back to article Google's self-driving car breakthrough: Stop sign no longer a problem

Google has updated the software in its self-driving cars after spending the past year running prototypes around its hometown of Mountain View, California, to test the vehicles' performance on hectic city streets. The advertising giant said its code had spotted hundreds of distinct objects, having logged thousands of miles of …

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Can it handle hand signs from a traffic cop? If so, color me impressed.

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Anonymous Coward

"Can it handle hand signs from a traffic cop? If so, color me impressed."

Already pretty impressive as it stands, particularly the comprehension of and coping with construction works.

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JDX
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Yeah, this rather scuppers the typical comments every time self-driving cars come up in the news "sure it can handle a boring empty road but what about city driving".

Very cool. I wonder how specialised the algorithms are, i.e. can they be transferred easily to all kinds of other areas automation has traditionally seemed too difficult?

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Anonymous Coward

'Can it handle hand signs from a traffic cop? If so, color me impressed.'

Only if the traffic cop stands in the middle of the road with a target pasted to his forehead and waves his arms in an up and down panicky manner.

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Anonymous Coward

I can see Death Race 2000 becoming a reality.....

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Trollface

"...when the end came, the culprit wasn't Skynet after all - it was a virus that one night simultaneously installed Carmageddon on every smart car we had..."

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Well, at least when the machines do decide to wipe us out, they'll do it to a rockin' soundtrack! :D

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@JDX

> this rather scuppers the typical comments every time self-driving cars come up in the news "sure it can handle a boring empty road but what about city driving".

Sure, nice, reasonably ordered US cities.

Now try checking out some of the video clips of driving in Russia or, even better, what about this traffic in India. How do you think it will cope with that?!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLUm3Q-7iZA

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Re: @JDX

Now try checking out some of the video clips of driving in Russia or, even better, what about this traffic in India. How do you think it will cope with that?!

How would most non-native drivers cope with that? I've seen many British drivers who can't cope well with London traffic.

I suspect the biggest problem for driverless cars will be in being too cautious, which perhaps requires being more reckless, which in turn raises the risk of accidents, and perhaps voids the 'more safe' advantage. Programming 'calculated risk' should be an interesting challenge.

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Re: @JDX

By going through slowly, and only moving forward when there isn't an obstacle, as the current crop of cars is doing.

Watch it closely for a while. You'll see fun things like the madman walking his bicycle against the main circulation of traffic https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=pLUm3Q-7iZA#t=43 -- the one with the orange load on his bike trailer. People recognize what direction he is moving, and veer left or right so that 1) don't hit him and 2) give him room to move forward.

Thanks for linking this video -- it's joined my list of favorite videos as a wonderful example of human cooperation.

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Re: @JDX

That's not as chaotic as it appears at first glance. Seen worse driving in London. And while the pedestrians seem careless they don't expect to be given right of way, like British pedestrians.

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When did you last see a traffic cop giving hand signals?

On the other, er, hand, sometimes I have trouble working out which set of traffic lights apply to me. If it'll do that for me (and take the blame) then bring it on!

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Re: Indian traffic

The only thing that did not make sense to me was the motorcyclist who stopped and made a phone call. How could he hear anything and why did he stop?

The obvious way to make that junction safer is to wire the horn to the brake pedal so drivers have a hand free to make phone calls.

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Re: @JDX

> Sure, nice, reasonably ordered US cities.

That's good enough. Another ten years of development and it may even be able to tackle the "no lanes, no lights, no zebra crossings and pedestrians milling everywhere" traffic of south-east Asia.

Also, once you get above a certain percentage of self-driving cars in traffic, even the grinding carnage of south-east asian traffic would dissolve, because the self-driving cars would start setting the pace and tone of the traffic.

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Re: @JDX

> Now try checking out some of the video clips of driving in Russia or, even better, what about this traffic in India. How do you think it will cope with that?!

Now, thats easy. Here's some pseudo-code:

while(1) {

if(location == 'India') {

honk();

speed=2; // kmh

} else {

drive_normally();

}

}

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It can already handle any command signals the NSA throws at it. No more pesky guns needed for assassinations.

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Re: @JDX

They have right of way. Unless it's a motorway or slip road. If you're in that much of a hurry, you should've left home 7 seconds earlier, to make up the time.

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Re: @JDX

They have right of way

and as any fule kno very few drivers will deliberately engage in a crash. Stepping out into traffic without appearing to look is simply a rational strategy for pedestrians wanting to make progress through London motor traffic

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Bugger

That's some clever stuff, right there.

Still, pretty sure Jake already had a self driving car in the 90's. This is old hat. And to be honest, it's just plugging together a load of standard components, nothing really new. Waste of time reporting it really. Very unimpressed, wake me up when it does something clever. *

* For those not paying attention, this is the story of my day.

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Re: Bugger

> Still, pretty sure Jake already had a self driving car in the 90's

He calls it a car. I call it a horse.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Bugger

Sorry jake isn't here to answer your call right now. He's currently piloting the first manned mission to Alpha Centauri, using only pre-1980s, off-the shelf equipment and COBOL for the mission software - pretty straightforward really. Steve Jobs is his co-pilot.

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Re: Bugger

Too many Jobsians on this thread.

I remember one evangelical who informed me that Jesus was his co-driver. Jesus wasn't paying attention either on the day he wrapped a hire van round a lamp post because a Luton is a bit longer and wider than a Corsa.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Bugger

Darwin is my co-pilot.

He says we're going to crash.

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Anonymous Coward

Would be useful after one too many down the pub, but no doubt that will be an illegal use of a driver-less vehicle.

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Google's co-founder, Sergey Brin, seems to have the same idea:

"Too many people are under served by the current transport system. They are blind, or too young to drive, or too old, or intoxicated."

Emphasis added.

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Existing Solutions

Sergey Brin, and others that see self-driving cars as a solution for people that are "under served by the current transport system" are missing an achievable existing solution: public transport. People who anticipate sending their car to collect their shopping are overlooking the efficiency of a delivery van, that can deliver groceries for you and, say, a dozen neighbours in one trip versus 12 self-drive cars clogging up the roads.

As an example of how public transport can work, look at Hong Kong, with a tenth of the vehicles per capita of USA and buses on most routes at 10 minute intervals. If 9 out of 10 urban Americans abandoned their cars, there would be enough demand for frequent, convenient public transport.

I admire the improvements in self-driving technology, but see it more as a niche solution. Maybe, one day, a self-driving bus would be even better, if it can answer passengers' questions and deploy the wheelchair ramp safely when needed.

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FAIL

Re: Existing Solutions

Sergey Brin, and others that see self-driving cars as a solution for people that are "under served by the current transport system" are missing an achievable existing solution: public transport

Oh, you mean this existing solution...? Yeah, I can see how it's welcoming some of the 'under served' ones... http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-01-14/public-transport-troublemakers-to-be-handed-on-the-spot-bans/5198664

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Re: Existing Solutions

@Allan - unfortunately public transport in most places suffers from the fact that it a) doesn't go where you want to go and/or b) doesn't go when you want to go. Having a Hong Kong (or indeed London-style) bus service anywhere other than in densely-populated cities where there is likely to be enough people wanting to go somewhere all the time would be very expensive, even if everyone was forced somehow to abandon their cars.

Delivery vans for groceries have other problems, like the store fobbing off the sub-par fresh produce on you as you can't pick and choose your own items, and the requirement for you to be available to collect the delivery at a certain place and time which is awkward for some.

I see self-drivng cars as being more than a niche thing. It would decimate the taxi industry entirely, and I suspect there would be less second and third cars around if a family's primary self-driving car could be better utilised during the day. With no labour costs a taxi-style rental service would potentially be cheaper and therefore some might not bother to purchase a car at all. No, I think if they can get the tech working well, this could be very good for congestion, pollution and whatnot.

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Headmaster

Re: Existing Solutions

"... there would be less second and third cars around..."

You mean bits are going to drop off them - or do you mean "... there would be fewer second and third cars around..."?

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Not just from getting home from the pub

It's way more useful than that. About 50% of people are too young, old or infirm to drive - they need to travel too.

A huge amount of today's traffic is children going to school and then their parent going home again. No need for that any more.

Cars that drive themselves won't need to park as much. They can go and take someone else on a journey instead of just sitting there all day.

Self-driving cars will replace most taxis (taxi drivers are the expensive part of taxis) .

A huge number of people would no longer need to own a car at all: they can just click their smartphone to call a car when they need to go somewhere.

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Re: Existing Solutions

@Ted - ""... there would be less second and third cars around..." "You mean bits are going to drop off them " - no, I mean the LIDAR and other bits required for self-driving will probably get more compact as the technology improves. Obviously ;-)

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Re: Not just from getting home from the pub

A huge amount of today's traffic is children going to school and then their parent going home again. No need for that any more

I suspect there's not really much need for most of it now either. In the early 80s I was walking over a mile to school and back every day. Probably did me a world of good and the habit is still with me. I do 4 miles or so almost every lunchtime.

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Re: Not just from getting home from the pub

@ AndrueC

On our commute to work every morning, we pass a number of school bus stops. At each stop, there are between 3 and 8 cars, sitting idling, with the children inside waiting for the bus. The moms are standing around bullshitting. None of these bus stops are farther than a mile from the school!

In the meantime, we have to follow the bus as it stops about every 100 yards. To make matters worse, sometimes the woman driving the bus gets out and chats with the waiting moms! I see my tax money is put to good use.

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Re: Existing Solutions

The problem with intoxicated passengers on public transport is not the alcohol. There are plenty of tipsy people on the trains in Japan and very few problems. On the other hand, your typical bogan Aussie downs a VB or three and turns into an idiot looking for a fight. Sigh. It really is embarressing to be Australian sometimes.

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Re: Existing Solutions

@dotdavid OK, there's a threshold for population density below which bus and other public transport becomes infrequent and inconvenient. I suspect that the threshold is lower than you think - any town there is a problem with road congestion is probably dense enough to benefit from a good bus service. As for the costs, everyone having their own car is an enormous capital cost and continuous fuel cost.

You mention people being forced to abandon their cars, yes, many people have a deep, personal attachment, somehow it's part of their identity (or a symbol of their virility?). This makes it difficult for people to realise that, to live closer together, they need to share more. Personally, I find not having a car liberating, it's cheaper, I don't have to find parking spaces, I can drink, if the traffic is bad I can hop off and walk.

The problems for delivery vans apply the same to using a self-drive car for an unattended grocery run.

Better utilisation of the family self-driving car would probably increase the number of empty trips, and therefore increase congestion and decrease fuel efficiency. A self-driving taxi would be good, except that it also falls foul of the "my car, my identity" syndrome.

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Re: Not just from getting home from the pub

When I were a lad we walked through snowdrifts higher than our heads and the headmaster beat us for being covered in ice. Then we had gravel for lunch. Cold gravel.

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Pint

Re: Not just from getting home from the pub

@ ian 22

"Then we had gravel for lunch. HOT gravel."

FIFY

Luxury! We lived in a matchbox in the road and were constantly run over. We woke before going to bed, and...

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"Too many people are under served by the current transport system. They are blind, or too young to drive, or too old, or intoxicated as well as stoned and/or retarded."

FIFY

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Congestion

On the down side, congestion will get far worse once self-driving cars go mainstream. I wouldn't put up with a 90-minute stressful commute by car; but I would be much happier with 90 minutes sitting in the back seat, doing some work, writing emails, etc. If everyone else has the same reasoning, traffic volumes will increase dramatically.

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Re: Congestion

You would like to think a self drive car would have the whit to check the route first.

This would give the car the opportunity to tell the passenger that the person he wishes to visit is two blocks over and perhaps they should meet in the middle somewhere?

Also, once there are enough self drive cars simple traffic smoothing algorithms (like get that madly overtaking BMW into a storm drain before he pulls in just before his junction and causes everyone to brake) will increase the traffic capability of the roads. Indicators will be replaced by telling the cars around you and asking the cars in front etc.

The same techniques could be used to increase rail flow by several times too - but its about the money there.

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@Buzzword - Re: Congestion

If only someone could come up with some sort of vehicle which you hire or get access to for a fee for a short period during the day which would have someone else doing the driving and which would transport you to your place of work and then go off and provide the same service to another person so it didn't need to be parked in the city all day doing nothing useful...

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Re: @Buzzword - Congestion

Taxis are very expensive because you're paying for the drivers time, and that time also needs to be covered when there is no fare. At the point that the taxis no longer need drivers, what you suggest will suddenly become viable.

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Re: Congestion

congestion will get far worse

Completely agree. My commute is just shy of 2 hours on public transport, or the same to drive because of traffic. Once I can work remotely from a wifi equipped self driving car, then my last day on the train has arrived.

2 hours extra sleep on the way in, and if I leave the office 1 hour early, I can do a net additional 1 hour of work, and gain 1 extra hour at home.

Congestion will be horrendous, so the government should start thinking less about high speed rail, and more about high speed self driving car only autobahns into and out of London.

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Re: Congestion

> Congestion will be horrendous,

Not necessarily. The self-driving cars will "play nice" in traffic, and will likely be networked, which means that A) cars can be driven safely at higher speeds with less space between them, 2) a lot of the behavior which causes gridlock will disappear (like weaving between lanes), and III) the cars will always know where there's obstructions/congestion, and choose alternative roads if possible.

Of course, toss in a significant percentage of human-driven cars and most of those advantages disappear. Which is part of the reason why robotic cars will quickly become not just a good idea, but the law.

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Re: Congestion

"The self-driving cars will "play nice" in traffic"

Until the first empty crisp bag blows across the street and they all shut down for safety reasons.

The automated stuff handles controlled environments easily, but struggles on the judgement calls people make every day when dealing with the chaos of real life.

What is that thing in the road?

A) An empty can or a small branch blown from a tree: just drive over it.

B) A handbag: perhaps drive around it.

Is that shape in the road:

A) An open manhole cover?

B) A puddle?

It is no wonder at all that automation ihas been around a long time in factories (controlled) and in the air (where there are few obstacles).

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Re: Congestion

Did you read the article or have you just woken up from a 5 year coma?

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Angel

Would love to see that car trying to handle Dutch cyclists. Like in Amsterdam.

If it is going to wait for all cyclist to pass, it won't go anywhere. And not that anybody is going to signal a left turn.

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And other things like the Magic Roundabout in Swindon, the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, or indeed any half busy roundabout or T junction in the UK / anywhere in Europe, and indeed driving anywhere in any Italian city. I don't think it's going to deal with those things very well at all (except by stay perfectly stationary).

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True, but any human encountering those things for the first time don't handle them well either!

Once it's been taught what you do there it would be okay.

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