back to article SHOCK! Robot cars do CRASH. Because other cars have human drivers

Self-driving cars have put in hundreds of thousands of miles on California's roads and, according to the state's Department of Motor Vehicles, they have had four bumps and scrapes along the way. In September 2014, California's DMV issued new guidelines that allow autonomous vehicles on state roads, as long as there's a human …

  1. Paul Crawford Silver badge
    Terminator

    "so far caused by human error and inattention"

    By the Google car under manual override, or by other road users?

    When do we get an independent analysis to see if they were really unavoidable, or if the software messed up in some way that a typical human would not have?

    I doubt I am the only one, insurers will want to know and I bet people considering such a car will want the equivalent of the NCAP ratings for 'droid drivers.

    Yes, I sound negative, but the burden of proof has to be one the suppliers that they are better than the average human in all reasonable situations for most people to be willing to accept them. And that includes in dealing with the other human drivers that will be around for decades to come even after commercial availability.

    1. Grikath

      Re: "so far caused by human error and inattention"

      Yes.. Even though technically right you are pretty negative about it.

      But I have very little doubt the cars are pretty good at driving themselves. The simple fact that they've so far managed to maneuver through what passes for "driving a car" in urban California without any major accidents *at all* speaks for itself. The cars already do better than the average local.

      Now.. If those cars manage to do a tour through Paris and actually survive, I'd be really impressed.

      1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

        Re: "so far caused by human error and inattention"

        How do you know they are doing so well?

        Yes they have managed OK on a pretty regular US system, but how much do they depend upon GPS/maps being completely correct? how do they cope with partially closed roads? What about twisting country roads with passing places? Temporary traffic lights? Polices flagging them down due to an accident or similar? Dumb meat-bags doing stuff that another meat-bag would see the warning signals of high stupidity and/or intoxication and keep well away?

        Though Google are pop-pooing it, the accident rate seems to be about 5 times more than average, so its hardly a stunning display of everything being just right.

        And Google have a vested interest in playing up the success and not talking about any known problems, do you really want to end up buying the high-tech Ford Pinto?

        THAT is why there needs to be an independent analysis of what has actually been tested, and when failures have occurred, what should have been learned.

        1. Jonski
          Facepalm

          Re: "so far caused by human error and inattention"

          how much do they depend upon GPS/maps being completely correct?

          Good question. I have experience of a road doing a 1 km deviation up a ravine and the road looking like Ω while the GPS said go straight ahead like _. The ravine was several hundred feet deep.

          While I'm sure the google cars would recognise the road stopping without falling into the ravine, I'm not sure they would have any idea where actually to go instead. I can imagine them emergency stopped at right angles to the oncoming traffic in the wrong lane and the nav unit melting down in consternation while making meep meep noises.

          1. Mark 85 Silver badge

            Re: "so far caused by human error and inattention"

            I'm not sure about the car's reaction. It would depend on when it realized the road wasn't there. Being airborne is too late.

            1. Grikath

              Re: "so far caused by human error and inattention"

              afaik the cars only use satnav to determine their global position and what they can expect road-wise. They augment that info with what they actually "see" ( hence the almost military-grade sensor/camara package on them.) If A doesn't fit B the driver is urged to grab the wheel and do things himself, so that's at least one of the more obvious "safety" measures.

              Given that this whole thing is watched like a hawk by just about everyone having remotely to do with transportation and legislation, I pretty much doubt that the several teratonnes of data that's been collected about those cars can easily be fudged or tut-tutted, especially those fenderbenders. On the contrary, given the way I'm told US insurance works, one of those cars is the last things you want to hit, given that you can't just write of the dent and be done with it, as most people do. Even ignoring all the (utterly non-google) other camera-type things possibly aimed at you at the time, your little scrape has just been Borged, and you cannot avoid Insurance Interference if only just because Google insuror will want to know what happened there...

              While technically possible, it's simply too risky and ultimately counterproductive to fudge the data on accidents when it comes to this project, by Google of any of the other hopefuls. There's simply too much riding on it, and even with my paranoïdar deployed I , at least, can't see how any of the companies involved could get away with it for long, if at all.

              But I'll one-up my previous challenge: Having successfully circumnavigated the Arc de Triomphe and the vagaries of Parisian coureurs, we shift the scene to Italy. Let's be fair there and do it classic Top Gear: The challenge is to pass through Rome , including the Colosseum **, followed by a leisurely drive to Napoli, and a pass through the city centre there, ending at an appropriate pub with a functioning car, and a maximum of 5 human interventions.

              ** locals may know better...testing grounds.. But that's one route I prefer never to have to do again..

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: "so far caused by human error and inattention"

                "But I'll one-up my previous challenge: Having successfully circumnavigated the Arc de Triomphe and the vagaries of Parisian coureurs, we shift the scene to Italy. Let's be fair there and do it classic Top Gear: The challenge is to pass through Rome , including the Colosseum **, followed by a leisurely drive to Napoli, and a pass through the city centre there, ending at an appropriate pub with a functioning car, and a maximum of 5 human interventions."

                I'll pull you one better, based on first hand experience. Try crossing from the south part of Metro Manila in the Philippines to the north side starting around 4PM in the afternoon, starting from the Airport at the south end, onto and along the bulk of Epifanio de los Santos Avenue to the North Luzon Expressway at the north end.

                HINT: 4PM is the start of the busiest part of Metro Manila's day, and the airport's busy in the best of times. NOW, however, they're building a skyway, so there's construction everywhere. By the time you get out, the traffic will have spread to the rest of the city, and drivers there can probably give any European a heart attack with their reckless aggression, not to mention the wanton disregard for signs and lane markings. About the only things they obey are the odd traffic light.

                Get through that back and forth a few hundred times without significant incident, then follow up with a few spins around the outskirts at night (where headlights are not a given), THEN I'll be impressed.

                1. MeRp

                  Re: "so far caused by human error and inattention"

                  Note to self; when returning to this Phils this December, absolutely minimize time in Manila. Oh, wait, already do that.

          2. Schultz

            "doing a 1 km deviation up a ravine "

            That won't be necessary any longer, because the computer driven car will know the exact speed and angle required to take the shortcut across the ravine and thus avoid unnecessary deviations.

            1. Snow Hill Island
              Alert

              Re: "doing a 1 km deviation up a ravine "

              It was shown in a documentary about 30 years ago that you still need the fleshy human to press the "Turbo Boost" button. Things haven't changed that much since then, apart from the Hoff getting older.

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: "so far caused by human error and inattention"

          "Dumb meat-bags doing stuff that another meat-bag would see the warning signals of high stupidity and/or intoxication and keep well away?"

          That's always been my concern of mixing meat-bag operated cars with autonomous cars. The robot cars are likely to drive "perfectly", ie to the letter of the law while meat-bag drivers will bend the rules to suit the conditions and operate on the assumption that other drivers will do the same. Once you have a number of "perfect" drivers following the letter of the law no matter what, there's likely to be a few more bumps. Obviously, legally, it will be the meat-bags at fault since they will be the ones bending the rules.

          1. Tom 13

            Re: The robot cars are likely to drive "perfectly",

            Doesn't work quite that way, the meat bags make mistakes in programming things. Yes, the Google cars are probably quite a bit better at it, but local experience with automated systems shows it is no panacea. In my case that would be the DC Metro (light rail). In theory, with a protected travel lane, no real cross traffic to speak of, and rails instead of wheels it ought to be easier to automate these things than cars are. And for a long time Metro ran them in automated mode because the meat bags tend to brake harder than the automated systems do. Still the meat bags managed to screw it up by mucking up the sensors, resulting in a crash that killed 8 people and injured hundreds. Immediately after the incident they switched back to having the meat bags drive, and haven't reverted to the automated system since.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/June_2009_Washington_Metro_train_collision

      2. Tom 13

        Re: manage to do a tour through Paris and actually survive

        Not Pairs, Cairo or maybe Singapore. Both places where traffic laws are even more of a suggestion rather than law than in Paris.

    2. PleebSmash

      Re: "so far caused by human error and inattention"

      Two accidents at under 10 mph. Chances seem excellent that the automated car was not at fault.

    3. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: "so far caused by human error and inattention"

      "When do we get an independent analysis to see if they were really unavoidable, or if the software messed up in some way that a typical human would not have?"

      In 7 of the 11 google cases across the USA, the car was rear-ended whilst stationary.

      In 1 case it was rearended on the freeway.

      2 sideswipes, 1 whilst stationary

      1 caused by a fleshie running a stop sign in front of the car. (Odds are good the car reacted faster and better than a meatbag too. I've had it happen and barely had time to hit the brake before T-boning the idiot)

      The Goo fleet drives more miles in a week than most people drive in a year.

  2. Tony W

    Evidence

    The vehicles will presumably be well instrumented, so there should be video evidence all round plus records of speed, braking and so so on. It should be a lot easier to find the cause of an accident when an automated vehicles is involved, than it is usually.

    1. Paul Crawford Silver badge

      Re: Evidence

      Very true, unless it is withheld for "commercial reasons" or trade secrets, etc..

      We really need the equivalent of the air crash investigation board to deal with such events in a way that the manufacturers cannot legally get out of, or withhold evidence from.

      OK, maybe not as rigorous in minor cases, but to trust something as new and potentially dangerous like this demands an independent analysis.

      1. phil dude
        Thumb Up

        Re: Evidence

        @Paul Crawford: I fully agree, I'm curious to see failure modes...

        P.

      2. Paul Crawford Silver badge

        Re: Evidence

        Down-voted for wanting accidents independently investigated - any down-voters care to say why the DON'T want that?

        1. phil dude
          Thumb Up

          Re: Evidence

          I'm a massive Android car fanbois and I don't see why you got downvote.

          P.

        2. John Tserkezis

          Re: Evidence

          "Down-voted for wanting accidents independently investigated - any down-voters care to say why the DON'T want that?"

          Likely because they want to protect the guilty, er, innocent.

          1. Thorne
            Terminator

            Re: Evidence

            "Likely because they want to protect the guilty, er, innocent."

            More than likely it was some fleshy who doesn't want to hand the steering wheel over to the robot.

            1. Tom 13

              Re: some fleshy who doesn't want to hand the steering wheel over to the robot.

              You've got that wrong. Paul's the fleshy who doesn't want to hand the steering wheel over to the robot.

          2. nematoad Silver badge

            Re: Evidence

            "Likely because they want to protect the guilty, er, innocent."

            Maybe, more likely someone running around doing random down-voting.

            You can see down votes given to the most uncontentious, factual explanations on this forum. I've no idea why.

            1. werdsmith Silver badge

              Re: Evidence

              You can see down votes given to the most uncontentious, factual explanations on this forum. I've no idea why.

              It doesn't matter how good the content, people will downvote it if it's not what they want to hear / read.

              But does anyone over the age of 12 really care about up/downvotes?

            2. BernardL

              Re: Evidence

              >You can see down votes given to the most uncontentious, factual explanations on this forum.

              >I've no idea why.

              I think it's a bot.

            3. ZanzibarRastapopulous

              Re: Evidence

              >You can see down votes given to the most uncontentious, factual explanations on this forum. I've no idea why.

              Sorry, I had to down vote that.

          3. Alan_Peery

            Re: Evidence

            I almost downvoted -- because I don't think *air traffic* style of investigation will scale. We investigate airplane accidents so intensely because any particular incident may very well be fatal to a large number of people. Applying the same investigation standards to lower loss crashes such fender benders won't be sensible over the long term, because it will become clear that robot drivers have improved the situation.

            Since we're in the early phases now of learning how to make self-driving cars, it will make sense to start with deep analysis -- and then trim back to a sensible level of cost/benefit.

        3. Tom 13

          Re: any down-voters care to say why the DON'T want that?

          Because here at El Reg, we don't expect to find emotional anti-technology idiots like you.

          If anything what we need is the reverse, those kinds of investigation whenever meat bags are involved in accidents. But that ain't happening any time soon. Until it does, the rules should be pretty much the same for automated as meat bag.

    2. Notas Badoff
      Mushroom

      Re: Evidence == "Invasion of Privacy!"

      I commented on another article weeks ago, mentioning something that just doesn't seem to have, um, registered yet.

      I have to believe that all these cars have a cameras trained on many different angles to capture not only the telemetry by which they navigate, but also to capture the "what happened" for review. That that review would be as interesting to the law and insurance companies and others seems to have been skipped over.

      I use as my jumping off point all the brouhaha over Google's StreetView and everybody screaming about invasion of privacy. They were even sued when mistakenly driving down someone's driveway.

      Now how many cars do you think StreetView had active at any one time? And how many times do they come back and re-do views? (They've redone my street once in 5+ years)

      Now what about when half the cars in the West are instrumented to continuously record everything going on around them? All the time and everywhere? There will be no privacy on streets. (Whether I'm for or against the concept of "privacy in public" is moot, but some feel quite strongly about this)

      Why haven't I seen any mention of this?

      1. Jonathan Richards 1
        Go

        Re: Evidence == "Invasion of Privacy!"

        It all depends on who is in control of the images, doesn't it. If they're taken with a camera which is an integral part of a car owned by an individual, I can't see any reason why the images are not the property of that individual, and the only way one could be made to cough them up is by a requirement of a court to produce evidence. I will not be buying or driving a car which uploads imagery to any second or third party without both my permission and my positive action to make it happen.

        As far as the privacy on the street notion goes, one has no expectation of privacy on the street. Many cars already have dash cams, although maybe fewer in the UK than elsewhere. All in all, I think they're a Good ThingTM, because the imagery they capture is not, for the time being at least, being borged into some Big Brother database. Hell. I really hope that the Home Secretary doesn't read these comments.

        1. James Hughes 1

          Privacy and data storage

          These cars have a lot of high resolution camera. The data storage for just single 1hr trip will be really quite large (let's say 4x1080p30 cameras, that's multiple GB per hour). Now multiply that by every car, and the numbers of hours driven.

          Not enough storage in the world for that lot.

          1. Joey M0usepad Silver badge

            Re: Not enough storage in the world for that lot.

            I thought the same when i heard all skype calls were recorded the other day ( probly optional) but its done at the users end so its all distributed , so the GBs can be done.

          2. hplasm Silver badge
            Facepalm

            Re: Privacy and data storage

            "Not enough storage in the world for that lot."

            But if each camera has enough storage, then by definition, there is...

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Evidence == "Invasion of Privacy!"

          Lets take a look at the United States and crashes of modern vehicles. By modern I mean 5 or less years old depending on who manufactured the vehicle, BMW a little older base gm's probably about 5 years. Now lets talk bout OBDII and CAN. For the uninitiated this the the little port in under the drivers side dash and stands for on board diagnostics 2nd revision or edition. CAN is controller area network or all the little computers in your car talking to one another. So you crash you 2015 Dodge Viper and someone dies, maybe you maybe the other driver it does not matter. So now your state highway patrol shows up at the crash scene and they have the cars towed to impound. Next, depending on which state you live in, they get a warrant to inspect your car (not all states require this step). The reconstructionist does a physical inspection of your car to see if anything looks like it contributed to your crash. Next, this is the fun part, they hook their machine (computer) into the little obd2 port and download the data in the various controllers on the can. Then they go back to the office. The computer now has up to the last 15 minutes of vehicle operational parameters (most vehicles only store 30 to 60 seconds which is plenty :high end cars store more to make the more complex car problem easier to capture) this nice data tells them at a minimum: how fast you were going, throttle angle (were you driving like a saint or with the peddle on the floor), yaw rate, steering angle, brake application (or lack there of) had you been driving like this for long, any problems with the car, how much fuel was in the tank, engine rpm, did you have the ac or heater on, was the radio on and how loud, if it was night were both your headlights working, etc., etc. So pretty much anything that has a controller dumps data to the main ecu and is available for all with the proper equipment to see. So the only think this adds is movies.

          Of interest is the recent move by the airline industry to involve pilots more in the flying of aircraft. It seems that if you don't give humans something to do they tend to find something else to do (distracted driving) and can't respond quickly enough in an emergency if the computer fails.

          The other question people have to ask. All the laws so far say that the driver of a self driving car is still the responsible party if it crashes. So you give up control but retain responsibility. Not a big sales grabber. I know that with laws like that I will drive, yes even if I am a worse driver. If i screw up its my fault, if the software screws up its my fault. I take option 1.

        3. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Evidence == "Invasion of Privacy!"

          "If they're taken with a camera which is an integral part of a car owned by an individual, I can't see any reason why the images are not the property of that individual"

          the moment you hand the car over to the insurer, it becomes the property of the insurer. Cars already have rudimentary black boxes on board (the airbag computer is continuously recording conditions in deployment and near deployment) and those have already been used to deny insurance payouts (one example being the mercedes which was recorded at 100+mph a few seconds before it crashed on an urban road with 30mph speed limit.

          Insurers have handed telematics data to police for prosecution too.

      2. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Evidence == "Invasion of Privacy!"

        "Why haven't I seen any mention of this?"

        Because the same thing happens when a photographer takes a picture of the street. Unless you specifically were the focus, the courts have previously ruled you are under no expectation of privacy on a public street.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Evidence == "Invasion of Privacy!"

          "Because the same thing happens when a photographer takes a picture of the street. Unless you specifically were the focus, the courts have previously ruled you are under no expectation of privacy on a public street."

          And that's a perfectly reasonable stance to take when there are millions of people walking the streets of various towns and cities and maybe a few people talking photos which may or may not happen to include you. But when it's every car driving past you, possibly uploading the imagery to the Borg cloud in full HD colour it might be time to revisit the law. After all, you may not have an expectation of privacy in public but you also don't have an expectation of being filmed everywhere you go as soon as you step out of the front door. "Expectation" implies a balance of some sort.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Evidence == "Invasion of Privacy!"

            "And that's a perfectly reasonable stance to take when there are millions of people walking the streets of various towns and cities and maybe a few people talking photos which may or may not happen to include you. But when it's every car driving past you, possibly uploading the imagery to the Borg cloud in full HD colour it might be time to revisit the law. After all, you may not have an expectation of privacy in public but you also don't have an expectation of being filmed everywhere you go as soon as you step out of the front door. "Expectation" implies a balance of some sort."

            No implication. It's simply you can't expect to control the part of the world that isn't yours. How do you think things worked back in the village days when everyone knew what everyone else was doing?

  3. Mage Silver badge
    Big Brother

    caused by human error and inattention

    Google would say that.

    "Google pointed out that those figures might be off, since a huge number of minor crashes aren't reported to the authorities. "

    Our Cloud loving possibly future Overlord would say that.

    The cars are 100% programmed by humans. When the many flaws in the software appear it may be mildly annoying or spectacularly fatal.

    1. Zane

      Re: caused by human error and inattention

      Well the fact that the software is written by humans is not that big issue... because the software for driving a car is rather simple. You'd be surprised, but there is not much in there on the algorithmic part.

      The point why autonomous vehicles are better than humans is not that there is some clever software inside - one major reason is that they have better senses...eh sensors... and that their calculation is more accurate. Driving itself is basically keeping the steering wheel so it follows the road + avoid collisions with others.

      /Zane

      1. Adam 1

        Re: caused by human error and inattention

        Driving is more than yaw computations. Sorry, was that a packet of crisps that can be safely run over or a rock that must be avoided by an aggressive manoeuvre. No time to get a response from Watson in this crappy 4G zone.

        It stands to reason that a mesh of autonomous cars can process more information and not do the stupid things is humanoids do from time to time. But! What would happen if you were overtaking this car at the moment it decided that the abovementioned crisp packet was to be aggressively avoided? This could easily create accident scenarios that are not so today.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: caused by human error and inattention

          Like swerving your 4ton SUV into lanes of oncoming traffic to avoid a squirrel

        2. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: caused by human error and inattention

          "Driving is more than yaw computations. Sorry, was that a packet of crisps that can be safely run over or a rock that must be avoided by an aggressive manoeuvre. No time to get a response from Watson in this crappy 4G zone."

          A packet of crisps would probably return a different infrared signature than a rock, Plus there's the matter of motion (a packets of crisps will react to the wind differently than a rock due to weight and aerodynamics). And if it's a rock IN a packet of crisps, that's pretty much sabotage at this point.

          Put it this way. A LOT of thought has gone into the various scenarios that the average driver faces as well as how we as drivers identify and react to these. The bulk of that knowledge is probably in the prototype cars, already at hand no Internet necessary. Same for the maps.

          1. Uffish

            Re: "that knowledge is probably in the prototype cars, already at hand"

            Would you like to be in a Google car going round the Colosseum in Rome, The Arc de Triomphe in Paris or, my favourite, the motorway to the airport in Delhi, at night? I would take a local taxi every time (and tranquilizers).

            1. Tom 13

              Re: I would take a local taxi every time (and tranquilizers).

              Not me. I'd watch it on Top Gear with a gin and tonic in hand.

          2. Tom 13

            Re: if it's a rock IN a packet of crisps

            Somewhere there's a government regulation that specifies how frequently you can find a rock in a bag of crisps. I know. I once had to do the typesetting work on an official method that was used to determine the amount of rat feces in grain. Yes, the method was used to determine compliance with Dept of Agriculture regulations.

  4. Tapeador

    Ha ha

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rX7wtNOkuHo

  5. Turtle

    For Sport.

    "Self-driving cars have put in hundreds of thousands of miles on California's roads and, according to the state's Department of Motor Vehicles, they have had four crashes along the way."

    I'm just going to wait until these self-driving cars become more common; at that point it will be very interesting to see how they react to teenage drivers playing chicken with them.

    In fact, knowing the novel uses which human ingenuity can find for any kind of technology, I would expect "RoboCar Chicken" to be the next big motor sport - with the tracks and arenas conveniently located on any public road you want, with participation open to all! (And expect it to be a big spectator sport on Youtube.)

    1. Small Furry Animal

      Re: For Sport.

      "In fact, knowing the novel uses which human ingenuity can find for any kind of technology, I would expect "RoboCar Chicken" to be the next big motor sport - with the tracks and arenas conveniently located on any public road you want, with participation open to all!"

      Put me down for a grandstand ticket ;-)

    2. LucreLout Silver badge

      Re: For Sport.

      In fact, knowing the novel uses which human ingenuity can find for any kind of technology, I would expect ...

      Agree with the above - All sorts of non-obvious uses for this....

      Mugging people in cars will be possible as the car will decline to run them over.

      Bringing temporary gridlock on a series of roads could be possible by having Goog et all issue a stop notice for an area, allowing police to box in fleeing vehicles.

      Drink/drug/sleep driving will rise unless the car tests occupants before setting of an monitors them during the journey.

      Ladies of the night will doubtless use them as a convenient place to do business while avoiding observation.

      Hacking the system to eliminsate human occupancy would allow drug/arms dealers to move bulk product around the country with no fear of arrest.

      Pedestrians and cyclists will doubtless find a way to game the cars systems to gain advantage.

      Reconfiguring the car should allow their use as mobile meeting rooms, saving expensive office space.

      Full automation will end cabbies roles, and that of truck or bus drivers. Some will lament this, others not. But the civil service / government need to start planning for change now as whole industries will be born, and others die, as a result of these changes.

      All sorts of fun stuff awaits... I just hope everyone involved can be realistic about both the opportunities, and the threats posed by them.

      1. hplasm Silver badge
        WTF?

        Re: For Sport.

        "Drink/drug/sleep driving will rise unless the car tests occupants before setting of an monitors them during the journey."

        Isn't that the point of these things?

        1. BongoJoe

          Re: For Sport.

          Ah, the ol' rock n' roll tour bus.

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: For Sport.

        The most likely end effect of automated cars is the rise of Jonny Cab.

        We keep cars because they're convenient. If something more convenient becomes available then we'll use that.

  6. Neoc

    Driving test

    California? Paris? Drove them and had white knuckles. But when I drove through Prague 1 ("old Prague") last year I had to stop afterwards and have a quiet nervous breakdown.

    Send the cars through there - if they manage it I'll believe they can handle anything.

  7. Ken Y-N
    Alert

    Test cars versus real cars

    Although their numbers are impressive, I would bet they have a huge amount of electronics, megapixels, and CPU power that would never make it into a real car, where every milliwatt counts. Furthermore, I would guess most of their efforts is towards a technology demo - making it into a product is not an easy job, as electronics and code needs to be made failsafe, handle all the edge cases (what happens when you get snow on your camera, for instance) and all these other boring aspects that Google never seems to be very good at.

    Read ISO 26262 and MISRA-C guidelines, for instance, if you need an antidote to the Google hype.

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Test cars versus real cars

      "I would bet they have a huge amount of electronics, megapixels, and CPU power that would never make it into a real car"

      You would bet wrong. Broadcom and others are developing chipsets which put all the computational power of the Google cars in one system-on-chip, The existing Tegra X1 is a hint of things to come.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Chaotic California roads ?

    How about Rome or Naples ? Sunny California, eh ? Why don't they send those droid cars North in Winnipeg in a harsh stormy winter night to see how they would fare ?

    1. Ole Juul

      Re: Chaotic California roads ?

      I do think that California is what these cars are designed for, and particularly a nice orderly city environment with no rock slides. Around here we have lots of rocks, parts of the road sagging to create curb high disruptions, and lots of deer that like to cross the road just as you get up them. I honestly don't think that one of these cars will go the speed limit (50mph) on the highway here, especially in the single lane sections.

      I also wonder how these cars are at passing. Getting behind some tourist who is scared *hitless and driving in the middle of the road at 30mph can get pretty tedious after 10 miles, and I do think that it takes a real person to figure out how to deal with that in a safe manner. I realize this is an uncommon driving environment around here, but people come from here to the city and vice versa and they're not going to change cars half way.

      1. Goldmember

        Re: Chaotic California roads ?

        "I also wonder how these cars are at passing. Getting behind some tourist who is scared *hitless and driving in the middle of the road at 30mph can get pretty tedious after 10 miles, and I do think that it takes a real person to figure out how to deal with that in a safe manner."

        The safest thing to do in that situation is to sit behind them until they pull over or turn off somewhere. Passing them, especially if they are driving down the middle of the road, is certainly NOT the safest way to deal with the situation. Computers don't acknowledge tedium or frustration, so in this case the self-driving car would get its occupant(s) to their destination with much less risk than a meatbag driver would, albeit a fair bit slower.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Chaotic California roads ?

          "The safest thing to do in that situation is to sit behind them until they pull over or turn off somewhere. Passing them, especially if they are driving down the middle of the road, is certainly NOT the safest way to deal with the situation. Computers don't acknowledge tedium or frustration, so in this case the self-driving car would get its occupant(s) to their destination with much less risk than a meatbag driver would, albeit a fair bit slower."

          But what if the car is against a deadline, say the passenger is trying to make a meeting at X:YY and can't be late. Now you have conflicting pressures. How does the car make it safely AND on time, and the passenger whose job is likely on the line is likely to prefer the latter is only one can be achieved.

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: Chaotic California roads ?

            "But what if the car is against a deadline, say the passenger is trying to make a meeting at X:YY and can't be late"

            "Drive faster Dad. Or We'll be late."

            He did. They are.

            15-20 years ago this was an issue. These days all you need to do is phone ahead.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Chaotic California roads ?

              "15-20 years ago this was an issue. These days all you need to do is phone ahead."

              Still is an issue. Even these days, there are some people you DON'T phone ahead. One is a potential big client who has a competing bid. Sometimes, promptness is everything or at least such a linchpin that failing that can cascade into much worse. Sure, crap happens, but expectations are so high now that people expect you to be able handle everything (including the kitchen sink) and STILL be on time.

              1. Jos V

                Re: Chaotic California roads ?

                " One is a potential big client who has a competing bid"

                Right, what about leaving your home/office half an hour or more earlier if it is that important. If you get there early, I'm sure your employer won't mind you having a coffee around the corner before walking into your client's office in time....

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: Chaotic California roads ?

                  "Right, what about leaving your home/office half an hour or more earlier if it is that important. If you get there early, I'm sure your employer won't mind you having a coffee around the corner before walking into your client's office in time...."

                  Did. STILL ended up late because of an accident I had no knowledge about until I hit it. And since clients expect you to be psychic, that's no excuse...

        2. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Chaotic California roads ?

          "Computers don't acknowledge tedium or frustration, so in this case the self-driving car would get its occupant(s) to their destination with much less risk than a meatbag driver would, albeit a fair bit slower."

          In most cases a frustrated driver gets to his destination about 5-10 minutes before the "slow" one.

          That said, slow drivers are supposed to pull over if they have cars queueing behind them. It's the law in some countries.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Chaotic California roads ?

      Chaotic California?

      FFS I could have a nap in the back compared to some roads, UK country lanes, Paris main roads, Spanish side road and as for India, good luck with that chaos. The car will obediently stop at a red light and get plowed into in every direction possible.

  9. thomas k.

    half humans fault

    You mean, like, halflings? Damn those hobbits!

    1. DropBear Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: half humans fault

      Nono, half-halfling. One quarter kobold, you know...

  10. Queasy Rider

    Luddites

    Yes, you are all auto-driver Luddites, and I down-voted every last one of you. Not because of your Paris, Rome, Naples, Prague, Winnipeg, ravine, Mars, Pluto or Tatooine examples, because I tend to agree that those will be some of the last places that the driver-less cars will successfully navigate, but because you all refuse to admit that some day (and the sooner the better) they will succeed. And for refusing to acknowledge that they already can handle much of the every day driving chores we face today. I honestly believe that fully and universally autonomous cars would have prevented virtually every accident I have been in or witnessed over the last fifty years. They would have prevented speeders, tailgaters, drunks, cell gabbers and texters, lane hoppers and wanderers, daydreamers, boy-racers, red light and stop sign runners, non-yielders, and old fossils that can't even see over their steering wheels. And I suspect I know why you all hate these cars. It is because when all is said and done, we all love to drive, to feel the power of the vehicle in our hands, to be in control of such power, to feel the freedom of the open road, to negotiate the twists and turns of a medieval city or Arab market place, to thunder across the Australian outback in complete solitude, to explore back-country roads on a lazy afternoon, to take a driving vacation. Yup, I'm going to miss all that too, but every time I hear the sound of a crunched door panel or a busted tail light I literally get a sick feeling in my stomach. Was somebody hurt, did somebody die, isn't that a shame, what a beautiful vehicle, there go the insurance rates again.

    Instead of fighting the inevitable savings and benefits of robo-cars, we need to find ways to preserve the things we love most about driving. That means finding ways to share the road with them, maybe even restricting certain by-ways to driver-only access, or limited times of day. Searching for edge cases to doom these machines will ultimately prove fruitless, so come on guys, embrace the future and let's find a way to make this work for everybody. Smart folks like you have no shortage of ideas, that's why I read and heed all the Reg commenters. There must be ways. Cheers.

    1. Thorne

      Re: Luddites

      While people are correct in saying that self drive cars will cause accidents they seem to forget that self drive cars will cause far less accidents than humans. They don't get sleepy, don't drink, don't speed, can see in the dark, can see 360 degrees and have perfect reflexes.

      Yes there will be accidents but there will be far less accidents. Mechanical failures will still occur and stupid people/animals will still step out in front.

      As for preserving what we like about driving, that won't happen. Short of private roads and racetracks all human controlled driving will cease in less than 50 years. Cars will be moving too quickly and too close together, moving in formation to save fuel for any human driver to be allowed on the road. Car insurance will see to that long before the law does.

      Sorry but the writing was already on the wall the moment DARPA created it's autonomous challenge.

      1. naive

        Re: Luddites

        The reply is spot on, nothing is perfect, but some solutions are less imperfect as humans.

        Another reason to automate the driving altogether can be seen by just looking at modern cars.

        They now look leftenant Grubers little tank to satisfy all the safety requirements from the polit bureau in Brussels, weigh tons, all in an attempt to reduce the self induced killings on the roads.

        Self driving cars could probably get rid of this passive security, so their weight could drop by 300-500kg, reducing fuel consumption by 20%-30%.

      2. M7S
        Joke

        Re: Luddites @ Thorne

        "They don't get sleepy, don't drink, don't speed, can see in the dark, can see 360 degrees and have perfect reflexes"

        and from elsewhere..."It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear."

        Need we go on to the bit about stopping, and death?

        1. Thorne

          Re: Luddites @ Thorne

          ."It can't be reasoned with. It doesn't feel pity, or remorse, or fear."

          I'd be worried if you need to feel pity remorse and fear while driving........

      3. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Luddites

        "Mechanical failures will still occur"

        Most crashes attributable to mechanical failure happen because drivers ignore warnings and carry on regardless. An automated vehicle won't do that - and if you hit override, it'll be busy telling everything around itself that its safety is compromised.

        "Stupid people/animals may step in front", but in all liklihood the car will have seen them and slowed down already. Drivers can only see/process 2-3 things at once (at best).

        The reduction in crashes/dings will be more profound that people realise.

        Even a "good driver" makes mistakes regularly and crashes usually only happen when bad drivers do several stupid things simultaneously (a classic example of that is someone losing control on a bend and oncoming traffic steering _into_ the crash). At least 80% of road crashes are avoidable (better driving) or preventable (better road engineering).

        My suspicion is that a manually controlled car on a road full of automatons will be obvious because it will be the one being given a _very_ wide berth by the robots.

    2. Jonathan Richards 1

      Re: Luddites

      > There must be ways.

      Yup. For urban traffic taking fixed and heavily used routes: trams and (for big enough cities) underground. For inter-city traffic: trains. For very short journeys: travelling walkways and escalators (e.g. Hong Kong).

      I remain to be convinced that the effort to make car driving safer using autonomous-driving technology is viable. The object should be to move the people to where they want to be; to assume that the object is to make safe cars misses the point. To do the former, there exists under-exploited and established technology. Trains are already 27 times safer (in terms of fatalities per passenger-mile)[1] than cars, and airline flights are safer still, though flying is out of scope for this discussion.

      [1]The figures are specifically for European railways. Source: The Guardian

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Luddites

        "I remain to be convinced that the effort to make car driving safer using autonomous-driving technology is viable. The object should be to move the people to where they want to be; to assume that the object is to make safe cars misses the point."

        No, mass transit misses the point because, by necessity, it runs to a schedule and to a limited number of fixed points. Life doesn't always run that way, so more often than not you need to travel between two arbitrary points far from any kind of mass transit in conditions that are not conducive to walking (long distances, heavy precipitation, and/or short time limit). Which leaves the car, which has the freedom mass transit lacks. Ask yourself. If mass transit was really all that, why is there still an obsession for a personal form of transportation able to drive anywhere, anytime, and under almost any condition?

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Luddites

          "mass transit misses the point because, by necessity, it runs to a schedule and to a limited number of fixed points."

          The issue isn't about mass transport, it's about inconvenience when you get to those points. If there's a car waiting for you when you step out of the station people will be much happier about taking the train.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Luddites

            "The issue isn't about mass transport, it's about inconvenience when you get to those points. If there's a car waiting for you when you step out of the station people will be much happier about taking the train."

            But the issue here is that the train may not be ready for you at the time you need it. Besides, if you can have a car waiting for you at the station, why not at your doorstep, bypassing fixed-schedule trains altogether?

            1. Queasy Rider

              Re: Luddites

              I lived in the burbs and commuted to the heart of downtown for decades. I tried both driving myself and taking public transit. I ended up settling for the bus and subway but it wouldn't have taken much to swing me the other way. Transit took twice as long but monthly passes were convenient, affordable, especially compared to downtown parking rates, (and could be used as often as you liked making them attractive for hopping around the city for what felt like free). But getting up over half an hour earlier every day to catch the bus felt like a death sentence to a nighthawk like myself. And freezing my ass off every morning of the year standing at a bus stop hours before the sun rose to be at work by 7:00 (first bus 5:45 a.m.) was no joy either. The only salvation was the fact that I got to sit all the way and do the morning crossword, but if I'd had to board the bus, and subway one stop further down I would have been forced to stand for almost an hour, hanging on a strap, arriving at work, exhausted and cranky. As it was, I stood all the way home every afternoon, practically asleep on my feet, eyes closed almost all the way. I hated those days, and as a result, my job too although there was nothing wrong with the job, but you had to follow the work.

              So sure, public transit works, and pretty efficiently too, but give me a Johnny Cab (if affordable)or robo-car any day. And yes, I had one job far off any bus route that I taxied to every day at my own expense when I was carless, and another I bicycled to.

              1. Alan Brown Silver badge

                Re: Luddites

                "Transit took twice as long but monthly passes were convenient,"

                Where I live, getting into the heart of London takes about 45 mins by train and about the same by car - at night, under ideal circumstances.

                During the day, driving can easily take 2 hours, usually 3 and occasionally 4. Exiting the city has the same kinds of delays and these can continue well into the night.

                IE: optimising johnnycab for public transport is best.

                Going in the other direction - to where I work - the nearest bus stop is 2 miles from the destination and there are only 5 busses a day. It takes 2 hours to get there, vs 25 mins to drive. The optimisations are quite different.

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Luddites

        "For very short journeys: travelling walkways and escalators "

        They're not a new invention:

        http://paleofuture.gizmodo.com/new-yorks-underground-moving-sidewalk-that-never-was-851345624

        http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/moving-sidewalks-before-the-jetsons-17484942/?no-ist=

        And they're unlikely to be any more acceptable in future than they were in the past.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Luddites

      It's also fun speculating on whether we'd accept autonomous cars driving at a lower speed (and so fewer serious crashes) but, for city driving at least, a higher average speed than we currently manage. Much of city driving is stop/start (we're talking less than 20mph on average in London) and surely a lot of that could be done away with if *everyone* was in autonomous cars. Imagine a roundabout (although whether there would actually need to be a roundabout) - you can see how cars could simply feed in constantly if computers were in charge rather than being stuck behind the inexperienced / nervous / inattentive human driver.

      And even if a human driven car was able to get from A to B faster, many people would be content with getting there slower if they were able to read the paper, chat to friends, eat their lunch instead of driving.

      Trouble is, that sort of utopia only really works if *ALL* cars are autonomous.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Queasy Rider

        Re: Luddites

        Here is (or was) a sort of example of driving slower to get there faster. It has been a long time since I drove in Toronto, but thirty years ago the Queen Elizabeth Way, a four lane (now at least six lanes) major feeder route into the city, had computer run traffic lights controlling the on ramps, limiting the amount of vehicles actually merging into the traffic lanes if there was too much congestion at any particular interchange. The theory was that a brief wait on the ramp allowed smoother, faster traffic flow because it prevented bunching up. Perhaps someone here could tell me if this is still the case, or if it was abandoned because theory didn't match reality.

        1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

          Re: Luddites

          Perhaps someone here could tell me if this is still the case, or if it was abandoned because theory didn't match reality.

          No idea about Toronto, but it's standard practice on the M25 around London. Speed limits are varied according to the traffic levels, and it works.

      3. Anna Logg

        Re: Luddites

        "Trouble is, that sort of utopia only really works if *ALL* cars are autonomous"

        Make that 'vehicles' rather than 'cars' and I agree.

    4. Vic

      Re: Luddites

      they already can handle much of the every day driving chores we face today

      A 6-year old can handle "much[sic] of the every day driving chores we face today". But he couldn't handle all of them - specifically, when the conditions no longer match the model, experience is required.

      I for one would like to see rather more demonstration of success in adverse conditions before green-lighting the project...

      Vic.

  11. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge
    Joke

    Incompatible Driver

    If that is how the crashes that were supposedly caused by humans were reported then I think a recount is needed.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Honestly? Really?

    Crashes are always going to be a factor, since fleshy human drivers make mistakes all the time

    Oh really. I find the tendency to blame the humans all too convenient, especially on a site which is supposedly knowledgeable about IT I find the sudden trust in computers rather naïve. For a start, if there are low speed crashes I personally don't think it plausible that humans are at fault - we don't DO low speed, simply psychology.

    Let's have a look at another industry where computers have control, but in 3D: aeroplanes. Only recently, one of these went down in flames. It's taken a lot of time to get those things to work well, and you have 3 of them on board. The setups discussed here don't seem that redundant, and especially in the case of Google, are you really prepared to trust your life to a company that generates all its income by being permanently in beta? To me, that is not the right mindset.

    Sure, planes have more dimensions, but they operate in a controlled space, whereas a car has to cope with other idiots on the road (QED the Audi that got crashed by another driver), a constantly variable environment. I know of enough malfunctioning car electronics that just stop the car to be wary of anything not brought on the road by a proper car manufacturer that has a reputation to lose.

    Humans may make mistakes, but we also know how to deal with them. If there is one thing we're damn good at, it's dealing with imperfection.

    1. James Hughes 1

      Re: Honestly? Really?

      Glad you used the troll icon.

      Planes are incredible safe, even when entirely controlled by computers. Not a valid argument.

      Google beta point. WTF? You really really think that legislation will let 'bad/untested/beta' driverless cars on the road? These things are going to be tested to the nth.

      Humans are terrible drivers on the whole. Driving when tired, when distracted by children, when really bad drivers who should never even be allowed in a car. May not be there yet, but computers are guaranteed to eventually be better than human drivers. And I suspect that time is not that far off.

      1. Anna Logg

        Re: Honestly? Really?

        "Humans are terrible drivers on the whole."

        Well we're not that terrible, or 99.99% (estimate based on my own driving, don't have time to Google at the moment) of journeys wouldn't be completed without accident.

        1. James Hughes 1

          Re: Honestly? Really?

          Very few examples of bad driving end in accidents. I see bad driving every day, I sure I've been responsible for some of it. Almost everyone has driven badly at some point. You don't have to drive badly all the time. Whereas a automomous car? When will that drive 'badly'?

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Honestly? Really?

        You're missing the point. I'm not stating that humans are good drivers, I'm questioning this blind belief that computers will somehow do this better. Until there are cars on the road in real life situations that is at best an assumption, and a dangerous one at that.

        For a start, it's a v1 so yes, it will take a lot of testing before it is allowed in production, but as the plane industry has shown, even with their seriously high grade checking things can go wrong and need correcting, so the assumption that somehow computerised cars will not have some bugs that need ironing out is not only naïve, it conflicts with common sense.

        Did you never have a computer freeze on you? Even with a non-Microsoft operating system? I would especially not trust anything Google comes up with, but that's just my personal dislike of data thieves.

        Will it happen? I think so, it makes sense and there are advantages to be had such as avoiding the slowdown waves in dense traffic. Will it be flawless from day 1? Not a chance IMHO.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Honestly? Really?

          "For a start, it's a v1 so yes, it will take a lot of testing before it is allowed in production, but as the plane industry has shown, even with their seriously high grade checking things can go wrong and need correcting, so the assumption that somehow computerised cars will not have some bugs that need ironing out is not only naïve, it conflicts with common sense.

          Did you never have a computer freeze on you? Even with a non-Microsoft operating system? I would especially not trust anything Google comes up with, but that's just my personal dislike of data thieves."

          Given that computers have been on airplanes for decades and, due to the particulars of the transport have very strict uptime and operating requirements, I would think that provides a good bar in that regard.

  13. dorsetknob
    Facepalm

    California Driving

    Quote

    ""particularly on the chaotic California roads, where drivers seem to think stopping distances are a quaint suggestion""

    California Driver stopping Distance = Distance from point of impact to eventual resting point

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: California Driving

      Maybe I'm hardened by 20 years of driving in France, but I find driving in California to be pleasantly relaxing. People actually stop at stop signs and pedestrian crossings, take their turn at junctions.

  14. Stratman

    "Each of Google's self-driving cars is covered by a $5m insurance package"

    $5 million?. In the USA? is that all?

    $5M is about the going rate for being served the wrong coffee, or having your feelings hurt in the LoTF.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    One question

    Can they tell the difference between a good sized rock and a paper bag?

    One needs drastically avoiding, the other does not.

    Getting it wrong could result in a nasty injury.

    1. James Hughes 1

      Re: One question

      Can YOU tell the difference? Is so, then a computer won't be far behind.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: One question

        OK, how about a rock IN a paper bag?

      2. Thorne

        Re: One question

        The answer is obvious. The computer will know the size of the object and whether it can pass under the vehicle safely or not and will adjust it's path to avoid the object if at all possible. If it is not possible then it will run over the object. Should there be a significant impact, the car will alert nearby vehicles to give them more chance to avoid the object.

  16. Bob Dole (tm)

    I want one

    'nuff said.

  17. nilfs2

    Give me a computer any day...

    ...over a human driver, computers don't get distracted on their phones, they don't get late to meetings and do reckless maneuvers, computers don't like to play Fast and Furious on their crappy Hondas, computers don't drive drunk, computers don't apply makeup and drive, computers don't assume their time is more important than anyone else's,...and the list goes on and on.

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