Automotive

Robotic road rage? Google's self-driving car learns how to honk

Robotic road rage? Google's se...
Some of Google's prototype self-driving cars are electric, so those nearby won't receive the same audible warning as if it was a gasoline engine approaching
Some of Google's prototype self-driving cars are electric, so those nearby won't receive the same audible warning as if it was a gasoline engine approaching
View 7 Images
Engineers have taught Googles autonomous cars to discern between dangerous scenarios and false positives before sounding the horn
1/7
Engineers have taught Googles autonomous cars to discern between dangerous scenarios and false positives before sounding the horn
In Google's latest monthly self-driving car report the company says its goal is to teach its cars to honk like a "patient, seasoned driver"
2/7
In Google's latest monthly self-driving car report the company says its goal is to teach its cars to honk like a "patient, seasoned driver"
Some of Google's prototype self-driving cars are electric, so those nearby won't receive the same audible warning as if it was a gasoline engine approaching
3/7
Some of Google's prototype self-driving cars are electric, so those nearby won't receive the same audible warning as if it was a gasoline engine approaching
In Google's self-driving software, a horn appears above the car when it has decided to beep
4/7
In Google's self-driving software, a horn appears above the car when it has decided to beep
Rear view of a Google self-driving car at Google I/O 2016
5/7
Rear view of a Google self-driving car at Google I/O 2016
Interior of a Google self-driving car
6/7
Interior of a Google self-driving car
Some of Google's prototype self-driving cars are electric, so those nearby won't receive the same audible warning as if it was a gasoline engine approaching
7/7
Some of Google's prototype self-driving cars are electric, so those nearby won't receive the same audible warning as if it was a gasoline engine approaching
View gallery - 7 images

Next time you're jammed in gridlock and somebody starts off a chorus of aggravating honks, it mightn't be a frustrated human driver leaning on the horn. Google engineers have been training the company's autonomous vehicles to pick up on impending collisions and use the horn as a tool to improve road safety, for human and robotic drivers alike.

It's something that might have come in handy when an autonomous Lexus drove itself into the side of a bus in February, but in its latest monthly self-driving car report Google says its goal is to teach its cars to honk like a "patient, seasoned driver." Whether that is a good thing or not is up for debate, but it does claim the cars will only sound the horn when it makes the roads safer for everyone.

The engineers have taught the cars to discern between real, dangerous scenarios, and false positives. So it will know if an oncoming car has drifted into your lane and is about to plow right into you, or if a car up ahead is simply performing a three-point-turn (some drivers might reach for the horn in this situation anyway).

In Google's self-driving software, a horn appears above the car when it has decided to beep
In Google's self-driving software, a horn appears above the car when it has decided to beep

The team achieved this by riding along with the car and having the horn play only inside the vehicle when there was a chance of collision. The engineers took note of each time the beep was a reaction a patient, seasoned driver might have and fine-tuned the software to improve the vehicle's road etiquette.

After enough tweaking, the team finally let the horn rip outside the car. It has even fitted the vehicle with different types of honks for different degrees of danger. So if a vehicle is backing up slowly, Google's car might decide that a gentle little beep-beep will suffice. Whereas if there is immediate, serious danger, the car will opt for a sustained, blaring horn instead.

Some of Google's self-driving cars are electric, so those nearby won't receive the same audible warning as if it was a gasoline engine approaching. As a way of addressing this, the company has already designed the vehicle to make an artificial hum as it roams the streets, and is now letting it toot-toot to boot.

Source: Google

View gallery - 7 images
5 comments
Mel Tisdale
There might be one way that an audible warning can be sounded automatically in potentially dangerous situations, which almost unanimously involve the driver applying the footbrake as hard as they possibly can. If the anti-lock braking system were tweaked so that it only worked on one of the two front wheels, it would automatically cause the other front (locked) wheel's tyre to screech as it skidded on the tarmac. It would not need to be adjusted to cope with local restrictions on sounding the horn at specified times or occasions, such as late at night, or when a period of silence is being observed as on Armistice Day, (Google had better build these requirements into their system.) Steering would still be maintained by the wheel that still had anti-lock working and directional stability would be as normal under anti-lock operation of the rear wheels.
Joe Blough
While you have to love the engineering that goes into autonomous vehicles, they have I think, zero usefulness in the northern states. Imagine a google car encountering icy roads with large snow berms left by snowplows. I doubt they can "see" the berms or handle the icy roads. Then there is fog or just whiteouts. The fans claim soon you won't need a drivers license and the fools claim that car ownership will become a thing of the past as "borrowed" autonomous cars on demand will rule. In your dreams cadet. In any conditions but perfect southern cal, these things are likely to be little more than road hazards playing the probabilities and gambling against -a serious crash is just ahead.
Mr. Hensley Garlington
I absolutely HATE noise pollution. One of the greatest appeals of electric motors is that they are quiet! Quit augmenting their noise. People don't walk out in front of vehicles when they look both ways. The horn ideas listed here are great though, just get rid of the "artificial hum". Same goes for gas cars they augment with fake, throaty engine sounds!
alki
They'll need to switch this off in Hawaii, where nobody honks, ever.
Altman
Autonomous car honking is no doubt impressive. The surprise for me was, I thought they already knew when to honk.