Google self-driving cars pass 300,000 mile mark

Aug 08, 2012 by Bob Yirka report

(Phys.org) -- Google has just released an update on its blog boasting about how its fleet of self-driving cars which the company has designed and is operating on public roads, have collectively racked up over 300,000 miles of driving operations, with nary a single accident, at least while being driven by the computer. In the same announcement the company acknowledges that its autonomous vehicles still have a long way to go before being sold as a consumer product.

Google is not saying just how many of those miles have been driven on public roads versus those driven on its private track, but it’s likely a lot due to its fleet having legal access in Nevada. Last year the state issued a license to one of the vehicles.

’s aim in building self-driving cars is to replace human drivers with a computer, because humans have proven to be so fallible. Company head Eric Schmidt has been quoted recently as saying that his goal in creating self driving cars is to bring down the number of traffic fatalities due to human error, most particularly, by those who have been drinking alcohol based beverages, noting that some thirty five thousand people are killed in such accidents each year in the United States alone.

The company also says that it has given the go-ahead to some of its employees to begin riding in the vehicles solo, at least on their commute to work. Up till now, company policy has dictated that two people sit in the vehicle when the car is doing the driving. In this instance, the one person would sit in the driver’s seat and take over should the need arise.

Looking towards the future, the company says it needs to work out how to get the cars to operate safely under less than optimal conditions, such as during snowy weather or when dealing with road construction. The sensors and computer system installed on the cars were designed to read and respond to normal road signs, which unfortunately aren’t always what are posted when road crews begin working, making it difficult for the systems to figure out what to do. The company also noted that they have added a Lexus RX450h hybrid to its fleet.

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User comments : 22

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GenesisNemesis
2 / 5 (4) Aug 08, 2012
Good. How well do they avoid accidents? That appears to be the question no one is asking at this point.
gopher65
5 / 5 (1) Aug 08, 2012
Good. How well do they avoid accidents? That appears to be the question no one is asking at this point.

That question has been asked. The answer is apparently "much better than any human driver could ever hope to". At least until you throw snow into the equation. They aren't programmed to handle snow or ice yet;). Then again, almost no human drivers (Canada, Nordic countries, Russia, Alaska and Minnesota excepted) can handle snow either. So that's a bit of a wash.
GenesisNemesis
5 / 5 (1) Aug 08, 2012

That question has been asked. The answer is apparently "much better than any human driver could ever hope to".


But what videos have there been of one of the vehicles avoiding an accident? I haven't seen any and I probably won't trust in the technology until I see at least one. I won't take Google's word for it.
gopher65
not rated yet Aug 08, 2012
Oh I agree:). I'd expect a great deal of test data to be made public before I'd ride in one.
MrVibrating
5 / 5 (2) Aug 08, 2012
I can think of so many situations that might confuse such a system... how does it react (if at all) to filtering (ie. lane splitting) motorcycles and bicycles? How does it react to toll booths - where approaching the correct booth out of potentially dozens is critical to not getting stuck and causing a jam? Does it know to slow down and approach with caution when passing obstructions it can't see past (like say a delivery truck loading at the roadside next to a pedestrian crossing - or what if no pedestrian crossing is marked, yet there's still a possibility of pedestrians crossing)? Does it know to take extra care around 3-4pm when school children are about? In the UK and Europe we don't have jaywalking laws, and filtering on bikes is also legal, or at least tolerated where not expressly allowed... etc..

Said it before and i'll say it again - i won't trust these systems till they're fully sentient, and thus personally responsible..
gopher65
not rated yet Aug 08, 2012
People who ride between lanes on a bike are putting themselves in terrible danger, irrespective of whether or not that's legal in their area. It's one of the main ways that both bikers and motorcyclists die every year. It's also why motorcyclists claim they need to put incredibly loud noisemakers on their bikes (so that people hear them coming and don't hit them).

So while that is a valid concern, it's no more of a concern than it is with human drivers.

Where I think you have more of a point is with ambiguous situations that require real intelligence to understand what's going on. Sometimes it isn't obvious where to park, or what lane to be in, or how to avoid construction. In these cases I'm sure the (current) computers that drive these cars would have a lot of trouble.
R2Bacca
5 / 5 (1) Aug 08, 2012
Said it before and i'll say it again - i won't trust these systems till they're fully sentient, and thus personally responsible..


My cat is sentient, but I'd never let it drive my car. I don't think sentience is the correct measure to use here, because the ability to drive a car goes beyond sentience. Besides that, sentience takes on a lot of different forms. It all depends on how you define it.

If you build a car which is smart enough to correctly assess and adjust to 99.99% of all road hazards and "learn" from those interactions, can you not say that that car is, in essence, "sentient" with respect to road travel? It might not be able to read a book or enjoy pictures of trees, but are those things true measures of sentience?

The real measure is in the numbers. The statistics. How many miles/hours the car can travel without incident? How does that compare to a human? Given the same set of deleterious circumstances, can the car better handle the situation than a human?
R2Bacca
5 / 5 (1) Aug 08, 2012
Sometimes it isn't obvious where to park, or what lane to be in, or how to avoid construction.


I've seen plenty of humans who have trouble with these things as well. Ever follow someone on the highway who can't seem to keep their car in one lane, despite the nice little line? How about people who can't park between the lines in a parking lot? Why do you think they put up those concrete walls near road construction on highways? Because enough "smart" humans have gone crashing right on through because they either weren't paying attention or just got confused.
gopher65
not rated yet Aug 08, 2012
I was once in an accident where the car behind us at a stoplight bashed into us just as the light turned green. He bashed into us because the person behind him hit him. She (16 years old maybe?) hit him with her mom's car (heh) because she'd seen the light turn green before everyone else and just gunned it. Hadn't even looked to see if the other cars were moving yet, just slammed on the gas.

There is no way a computer would be as dumb as all the 16-18 year old drivers I've seen. She wasn't even the worst I've seen, just the one that happened to (indirectly) hit us. At least she'd realized the mistake she'd made. A lot of drivers seem to think that it's always someone else's fault:P.
Claudius
3.4 / 5 (5) Aug 08, 2012
My cat is sentient, but I'd never let it drive my car.


I can't help but imagine disembodied cat brains installed in cars. Just think about how they would behave, swatting other cat cars who got too close, stopping to lick their paint, marking their territory. What a laugh.
R2Bacca
not rated yet Aug 08, 2012
She (16 years old maybe?) hit him with her mom's car (heh) because she'd seen the light turn green before everyone else and just gunned it.


We already know teenagers are bad drivers, and yet, as a necessity, we let them drive...

gopher65
not rated yet Aug 08, 2012
She (16 years old maybe?) hit him with her mom's car (heh) because she'd seen the light turn green before everyone else and just gunned it.


We already know teenagers are bad drivers, and yet, as a necessity, we let them drive...

What I'm getting at is that these cars can't be any worse than teenage drivers. Don't judge them against the best drivers on the road, judge them against how many of the worst drivers they'll remove. When these cars get to the point where they remove as many bad drivers as good drivers (a statistical wash when compared to the current accident rate), it'll be time to let them on the road.

I suspect that they're already good enough at accident avoidance for that to be true. If they are, they'll just need to become better at handling edge cases (like construction zones).
R2Bacca
not rated yet Aug 08, 2012
What I'm getting at is that these cars can't be any worse than teenage drivers.


Oh I completely agree.

Aloken
not rated yet Aug 08, 2012
You can all sit here and speculate about what these cars can or can't do, or you can head to Udacity and learn the very algorithms that power googles self driving cars from Sebastian Thrun, the leader of the self driving car projects (Googles and Stanfords).
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.4 / 5 (18) Aug 08, 2012
"The system combines information gathered from Google Street View with artificial intelligence software that combines input from video cameras inside the car, a LIDAR sensor on top of the vehicle, radar sensors on the front of the vehicle and a position sensor attached to one of the rear wheels that helps locate the car's position on the map."

I wonder how these sensors can be kept clean and functional. Do you get in the car some cold night and it wont start because something has ice or crud on it?
CreepyD
not rated yet Aug 09, 2012
I'd like to see one of these cars navigate London during rush hour :D
Seriously though, I would have thought roads in the US are far far easier to learn than some other countries. The UK has really complex roads in comparison, what with our massive country lane network and a fair few rediculous junctions and roundabouts.
Learn there and it could drive almost anywhere.
R2Bacca
not rated yet Aug 09, 2012
Learn there and it could drive almost anywhere.


Sometimes you have to learn to walk before you can run.
Standing Bear
not rated yet Aug 11, 2012
Prediction, what happens when a kid suddenly comes out from behind a parked car and gets hit by one of these heartless automatons? Answer: a huge lawsuit against Google, its engineers, its management, and even to pierce the corporate veil to get at its controlling stockholders...the ones that supported its management in this criminal enterprise that soullessly took the life of this poooor innocente CHILD. It will be a show trial with religious overtones, and an added overtone of loss of freedom and control over one of our most beloved possessions...our cars!, and replaced it with some ugly auto taxicab complete with coin slot...and only certain 'allowed' destinations to complete the nanny state.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.7 / 5 (18) Aug 11, 2012
Prediction, what happens when a kid suddenly comes out from behind a parked car and gets hit by one of these heartless automatons?
I was thinking the same thing this morning when I walked out from between 2 cars and almost got hit by a brainless automaton who was speeding through a library parking lot full of kids.

Automation will protect us from this sort of thing.
I'd like to see one of these cars navigate London during rush hour :D
Much safer for both passengers and pedestrians when london allows nothing but AI driven vehicles on its streets. Less congested too.
Skepticus
1 / 5 (2) Aug 12, 2012
One thing for sure- it will eliminate the hapless drivers who have mistaken the gas pedal for the brake.
Can't wait for the day the car drives itself to the garage to be serviced and back home!
MrVibrating
not rated yet Aug 12, 2012
@Gopher - yes, lane splitting is dangerous, but for some of us it's an occupational hazard... i work as a despatch rider, spend all day filtering, and the prospect of these things on the road terrifies me. You've a fair few DRs in Cali doing the same job, and multitudes of bicycle couriers in NY... a human driver with city driving experience knows how to give an inch where necessary, or, more commonly to do nothing at all when a courier's passing through. I can envisage these things though emergency stopping, swerving to avoid what it perceives as a certain collision, etc..

@Standing Bear - agreed, hence my point about sentience and thus personal responsibility. Not that that stopped HAL9000 from going awry, but still, the buck has to stop with the driver, whomever or whatever it is...

The day these things hit London roads, i'll be looking for another job..
MrVibrating
5 / 5 (1) Aug 12, 2012
..don't mean to rant but just for example, i'm using gestures and body language etc. to communicate intentions to others around me - such subtle indications will be lost on an AI. You'll try and give way and it'll just sit there, edging tentatively into the yellow box area as the lights go red...

It. Just. Won't. Work.