Self Driving Car

Living on a dirt road, I have been pretty skeptical about self driving cars all along.  Hopeful, but skeptical.  This article from Business Insider really adds to that doubt.

The issue is that the computer power in the car is devoted to assessing moving objects around it, not stationary objects.  The stationary objects are all already included in the car’s computer based on the detailed maps that are required for every street that the driverless car navigates.

But stationary objects are important, and have different meanings, and change over short periods of time.   The article cites traffic signals used for construction.  An example on my dirt road would be a washed out area due to a rainstorm, that might not be fixed for weeks or months.

The details of the maps used has been extensively reported, but not the degree to which the cars depend on them to function, and their complete lack of functionality without ALL the detail.

Here’s what Google confirms that the cars can’t do right now:

  • avoid potholes or operate in heavy rain or snow.
  • It can’t currently find a space in a supermarket lot or multilevel garage.
  • It can’t consistently handle coned-off road construction sites, and
  • its video cameras can sometimes be blinded by the sun when trying to detect the color of a traffic signal.
  • Because it can’t tell the difference between a big rock and a crumbled-up piece of newspaper, it will try to drive around both if it encounters either sitting in the middle of the road.

Questions that Google did not answer:

  • Can the car currently “see” another vehicle’s turn signals or brake lights?
  • Can it tell the difference between the flashing lights on top of a tow truck and those on top of an ambulance?
  • If it’s driving past a school playground, and a ball rolls out into the street, will it know to be on special alert?

I would add:

  • How does the car navigate into my driveway and garage?  Will Google need to make a detailed (to the square foot) map of my property?  Will they do it for every driveway and garage so the cars can park anywhere? (don’t be evil)
  • Does the car know the difference between people and other cars, and wildlife?  The proper response to wildlife on the road is to slow down and NOT swerve.  The decision making process for avoiding a person in the road, or a potential crash into another vehicle, is much different.

The hurdles are many, and large.  If they continue working on it, it will act as a giant basic research project, with many benefits that are currently not even under consideration.


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