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Google’s Self-Driving Car Takes to City Streets

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In The Atlantic Cities, Eric Jaffe shares his experience riding in Google’s self-driving car as it takes to the city streets of Mountain View, California. It’s a fascinating look at the technology underpinning the 700,000 miles driven by Google’s fleet of self-driving cars. The article is also sobering, because putting self-driving cars on the road for consumers will take years, despite Google’s advances. Nissan is aiming for 2020, but robotic car consultant Brad Templeton says that the most advanced of the car manufacturers is Mercedes, whose self-driving car project isn’t even where Google’s was in 2010. This could mean self-driving cars will take much longer to go mainstream, or that the automotive industry is ripe for major disruption.favicon follow link


Comments about Google’s Self-Driving Car Takes to City Streets
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skidwitch  2014-04-30 06:23
first I would like to start by saying I think this is a terrible idea, one of millions of course. How are we as consumers supposed to be able to trust this technology when we can even go a week without having to reboot are smartphones? we've been using the combustion engine for a hundred years now, gas prices are out of control, the oil and gas industry keep using more and more extreme methods for extracting oil (fracking), we hear about recalls all the time for some of the most basic parts and functions of standard vehicles. and they want to make driverless cars? no thanks, I hope to never see one of these on my city streets. people used to say that driving was a privilege not a right, but I suppose it is becoming another inhuman Syfy delusion. welcome to the Matrix, Where Human tasks are no longer performed by Humans.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-04-30 06:52
A few thoughts to ponder:

* Many technologies aren't designed with reliability in mind because it doesn't really matter. No one gets hurt if you have to reboot your smartphone once a week. But other complex engineering efforts like bridges and airplanes are incredibly reliable. And while there are safety recalls, they're generally prompted by a mere handful of actual problems - they're an example of the system working to enhance reliability, not an example of the lack of reliability.

* Self-driving cars are likely to be more efficient than human driven cars, because the algorithms ensure things like smooth braking and steady acceleration, which humans are remarkably bad at. And of course, by the time we see self-driving cars, it's likely - or at least possible - that most automobiles will be electric. While electricity from the grid isn't necessarily clean, it can be.

* As far as "human tasks" go, I think driving is a pretty lousy one. We're not talking a sport here; mostly you sit very still, moving your arms and feet in tiny motions, with the constant threat of injury or death if you make even a small mistake. Cars are one of the leading causes of death in the world; anything society can do to reduce such horrific and unnecessary deaths seems like a good thing to me.
Rajaranga  2014-04-30 08:44
I agree with the comments from Adam. We are looking to technology advancement in various areas and this is one a small step ahead to prevent Human errors.
We have seen Auto-pilot features in Airplanes for a long time now and but it doesnt mature as fast we expect. It still needs some amount of human intervention and supervision. I expect a similar aspect from the self-driving cars as well. However, the scenario could be much more complex in case of cars with the traffic on roads.
Google seems to have proven the reliability of these cars and is continuing to work out ALL the kinks before moving forward into the consumer market. The Google cars have driven over 700,000 miles and have been involved in only two accidents, the first was a fender bender and at the time the car was under manual Human control; the second was an incident where another car rear-ended the Google car.

I don't know about you but that seems like a pretty good track record. I know I have not driven 700,000 miles with only a minor fender bender as a result.

finally none of these incidents resulted in ANY injuries. Over 40,000 people die and countless others are injured every year in car crashes. Humans are not perfect and we can not sense even a fraction of the things that are going on constantly around our vehicle, where a computer can. Isn't it time we eliminate the weak link in this scenario?
None of that will matter until all cars are self driving. As long as there are human-driven cars, the above advantages/issues can't come into play. As a human driver, I can always cut off, out accelerate, out brake, and generally out drive any computer driven car, if it gives me an advantage in traffic or for whatever other reason. And people will do so.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-05-06 07:55
But there is no reason to "out-drive" a self-driving car. The goal of transportation is to arrive at your destination, and if a self-driving car can take you there safely in essentially the same amount of time, the fact that there are human drivers on the road as well simply means that the self-driving car has to be more aware of random human behavior.

There's no way to go from 0% self-driving cars to 100% self-driving cars without passing through all the percentages on the way, and that's absolutely being taken into account by everyone who's working on it. Initially self-driving capabilities will probably be limited to freeway driving, much like we use cruise control today. And slowly they'll be used in more complex situations, but it will take many decades before human drivers are out of the picture.
Curtis Wilcox  An apple icon for a Friend of TidBITS 2014-05-06 12:34
The initial benefits of being a passenger in a self-driving car are safety and conservation of attention. The self-driving car will be a safer driver than most human drivers in most circumstances including responding to the errors of other drivers (and cyclists and pedestrians). One of the biggest safety problems today is drivers not giving the task their undivided attention; a self-driving car allows using the time going from point A to point B paying attention to other things *safely*.
Charlie Hartley  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2014-04-30 12:17
Bring 'em on! Just this morning I was tailgated by a person riding less than 30 feet behind at 50 mph on a curvy road; and yes he was talking on his cell phone. I'll be happy to be relieved of that kind of stress.

BTW, thanks for pointing me to this article.
Dennis B. Swaney  2014-05-06 09:54
You need to install a momentary push button switch in parallel with the brake light switch. Just press/release it several times as fast as you can.