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  #1  
Old 24 October 2014, 03:31 AM
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Driver Driving in circles:The autonomous Google car may never actually happen

A good technology demonstration so wows you with what the product can do that you might forget to ask about what it can't. Case in point: Google's self-driving car. There is a surprisingly long list of the things the car can't do, like avoid potholes or operate in heavy rain or snow.

http://www.slate.com/articles/techno...en.single.html
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  #2  
Old 24 October 2014, 04:15 AM
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Refreshingly skeptical.
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  #3  
Old 24 October 2014, 05:23 AM
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Call me a luddite, but you can take my steering wheel away when you pry my cold dead hands off of it.
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  #4  
Old 24 October 2014, 08:29 AM
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Very interesting that they actually rely on a map to tell them where things like streetlights and lane markings are. I had certainly been under the impression that they were able to recognise those things for themselves.

Relying on maps at that level of detail is not feasible in reality unless they're able to somehow be updated in real-time - almost instantly - and that's a long way from possible at the moment.

Quote:
Chris Urmson, director of the Google car team, told me that if the car came across a traffic signal not on its map, it could potentially run a red light, simply because it wouldn't know to look for the signal. Urmson added, however, that an unmapped traffic signal would be "very unlikely," because during the "time and construction" needed to build a traffic signal, there would be adequate opportunity to add it to the map.
You never have roadworks that need part of the road to be shut off there, then? Or traffic accidents? Or occasional miscommunications between different departments of infrastructure?

(eta) Given that the next paragraph has somebody pointing out exactly that, it seems odd that the possibility is being downplayed. Even the article says it 'might sound like a cynical game of "gotcha"'. No it doesn't, it sounds like a fundamental flaw. If it can't handle even something as prominent as a temporary traffic light, how would it handle a non-illuminated roadwords "lane narrows" sign telling you to steer around some cones and a pit?

The fact that even the skeptical article seems to think people won't see that as a problem makes me wonder if roadworks really are that much less common in the USA. Surely anybody in the UK would immediately realise that's not going to work (yet).

Quote:
"While the probability of a single driver encountering a newly installed traffic light is very low, the probability of at least one driver encountering one on a given day is very high," Leonard says. The list of these "rare" events is practically endless, said Leonard...
"Very low"? "Rare event"? Roadworks? Ha ha!

Last edited by Richard W; 24 October 2014 at 08:36 AM.
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  #5  
Old 24 October 2014, 09:30 AM
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Yeah, I wonder how it would handle a traffic flag - something we encounter rather frequently. I suppose they could get the construction teams to have some other sort of signal such as an infrared signal but now we're talking lots of other problems. Even if the car handles such situations without crashing, which it apparently has so far (although from these reports maybe California and Nevada are magical zones, I dunno), it's far from clear that it would still be able to make the detour and complete the new course.
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  #6  
Old 24 October 2014, 10:42 AM
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My heart is broken. The Jetsons promised us flying cars, and now we can't even have self-driving ones?
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  #7  
Old 24 October 2014, 01:25 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard W View Post
Very interesting that they actually rely on a map to tell them where things like streetlights and lane markings are. I had certainly been under the impression that they were able to recognise those things for themselves.

Relying on maps at that level of detail is not feasible in reality unless they're able to somehow be updated in real-time - almost instantly - and that's a long way from possible at the moment.
Actually, it's very possible, and we are quite close to it. Basically, what's done today is that a big inventory of the road network is made, and then, from then on, changes are put into the database as they occur.

So, say that you replace a crossroads with a roundabout. You can't start working until the planning is in the database (this is usually pulled from the design documents). Likewise, say that you need to dig up a broken pipe. No digging until it's in the database.

Yes, it's a lot of work, but the benefits are huge, and not just for autonomous cars. Navigation, emergency services, long term planning and budget, traffic safety, maintenance planning, safer handling of traffic law, best use of budget money and so on.

It'll be a while before we see cars driving by themselves, but it will happen. The political will for it to happen is huge, as it's the one major traffic safety effort we can make, it's good for the environment, it reduces congestion and so on.

There are some technical obstacles, but these are mainly along the lines of detecting unexpected events, such as people or animals on the road.
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Old 24 October 2014, 02:13 PM
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Yeah, it sounds like there will have to be infrastructure built to make it possible, and even then I wonder if a person would have to be ready to take the controls--which is another big problem. How alert will a person be to driving if they can drive perhaps thousands of miles between situations that their attention is needed for?

The infrastructure I'm thinking of would be maybe a guide wire or strip that the car can automatically follow, and then a method of signalling when things have changed or the strip can't be safely followed. But even that is pretty far from what I had the impression these cars were already doing. I was wondering how the cars would handle emergencies, when really they can't even handle litter, or any change at all. It's a lot farther from reality than the makers have been saying.
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Old 24 October 2014, 02:49 PM
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I can't speak for the US, but here in Canada, roadwork in the non-winter months is very prevalent. There is road work everywhere in Ottawa at the moment due to LRT, and sewage infrastructure, etc, and the changes to lanes sometime change on a day to day basis.

For example, on Wednesday, after the shooting happened and civil servants were finally allowed to leave their work, I tried taking a backroad to avoid traffic. Surprise! Unsigned road work ahead. The only thing warning motorists of the road work ahead was the sight backhoe digging into the street and the flag person holding the stop/slow sign.
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  #10  
Old 24 October 2014, 03:08 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DrRocket View Post
Call me a luddite, but you can take my steering wheel away when you pry my cold dead hands off of it.
I honestly don't see the attraction of a self-driving car. You can already get transportation you don't have to drive yourself: it's called a Taxi or a Bus.

Seaboe
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Old 24 October 2014, 03:12 PM
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I have an hour commute to work each way, and there is no public transportation that goes there. There's no way I could afford a taxi for that long a trip, I can barely afford the gas. So yes, I would love it if they came up with a workable self-driving car, though clearly I should not get my hopes up.
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  #12  
Old 24 October 2014, 03:29 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DrRocket View Post
Call me a luddite, but you can take my steering wheel away when you pry my cold dead hands off of it.
EMT response times are pretty fast, your dead hands should still be quite warm when they pry them off.
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  #13  
Old 24 October 2014, 03:51 PM
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Nice, GenYus.

I'd thought the car was camera-based and map-supplemented. Not the other way around. I'll move this over into the Xeno's technology category with fusion power and jetpacks.
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  #14  
Old 24 October 2014, 05:21 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Seaboe Muffinchucker View Post
I honestly don't see the attraction of a self-driving car. You can already get transportation you don't have to drive yourself: it's called a Taxi or a Bus.

Seaboe
I think the thing that will prevent the development of the self-driving car is the complete lack of need for it by society. Same with the flying car. If I had a dollar for every time some tech magazine predicted them, I'd by rich by now. Still waiting after 40 years.
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  #15  
Old 24 October 2014, 06:43 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Seaboe Muffinchucker View Post
I honestly don't see the attraction of a self-driving car. You can already get transportation you don't have to drive yourself: it's called a Taxi or a Bus.
Taxis are very expensive, and the availability outside of dense urban areas is very poor. Most of the cost goes to the human driver. A self driving taxi will be a fraction of the price, and yes, their wider availability and convenience will mean that some people don't need to own their own car. They'll just press a button to get a cheap self-driving taxi to take them where they're going.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Skeptic View Post
I think the thing that will prevent the development of the self-driving car is the complete lack of need for it by society.
This is a pretty terrible prediction. Be sure to remember it for later.
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  #16  
Old 24 October 2014, 06:49 PM
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I would say that there is need for both the flying car and the auto-driving car. The issue is that that need isn't great enough to overcome the massive technological issues with building them to be efficient, reliable, and safe.
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  #17  
Old 24 October 2014, 07:01 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GenYus234 View Post
I would say that there is need for both the flying car and the auto-driving car. The issue is that that need isn't great enough to overcome the massive technological issues with building them to be efficient, reliable, and safe.
They are not in the same category. You would have likely said the same thing about where we are with the portable internet devices (and the internet itself) that we carry around in our pockets which are basically better than Star Trek communicators. Self driving cars require improvements in software, but are imminent. Flying cars require not just engineering but probably physics breakthroughs to ever be efficient. In case you haven't been paying attention lately, we've been making world changing leaps and bounds in one of those areas.
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  #18  
Old 24 October 2014, 07:09 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Errata View Post
You would have likely said the same thing about where we are with the portable internet devices (and the internet itself) that we carry around in our pockets which are basically better than Star Trek communicators.
Star Trek communicators weren't that great to begin with -- they were basically walkie-talkies with greatly extended range. Far less useful than a cell phone on the surface of a planet.
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  #19  
Old 24 October 2014, 07:11 PM
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Frankly, I can't see self-driving cars being that available in areas where there is an actual need. I think they'll be pushed in high traffic areas under the reasoning that they will avoid accidents. In places where taxis and mass transit aren't available, I'm cynical enough to think the self-driving cars won't be, either.

Seaboe
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  #20  
Old 24 October 2014, 07:12 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by snopes View Post
Star Trek communicators weren't that great to begin with -- they were basically walkie-talkies with greatly extended range. Far less useful than a cell phone on the surface of a planet.
Indeed, few people would have dared predict the kinds of advances we've had in just the past generation. Most people just were not able to see the internet coming and how quickly it would transform daily life, not even science fiction writers.

Last edited by Errata; 24 October 2014 at 07:22 PM.
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