Google's self-driving car takes blind man on errands

Apr 03, 2012 By Salvador Rodriguez

A self-driving car being developed by Google Inc. took a blind man for a ride this week, driving him to a Taco Bell and then to a dry cleaner in San Jose, Calif.

On Thursday, Google posted a video of a modified driving Steve Mahan, who is legally blind, saying it shows one of the possibilities and benefits that could come from the technology.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

"Where this would change my life is to give me the independence and the flexibility to go to the places I both want to go and need to go when I need to do those things," Mahan says in the video.

The took Mahan to Taco Bell for a quick meal and a dry cleaner to pick up his clothes.

"Look, Ma, no hands," Mahan says. "No hands, no feet."

Google, which posted the video on its + account, said the drive took place on a carefully programmed route in San Jose and showed one of the possibilities that self-driving cars could offer.

"There's much left to design and test, but we've now safely completed more than 200,000 miles of computer-led driving, gathering great experiences and an overwhelming number of enthusiastic supporters," the , Calif., company said in the post.

Though it's uncertain just how far off self-driving cars may be from becoming a reality, the process to getting there is certainly in motion. Just last month, Nevada became the first state to legalize self-driving cars.

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User comments : 21

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Duude
1 / 5 (9) Apr 03, 2012
Cool, but I wonder about its ability to pick up on obstructions like pot holes, neighborhood speed bumps, dips in the road, animals and toddlers wandering onto the road. It also mentions this test was on a carefully planned route. Clearly, there are bugs to work out. Unfortunately, this article didn't address what they are.
Husky
5 / 5 (2) Apr 03, 2012
the taxi union thinks this is a bad idea, think about the potholes...in our pockets
Star_Gazer
3.5 / 5 (6) Apr 03, 2012
Something to think about.. the name of the operating system is "Android" is there for a reason. Google have always been thinking about technologies decades ahead. So Android v23 will actually walk?
Mike_Massen
1.9 / 5 (7) Apr 03, 2012
mmm, Would be interesting to scale the size of the car down for a single person driver sitting more or less upright as if on a stool, smaller wheels and more of them under a skirt with a circular rubber bumper, couple of stick like probes and an extra single camera on the end of a pole - so you know where to fix your gaze, that and a heat exchanger around the top end.

Would be obverse irony to see a dalek running android os !
jimbo92107
5 / 5 (3) Apr 03, 2012
Two things:

1) The painted-over line problem. Visual ambiguity. Highways sometimes will have temporary or permanent lane shifts indicated by new lines painted over old lines. Human drivers often have difficulty telling which lines are the legitimate lane, especially after a couple weeks of dirt and wear. How will Google's system know the correct lane?

2) The red rubber ball problem. Situational profiling. You're driving through a residential neighborhood, when from between two parked cars a red rubber ball bounces into the street. You and I brake instantly because we recognize that a little kid will chase that ball right in front of our car. How does Google's system react? How will it know the difference between a play toy and a scrap of newspaper?

Problem 1 could be solved by advanced GPS with real-time updating. Solving problem 2 requires a system that can recognize and react to human situations as quickly and cleverly as a human. That will take some doing.
Toronto
4 / 5 (3) Apr 03, 2012
This car runs off the tears of Microsoft's management.
El_Nose
1 / 5 (1) Apr 03, 2012
@toronto -- MS is a software company - this is an engineering problem
krundoloss
3.7 / 5 (6) Apr 03, 2012
I think that the only way this could work is if we can make the car driving itself perform better than any human ever could. This can be done by giving the car more information than a human can process, such as the location of all objects within a certain radius. Perhaps we could use various forms of detection, or even a flying robot overhead that gives a top down view of everything. A human cannot process that, but a computer can. Its all about sensors and volume of situational information. There will be accidents, though, no matter how good it is. It will happen eventually!
Temple
5 / 5 (1) Apr 03, 2012
There's a detailed video which shows how this system works using lidar and gps and a few other interesting technologies: http://www.youtub...lqtEQ0tk

I admit that at first I was highly suspicious, but after watching that video, I was truly impressed at where we are right now. The system is surprisingly good at dealing with unforeseen events, and bad drivers.

I still see one huge problem with this though. And that's the ability to 'hack' the system. I'm not talking really about hacking into the computer on-car (though I suppose there's a risk there). Instead, there's a huge vulnerability in that people will be able to engineer ways to 'trick' the sensory system of these cars.

A rather inexpensive laser/strobe at the right frequency turned on at just the wrong time (or a whole host of other relatively low-tech gadgets) could lead to some serious consequences.

I'm truly excited about this, but I just don't see how we'd ever be able to engineer out these vulnerabilities.
Temple
3.3 / 5 (6) Apr 03, 2012
And when you add liability into the mix, it's practically impossible to imagine this going mainstream.

When a person drives their car through a farmer's market, that's bad, and they can and do get sued. But when a corporation's software is at fault for that same accident, that's entering a new stratosphere of lawsuit.

Even if google-cars reduce accidents by a factor of 1,000s, the media will sensationalize those rare accidents, the lawyers will smell blood, and every victim of the remaining accidents will sue the pants off Google.

Hell, even if it's not the system's fault. Even if a drunk driver comes out of nowhere and T-bones a google-car in an intersection, lawyers find a way. There will be a suit from a single mother that lost her baby girl who tearily takes the stand and sobs "I saw it coming and I'm sure I could have turned the car to protect my baby. If only Google wasn't driving my car..."

It's a legal nightmare.
fmfbrestel
not rated yet Apr 03, 2012
BMW has advanced cruise congrol which drives for you already. 100% certain that one of those cars has been in a wreck, and BMW hasnt been sued out of existence yet. This will incrementally happen whether you like it or not. People complaining about this sound like old farts complaining about young peoples music choices, or violent video games.
fmfbrestel
5 / 5 (1) Apr 03, 2012
Will people still launch frivolous law suits? Will people ever NOT launch frivolous law suits? This is why car companies have HUGE legal departments, to deal with this kind of crap. States will have to pass the appropriate laws (like Nevada already has) but OK... is that such a huge deal? I imagine special drivers licences or endorsements for self driving cars to help with the liability issues. Either way there are a TON of ways to get around the liability problems. so quit with the chicken little campaign hu?
randith
5 / 5 (4) Apr 03, 2012
Imagine the headlines: HACKTIVISTS LAUNCH MASS CAR ASSAULT ON WHITE HOUSE....

(BTW this is not a political statement...just a technical one)
Deathclock
1 / 5 (4) Apr 03, 2012
Temple, I agree, but just make people sign a waiver excusing Google from all liability when they purchase the car, simple.
Mike_Massen
1 / 5 (4) Apr 03, 2012
If any clued up risk assessment manager was looking at this from an overall transport perspective then it would be appropriate to consider building in speed/direction/obstacle sensing systems into traffic lights & related infrastructure roadside (signals cars danger) along with video surveillance for pecuniary benefits also.

In any case, the design of the processing model layers in respect of the google car system would give higher priority to a separate system (that cannot be easily over-ridden) that slows or stops depending on risk/probability data. Multiple levels of this "care & responsibility" computing model will go a long way to addressing safety concerns - connect that to video/audio recording in HD with good depth of field, to see the whites of the eyes of the driver about to T-bone you, would go a long way to addressing many liability issues.

A driver here in Perth, had 5 cameras covering most fields of view around to garner evidence of a recurrent road rager AND got him !
kochevnik
1 / 5 (1) Apr 03, 2012
This car runs off the tears of Microsoft's management.
Micro$oft is still at the blue-screen-of-death stage. Unfortunately a system crash means a deadly auto crash, at least until humans can be power cycled.
jmlvu
1 / 5 (1) Apr 04, 2012
It doesn't have to be fully functional to sell. All it needs to do is prevent a few accidents.
Sanescience
3.4 / 5 (5) Apr 04, 2012
An automated driving system will relatively soon be better at driving than a human, "on average". It will have better attention span, better situational awareness(360 degree vision), and faster reflexes. And it will be able to coordinate with other vehicles to increase gas mileage by forming car-trains that drive close enough together to greatly lower wind resistance.

Yes there will have to be a human at the wheel for a while yet, but the legal system can cut both ways. There will be lawsuits that someone was *not* using the auto drive feature when they were tired, or had too much to drink, or using a cell phone, or distracted by passengers, etc.
daghler
not rated yet Apr 04, 2012
I wonder how this vehicle would do on a street with many multiple lights in succession. This is a problem Google more than likely dealt with quite some time back, and to ask it now is pretty much pointless. Traffic lights would seem to pose some difficulty, but as already mentioned this team has probably already moved on to some much more challenging issues.
Yellowdart
1 / 5 (3) Apr 04, 2012
I think in the least, this shows that in limited situations it can be a viable option, esp for the blind or for others who have impairments to driving (narcolepsy?)

It may also be very viable on major interstates where there are no traffic lights or kids playing. This won't happen easily though, because it would most likely wreck the domestic airlines.

I'd take my car anytime 8 hours or more away if it was on autodrive rather than dealing with an airport, the TSA, and flying.

jimsecor
1 / 5 (1) Apr 09, 2012
How bizarre news is blacked out on this subject! Last year at the Daytona 500, there was the blind challenge where cars adapted for blind people rolled around the track at high speeds avoiding objects without any trouble at all. The real danger is sighted drivers who must look down and away from the street to "make" the car do things. For sighted people, all the work that was done to make it so we'd keep our eyes on the road has gone down the drain with new technology that is, in fact, just hyped up old technology. I'm not blind. This is old news to me. And I think welcome for road safety: how safe are you when you're concentrated on something other than the road and what's happening out there with the (other) crazy drivers? Contact the NFB for more information.