Automotive

Here's what two million miles of autonomous driving has taught Google

Here's what two million miles ...
Google's self-driving cars have become better at detecting and responding to obstacles, at understanding other road users and at reacting to unusual situations
Google's self-driving cars have become better at detecting and responding to obstacles, at understanding other road users and at reacting to unusual situations
View 1 Image
Google's self-driving cars have become better at detecting and responding to obstacles, at understanding other road users and at reacting to unusual situations
1/1
Google's self-driving cars have become better at detecting and responding to obstacles, at understanding other road users and at reacting to unusual situations

Google's self-driving vehicles have now driven over two million mi ( 3.2 million km) on public roads and, as you might expect, the first million looked very different than the second. Freeways, light traffic and simple intersections have given way to complex city streets, advanced road craft and social cues.

Google first revealed that it was working on self-driving tech back in 2010. At the time, its autonomous vehicles had covered just 140,000 mi (225,300 km), but had already been able to negotiate San Francisco's tricky Lombard Street, cross the Golden Gate Bridge and circumnavigate Lake Tahoe.

In an article yesterday, Google's head of self-driving tech Dmitri Dolgov explained that these sort of achievements came pretty quickly. "That's because it's relatively easy to master the first 90 percent of driving where you're traveling on freeways, navigating light city-street traffic, or making your way through simple intersections," said Dolgov. "But to create a truly self-driving car that can do all the driving, we knew we'd need experience in more challenging and interesting situations."

The more the cars have driven themselves around and uncovered a range of situations, the more Google has learned. Dolgov suggests that the second million miles has helped Google's cars learn how to deal with even out-of-the-ordinary situations, with a unicycling couple and cars driving the wrong way among those it has encountered.

To gain the right kind of experience - that so-called final 10 percent - Google has its cars spend most of their time today on what Dolgov calls "complex city streets." In these environments, they are said to have become better at detecting obstacles – such as emergency vehicles, construction zones and closed lanes – and responding accordingly.

The cars are also said to have become better at understanding the nuances of human driving and predicting what other drivers are likely to do, based on what Dolgov characterizes as the "delicate social dance" and "silent conversations" of road users. Here, he is referring to the subtle ways in which we indicate our intentions to each other – such as by positioning ourselves to change lanes – that may be obvious to human drivers but much harder for autonomous vehicles to recognize and interpret.

In turn, one of the skills that Google's cars have learned is how to drive more smoothly. This makes their very movement safer and, of course, improves the experience for vehicle occupants. In addition, it communicates to other road users that the "driver" of the car is competent and in control.

This last point is particularly prescient given the news that California has revised its laws to allow self-driving cars without pedals or a steering wheels to be tested on certain roads. Google had previously been put out by the state's insistence that autonomous vehicles must have an operator able to take control if need be. As the rules are gradually relaxed, though, and the likes of Google continue to clock up autonomous miles, the once far-fetched idea of reading the news while your car ferries you to work becomes ever closer to reality.

Source: NewCo Shift

14 comments
Tom Lee Mullins
From what I have seen of the Google autonomous vehicle, there is no way to take over if something malfunctions. I think this is a neat idea. I can see it being good for certain situations but I would rather drive my own car.
HubertSantanaSchenk
I don't think that humans accept self driving cars.
Martin Winlow
They will accept them is it makes driving 90% safer and 90% cheaper - both very likely outcomes of Google's (and other's) work and equally likely to be with the majority of us within 10 years, if not sooner.
Don't forget the very obvious - but oft overlooked - fact that eventually *all* autonomous vehicles will be able to benefit from a very simple and cheap form of inter-vehicle understanding that human drivers never will; continuous, near-instant communication of where they all are, where they all want to go and how fast. This would eliminate the vast majority of opportunities for conflict and therefore potential danger or discord that would otherwise happen between human drivers incapable of (or disinterested in) such a detailed understanding of the needs and wants of their neighbouring traveling companions.
Also, the same comms systems would be able to advise vehicles at the back of a queue of fast moving traffic what those at the front can 'see', thereby allowing instant and united slowing/evasive manoeuvres to avoid problems.
It is all such a complete no-brainer only a complete fool would want to stand in the way of this, one of the most significant advances of society to happen in a century.
MW
guzmanchinky
If an airliner crashed every other day due to human error, they would be automated by now. And that's what's happening: 100 people die every day just in the US. Autonomous driving would save many more lives than any headline grabbing catastrophe... That's where we should spend our billions...
Jack Decker
HubertSantanaSchenk, just the opposite will happen. As the safety record for autonomous cars outshines that of human drivers, more and more people will accept them. And some humans will demand them. The blind, those with epilepsy, and drivers who have had the licenses revoked (due to old age, DUIs, losing too many points, etc.) will embrace them right away. I did a video about this on my YouTube channel ("The future of driverless cars", https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NurCWx_anQU). Even when they're involved in accidents, this is helping show that they're better than human drivers, as I explained in another video ("Google Driverless Car T-Boned", https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dx9K8ezUJe4).
JohnPhillips
When the stats review that the car makes better decisions than a driver taking over in an emergency some more people will become comfortable.
When the cars can talk with neighbors traffic density will be able to increase and the speeds should go up with better safety than we have now . IN LA it would be like doubling the number of freeway lanes.
Cars that are not part of the self driving smart group will get a much larger space around them which may cause other riders to look upon drivers as second class citizens. Pear pressure may increase the number of autonomous cars. Kind of not getting a seat at the cool kids table.
Joe Blough
Nice to have test cars running in sunny california and the American southwest. But Hello, the rest of the country has snow, whiteouts, heavy rain (waterouts?) , trucks splashing mud or salt slush and more. It's called the real world. Note that all autonomous cars use a combination of LIDAR, cameras, GPS and radar to see and interpret their position and environment. So what happens when Mr. Consumer, on his self driving way to work and paying no attention to driving (after all he/she doesn't need to) but is instead working on a laptop/tablet/iPad or whatever and splash (at highway speeds), the sensors are blinded, covered in ice or otherwise put out of commission. Given that LIDAR, and the cameras have just failed owing to the muck what will happen? You never hear the technogeeks talk about the real world except when and where it's virtually ideal. Meanwhile Mr. Consumer having gotten used to not driving and not paying attention has lost his driving skills and even if he/she has the skills, is not participating in the control of the vehicle. I want to see and in-depth article dealing with real world issues as encountered in most of the country besides the SW.
habakak
Martin, you said it best. It's like we are twins. In 25 years kids will laugh at the notion that humans ever drove their own cars and to suggest they do (which might be impossible by then) would be preposterous to them.
PitaWitehira
Driving a motor vehicle is one of the great breakouts of humanity. It represents freedom and intellectual advancement of the social order. Previously only the rich had the privilege of dictating where to and what for to servants who acted as human robots. Interestingly until trains, there is no records of humans ever traveling faster than the speed of a horse. Autonomous cars are similar in a way to public transport systems which are more heavily regulated than free driving excursions. Autonomous Cars may work well in built up areas without the uncertainties of country roads. It is possible that humans will divide into different communities, those who prefer to be driven, generally city slickers and those who love the freedom of self choice and control including sudden changes of direction when something pops up as what happens in the real world from time to time. The good life is not a autonomous.
Joe Maxwell
I live on a steep gravel road in the mountains where snow can be heavy and obscure the road. The steep drop off on one side of my road has no shoulder and is defined by weeds. How good would one be at detecting that? I would not trust a self driving car unless it was well proven to handle these conditions. The gravel gets kicked up by drivers of 2 wheel cars and trucks. can s self driving car make it's way through these humps and lumps as well as gullies across the road after a hard rain. Not everyone lives in a city with paved streets and defined intersections.