorists’ actions correctly, as one comical incident in Austin, TX recently brought to light. The pod-like cars are expected to arrive next week and will be seen on roads in a small area north and northeast of downtown sometime in the next few weeks, the company said.

Here’s what happened: a cyclist and Google self-driving car met at a four-way stop and the rider did a track stand — the motion when cyclists slightly rock back and forth to maintain balance, while their feet remain on the pedals. Turns out the rider was simply doing a — where they keep the bike upright at a stop without taking their feel off the pedals — and the car couldn’t tell if they were moving or not. If you are, then the car is a self-evident engineering miracle – a triumph of the combinatorial innovation that the economist W Brian Arthur sees as the essence of technology – by which he means the way in which a number of different, separately evolving, technologies suddenly combine to enable something that was hitherto inconceivable.

If, however, you’re a normal human being then the notion that mass use of the self-driving car could become a practical reality in the foreseeable future seems like the purest hogwash. And don’t worry, Austinites, the cars can handle animals jumping out into the middle of the road. “Yes, it can handle deer,” said Jennifer Haroon, the head of business operations for Google’s self-driving car project who has been meeting with community groups to discuss the launch. Just imagine, for example, all the regulatory changes that would be needed all over the world to make the vehicle a feasible everyday mode of transportation. One reason why there is been so much excitement about the Google car is that it goes to the heart of a pathology of modern life – our dependence on automobiles.

The car knows when lights are turning red or green, when pedestrians or bicyclists are around it and when there’s a lane closure ahead, Urmson said. The odd thing is that even though it was a bit of a CF, I felt safer dealing with a self-driving car than a human-operated one.” But, come to think of it, hat actually made sense. On the other hand, they are dangerous, expensive, polluting and inefficient: the average car ferries a single individual for most trips and is parked for most of the day. That will bring new challenges, such as adjusting to the city’s horizontal streetlights — Mountain View has vertical ones — and also seeing how the cars react in different kinds of weather. The two Google employees who were in the car also seemed to have found the situation humorous, as they were described as laughing during the situation and entering the data into laptops.

The Washington Post also points out that Google received a patent this past spring that will enable self-driving cars to identify cyclists and their hand signals better, along with measuring the distance between the pavement and the top of a stationary cyclist’s head. The whole thing is actually a positive experience for Google’s autonomous car research, as the company stated how this kind of real-world feedback is needed to improve the software and algorithms that help the car understand its surrounding environment. It estimates that the adoption of self-driving cars could reduce accidents by 80%, and that the frequency of accidents would decrease, from one roughly every 280,000 miles driven now to one accident per 1.6m miles driven by 2040.

The reasoning behind this is that Google cars have now driven 2m miles on Californian roads with only 14 incidents, all of them, say the company, caused by other, human-driven, vehicles. “The conversion to autonomous vehicles,” concludes KPMG, “may bring about the most significant change to the automobile insurance industry since its inception. The disruption to insurers may be profound, and the change could happen faster than most expect.” Well, it could, but somehow I think it’s going to take quite a while to get to self-driving nirvana. It sounds as though those testing scenarios didn’t include track stands, so now Google will need to “teach” its autonomous algorithm to understand a new facet of human culture. Devon is a ravishing county, but it has one quirk from the motorist’s point of view: it has lots of extremely narrow lanes, most of which have high hedges growing on either side.

This is fine until a procession of three or four vehicles meets another procession of several cars stuck behind a truck, at which point the only way to reach a solution involves a good deal of human-to-human negotiation. This is something that even the dumbest human is good at, but which will lie beyond the capability of even the smartest machine for some time to come.

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