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Transportation Google Robotics Hardware

How Google's Autonomous Vehicles Work 295

Posted by Soulskill
from the up-on-the-sidewalk-thump-thump-thump dept.
An anonymous reader writes "IEEE reports that Google's autonomous cars have logged more than 190,000 miles driving in all kinds of traffic, and the company is also testing a fleet of self-driving golf carts on its campus. In a recent talk, Sebastian Thrun and Chris Urmson of Google gave details of the project and showed videos of the robot cars driving themselves and even doing some stunts. The goal is that the technology will help reduce congestion, fuel waste, and accidents."
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How Google's Autonomous Vehicles Work

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  • We desperately need this tech. Aging populations drive less well after some kinds of age-related degradations, where automatic driving mechanisms could maintain mobility for affected people. Cars could also take kids to school, and park themselves in the parking lot, making the kids much less vulnerable to child molesters and bullies, as well as freeing Mom and Dad from transportation duties.

    For everyone else, automation in driving will do a better job than people that are blabbing on cell phones, eating,

    • by epyT-R (613989)

      we still can't even perfect automated train signaling systems... there are still people in the loop because sometimes equipment fails, or is programmed incorrectly...and this is a simplistic cart-on-rails A leaves houston at 90Mph, and cart-on-rails B leaves chicago at 87Mph.. style problem compared to the result you speak of. at most you're dealing with a half dozen trains with known speeds and precise routes.. forget about piles of cars on streets.

      • by timeOday (582209)
        The baseline is not "perfect" - rather, it's "better than status quo." MUCH different. If self-driving cars killed people at 20 times the rate of rail, it would still be a VAST improvement over the current situation.
  • Legal framework (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wisebabo (638845) on Wednesday October 19, 2011 @04:44AM (#37759816) Journal

    I'm all for autonomous vehicles but I think before it goes forward (ha ha) shouldn't there be some sort of legal framework in place? I mean the first fatal accident that can be even possibly attributed to an autonomous vehicle could very well kill the industry for a while at least. (I'm reminded of how the fatal crash of one of Buckminster Fuller's super efficient teardrop shaped 3 wheeled vehicles killed that concept).

    How about for all "certified" (through rigorous federal testing) vehicles, there be "no-fault" collision insurance (or limits on damages). Unfortunately I'm neither a transportation expert nor lawyer so I'm just guessing.

    • Agreed. I've always loved the idea of automated cars, even since I was young. There are so many benefits: greatly reduced traffic fatalities, alleviation of most traffic jams*, optimized stoplights, higher fuel efficiency--and, of course, convenience. But, there would almost inevitably be deaths and injuries caused by the machines. Liability for traffic fatalities nowadays is pretty much on the human behind the wheel. Even if the machines lower traffic accidents greatly, I don't see how the company that pro

      • by Rich0 (548339)

        There are similar potential benefits to networked cars in regular traffic. For instance, you could optimize light timing in real-time so that a bunch of cars get through without having to stop at multiple lights.

        Think bigger - you don't need lights - the car already knows where it needs to go. Make new intersections traffic circles, and for legacy ones just allocate time slices to routes or perhaps treat them as circles anyway (if the intersection is large enough you could just pretend there is a concrete barrier in the middle). You could also make roads one way and use all the lanes, and dynamically adjust that allocation - turning entire blocks into traffic circles essentially.

        Cars of course would be spaced pro

    • by malakai (136531)

      From the Article ( I know, hersay... )

      Thrun and Urmson acknowledged that there are many challenges ahead, including improving the reliability of the cars and addressing daunting legal and liability issues. But they are optimistic (Nevada recently became the first U.S. state to make self-driving cars legal.) All the problems of transportation that people see as a huge waste, "we see that as an opportunity," Thrun said.

      Nevada bill:
      http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/artificial-intelligence/nevada-bill [ieee.org]

  • When I was learning to drive, my teacher told me before you dodge (or brake for) any deer on the road, always check rear view mirror to make sure a semi trailer isn't following you to brake and kill 15 people behind that. It's easy to say deer.

    But what if it's a kid. Gets harder right?

    I am glad this robot car takes that decision off my hands yeah? :D

    • You mean the "Speed up and turn on the windscreen wipers" decision? :D

    • Good advice but I rather doubt you have the time to check your rearview if you are in a dangerous emergency break situation.
      As far as I can remember i never had it.

      • by bronney (638318)

        True. But the preceding lesson was always be aware of your surroundings. :)

      • Whenever I hit the brakes hard I always check the rearview just as I come to a complete stop for inattentive flat-tired idiots skidding out of control behind me. Usually there is one. At that point I'm already putting the car into first gear and looking for a way to get out of the idiot's path.

    • by swilver (617741)

      The decision is the same. You brake. How hard you brake depends on traffic behind you. A good driver always knows if there is something behind them, so no need to check the rear view mirror before braking (you should have checked it 10 seconds ago already).

      I certainly would not endanger my live and the live of those behind me because a deer/kid/granny is in a spot they donot belong.

      • by gTsiros (205624) on Wednesday October 19, 2011 @07:17AM (#37760662)

        the kid/granny in front of you are not at fault. if you hit them you are at fault.

        someone who is behind you *must* be at a safe distance to stop even if you perform emergency braking. if they hit you, they are at fault.

        fill the rest yourself. in short you are just plain wrong. and dangerous.

      • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

        You must have never hit a deer at speed. Your car will stop whether you hit the brakes or not. Then the guy behind you will still hit you if you are following to closely. Plowing through an accident works in NASCAR, but not so much on a public highway.

    • ...I am glad this robot car takes that decision off my hands yeah? :D

      Oh, and I can't wait for a major solar flare to occur that takes out the navigation backbone very quickly, causing a major pile-up wherever these automated cars exist.

      Nobody mentions that in any article I've read, including all of the subs, now or at any point in the past.

      • by Coren22 (1625475)

        They mentioned it in this article. Watch the movie. The car always works off the laser 3d mapper, the GPS just assists as GPS isn't even accurate enough to drive by.

        • They mentioned it in this article. Watch the movie. The car always works off the laser 3d mapper, the GPS just assists as GPS isn't even accurate enough to drive by.

          Crap. I don't know how I missed that. Thank you for pointing it out! Much appreciated, Coren22.

    • Or having a kid with a fifteen percent chance to live, while I have an 85% chance of making it. Any human would know to save the child.
    • by hey (83763)

      My driving teacher told me that you should know what's behind you at all times.

    • When I was learning to drive, my teacher told me before you dodge (or brake for) any deer on the road, always check rear view mirror to make sure a semi trailer isn't following you to brake and kill 15 people behind that. It's easy to say deer.

      But what if it's a kid. Gets harder right?

      I am glad this robot car takes that decision off my hands yeah? :D

      If there's a semi on your ass and you haven't slowed down to allow for their lack of breaking room, then you are at fault for not diffusing a dangerous situation.

      You should always be checking your rearview mirror, and taking tailgaters into the overall account of danger. and reducing it accordingly.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 19, 2011 @05:23AM (#37759982)

    Like:

    Can it, like I do, notice that the baseball rolling down a driveway may be followed by a child who is currently invisible behind a parked SUV?

    Can it, like I do, notice that the driver *behind* me is distracted by her cell phone, has started late at the last three lights, so I should give myself more than average room between me and the car in front of me, so in case it stops suddenly, SHE won't have to stop as suddenly and will be less likely to rear-end me?

    Can it, like I do, notice that even though the road has been clear of ice and snow, the next curve up ahead is deeply shaded and is likely to be slick?

    Can it, like I do, notice that the baby deer is one one side of the road and his mother on the other, and even though he isn't charging across, it looks like he's about to do so, so I better slow down? Because this happened to me not one week ago, and it DID charge across.

    Can it react to the highly dynamic and unpredictable world in ways that require human intelligence? And before you claim it's going to be a better driver than I am, note that I got my license in 1973, and have YET to have any sort of accident. Because I can provide human intelligence to the task of driving, and unless you want to claim the machine is as smart as a person, I am not so sure I believe I want to leave these choices up to it. I'll gladly fly on a computer flown aircraft, because that's a very, very different kind of task. No children appear in the sky from behind parked vehicles, and the pilot stands by the entire time to take over if something doesn't go right. Car drivers won't be that alert: they'll just doze off or play with their phones and not even glance out the window the whole time.

    • I wouldn't claim the machine is smarter then the smartest humans, but I would be willing to bet it is smarter then the average human (Just look around walmart, what you see represents the majority of the people on the road).
      • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

        I wouldn't claim the machine is smarter then the smartest humans, but I would be willing to bet it is smarter then the average human (Just look around walmart, what you see represents the majority of the people on the road).

        I would bet the machine is dumber than sh*t. It might be able to react quicker, but it isn't smart. All it will do is analyze a bunch of algorithms and choose what it is programmed to choose as the best one. That doesn't make it smart, just efficient.

        Besides, Mr. Spock was definitely smarter than Captain Kirk, but Kirk seemed to excel at making the better choice.

  • If automatic drivers initially reduce congestion (due to smoother driving) that effect will soon be diminished by increasing amounts of traffic.

    Judging by my friends, most of them seem to prefer driving their own car if it will take them no more than 1.5 times as long as using the subway. If they had automatic drivers, they would probably accept even longer delays, so they might take their car instead of the subway even in rush hour when it would take more than 3 times as long.

    This will also reduce incentiv

    • by epyT-R (613989)

      yes, after all, the point of taxation is to modify behavior that goes against the collective good, not to simply fund a service we all share a need for. this creates lots of good will among the citizenry...

    • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

      Unless all cars, or at least the vast majority of cars, are google cars, then it is hard to see how there will be reduced congestion on the highways. Congestion isn't caused by a bunch of people doing stupid things, just a few and then everybody else has to react to it.

      • No, congestion is caused by having too many cars for the the amount of road. If you are on an 8 lane highway, a there is some dumbass swerving back and forth across the lanes, and you and him are the only people on the road, there will be no congestion. Conversely, if you are driving on a two lane highway that is at full capacity. Adding hundreds of extra cars will cause congestion even if everyone driving perfectly.

        Yes, people doing dumb things can be the final straw, but the idea that roads can take
        • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

          No, congestion is caused by having too many cars for the the amount of road. If you are on an 8 lane highway, a there is some dumbass swerving back and forth across the lanes, and you and him are the only people on the road, there will be no congestion. Conversely, if you are driving on a two lane highway that is at full capacity. Adding hundreds of extra cars will cause congestion even if everyone driving perfectly.

          Yes, people doing dumb things can be the final straw, but the idea that roads can take an infinate amount of traffic as long as people don't do dumb things is a myth.

          Congestion is not caused by too many cars on the road, it is caused by what any individual car is doing. Look at the Indy wreck at Las Vegas. While the cars were all traveling around in the pack, things were tight, but not congested in the traffic sense of slowed traffic. It wasn't until one car did something that caused another car to shift that problems tragically began.

          Traffic follows fluid dynamics, just like water through a pipe. Yes theoretically a highway or a pipe can only suppor so much, but fo

          • by Belial6 (794905)
            Your using bad math. Most of our highways are massively too small for the amount of traffic on them. Most of them could not support the number of cars we have now if people actually left the proper cushions. I point back to my examples above. On a wide empty road, you can be as stupid as you want, and you won't slow me down. When traffic is already bumper to bumper, a dozen cars trying to merge on from an on ramp will cause congestion, even if they do it perfectly.
        • Put 22 drivers on a 1 lane track and ask them to drive at 30km/h. You will get a traffic jam. you just need one car to slow down, the following to slow down a little bit more in reaction, and the following reacting even more to get at the end a traffic jam where everyone should stop. And you don't need to be at full capacity to see that effect.

          See it for yourself: Shockwave traffic jams recreated for first time [youtube.com]

  • by lkcl (517947)

    i love the summary. the technology will help reduce congestion, will help fuel waste, and will help accidents. whoops :)

  • Until it gets tested by an independent group, it's still just a company's claims about their own product.

  • by BlueCoder (223005) on Wednesday October 19, 2011 @06:53AM (#37760468)

    Seriously. And it's more than enough reason to get it legal on the streets.

    Just have a way to lock out the manual override until you can pass the built in breathalyzer. It can transmit encrypted times and duration of computer control to local police vehicles in addition to the fact that you locked yourself out so they won't bother pulling you over.

    Of course you will probably have to pre train it to park. Or have a parking assist mode that you can engage even while intoxicated that won't let you get into an accident. And of course a button to pull over just in case you need to throw up.

    No more drunk driving or risking the fine and you have your car to get to work in the morning. And no $50 one way taxi ride or having trouble getting a taxi at last call. Besides most people would probably prefer to nap on their way home anyway.

    • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

      Wouldn't it be simpler not to just get drunk/wasted? Buying a $40,000 vehicle to save on $50 taxi rides doesn't seem to offer a good ROI.

      • by melstav (174456)

        Buying a $40,000 vehicle to save on $50 taxi rides doesn't seem to offer a good ROI.

        Say you're right, that the self-driving car was $40k. According to Toyota's website, **BASE** price for a Prius is $24k. So, if you were even contemplating a new car purchase, you'd only really have to justify the extra $16k for the self-driving option.

        $16k at $50/taxi ride is 320 rides that you'd have to eliminate for the feature to pay for itself. If you only use the self-drive feature when you're going out drinking, and go drinking one night per week, the feature pays for itself in 320 weeks. That's 6.1

        • by melstav (174456)
          Doh. Forgot to add the note that the Prius was used as the reference vehicle since that's the platform Google's self-driving cars were built on top of.
        • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

          Buying a $40,000 vehicle to save on $50 taxi rides doesn't seem to offer a good ROI.

          Say you're right, that the self-driving car was $40k. According to Toyota's website, **BASE** price for a Prius is $24k. So, if you were even contemplating a new car purchase, you'd only really have to justify the extra $16k for the self-driving option.

          $16k at $50/taxi ride is 320 rides that you'd have to eliminate for the feature to pay for itself. If you only use the self-drive feature when you're going out drinking, and go drinking one night per week, the feature pays for itself in 320 weeks. That's 6.15 years. (6 years, 8 weeks) -- Certainly not an unreasonable expectation of the car's useful lifetime. Last several cars I've had lasted > 10 years before they either died or were replaced for other reasons.

          Actually, since you are paying the extra $16,000 up front vs the $50 over the six years, assuming a 3% annual interest rate, you would need 382 trips for the car to break even. At one trip per week, that comes out to 7.35 years which is well above the average time most people keep vehicles. Also at 7 years a prius will most likely need a new battery pack to have any decent resell value. If you are going to have to finance the extra $16,000, then the ROI is even worse.

      • by Khashishi (775369)

        You underestimate the ability for people to spend money on things they don't need.

    • ...just wait for the Windows version...
    • Forget the bar. What about when you're falling asleep at 2am on the interstate, and you don't want to stop in a potentially dangerous rest area for a break?
    • You can already get automated parking on some cars. I don't remember which ones, but I remember seeing on Top Gear.

  • This is interesting, but I have to ask, why is Google doing this? What is in it for them?

    It's nice that they are doing it, but as a business, they can't be sinking money into it (and risking being sued or damaging their reputation) without the expectation of a reasonable return.

    So, how are they making money on this? Perhaps while you are driven around you have more time to make use of Google ad-supported services?

    • by necro81 (917438)
      Part of how their system works is to have a fairly extensive database of what the local roads look like. Not just GPS and a roadmap, mind you, but actual 3D laser scans of a particular area taken from the ground. The first database was generated with humans behind the wheel of these cars; the autonomous vehicles used that information later for their own driving. That may seem like a big investment - building a detailed 3D map of an area just for a handful of vehicles. But like the web-crawler database t
    • by 0123456 (636235)

      This is interesting, but I have to ask, why is Google doing this? What is in it for them?

      Once the system is in place, they'll be able to track everyone wherever they go. And they'll be plastering you with ads. 'Do you really want to go to Fancy Restaurant? Based on your past trips I'm sure you'd prefer Burger King, where we can offer a personal two for one combo deal.'

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 19, 2011 @07:34AM (#37760810)

    right now I put my life in the hands of the other people on the street. the ones already playing with their phones or yelling at their kids in the back (commute is past 3 schools, 1 a HS)

    If the drivers aren't watching the road now, at least put in a computer to watch for them. Hell, just have it apply the brakes if something gets in front of the car and it'd be an improvement

  • I would love to take my commute and shove it. That and be able to go out, get hammered and then have a computer safely drive me home. And I do believe I will see self driving cars within my lifetime, its a no-brainer with all the technology we have at our disposal.

    Then again I do enjoy driving from time to time. I went down to Street, MD the other week and then drove up through Lancaster, PA to Litiz for a truck show. I had a great time driving through the country, such beautiful scenery. I even had fun nav

  • How will this affect the automotive insurance industry? If I have a car that does all of my driving then I should never have an at-fault collision. So it only makes sense to me that my rates should be a fraction of what they are now. If the insurance industry sees this as a potential threat to their profits then I think they will lobby hard to keep it from advancing.
  • These are great ideas for helping the disabled and dumb, but not for traffic loading.

    The video talks about how they want to drastically increase the number of cars on the roads since the computers can drive very close to each other.

    Sorry but we don't need more cars on the roads. What we need is to stop our crazy unsustainable growth in traffic.

    They mentioned that the traffic is growing at a rate of 2.9% per year. Doesn't seem like much right? Well that's an exponential rate and it means that traffic will

  • This will help my commute to work, I walk, knowing that cars will stop if I walk out in front of them!!

I'm all for computer dating, but I wouldn't want one to marry my sister.

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