CA tech doubles down on driverless cars

Google carDespite a spate of media attention surrounding a narrowly missed collision between two self-driving prototype vehicles, California companies fielding driverless cars forged ahead, insisting that the developing technology was safe and getting safer.

An unexpected trial

Both cars in the incident “were equipped with similar technology, including lasers, radar, cameras and computer systems enabling the cars to drive on their own without need of human drivers,” noted the Washington Post, which added that both also put “people behind the wheel in case of an emergency.”

During the close shave in Palo Alto, the near-victim rode in an Audi Q5 equipped with Delphi Automotive’s self-driving system. “As the Delphi vehicle prepared to change lanes, a Google self-driving prototype — a Lexus RX400h crossover fitted with similar hardware and software — cut off the Audi, forcing it to abort the lane change,” Reuters reported.

“Both companies previously have reported minor collisions of self-driving cars with vehicles piloted by people. In most of those cases, the self-driving car was stopped, typically at an intersection, and was rear-ended by another vehicle,” according to Reuters. Significantly, however, as the wire service noted, neither the companies nor the California DMV has deemed any self-driving car to have been at fault.

Doubling down

Google, for one, took the episode in stride. At a recent shareholder meeting, cofounder Sergey Brin personally praised the driverless program. “I’m very proud of the record of our cars,” he said, as CIO reported. “We don’t claim cars are going to be perfect. Our goal is to beat human drivers, and nothing can be a perfect vehicle.” The company has nearly doubled its number of permits for self-driving cars, according to DMV records obtained by CIO:

“The additional 25 permits are for a new fleet of prototype cars that are undergoing testing on private roads, the company said. The cars, tiny two-seaters, are designed for neighborhood driving and have a top speed of 25 miles per hour.”

Now making their appearance on Mountain View area roads, the little autos “are still equipped with a steering wheel, accelerator pedal and brake pedal, and a qualified driver will be there to take over if things go awry,” as Discover pointed out. “The cars drive conservatively. For instance, their speed is capped at 25 miles per hour. And they pause 1.5 seconds after a stoplight turns green ‘because many accidents happen during this time.'”

Google has taken an early lead on California streets, with Mercedes and other companies rounding out the field. But competition could ramp up quickly. “In just 15 years, by 2030, the self-driving car market is expected to reach a whopping $87 billion, according to a recent report by Lux Research,” Business Insider observed. “That helps explain why, in addition to the tech giants Google and Uber, just about every car manufacturer is working on the technology.”

Dealing with humans

Ironically, tech companies have surmised, the most dangerous thing about driverless cars could well be the way humans drive around them. Self-driving vehicles lack the visual cues — such as telltale hesitation, communication, and, of course, a human driver inside — that we use to navigate through traffic situations and at intersections. Unless this challenge can be measured, analyzed, and effectively met, Google and other companies will struggle to secure regulatory support for stripping the cars down to the bare essentials.

In fact, Google’s fleet of slow-moving two-seaters was expressly designed to test human reactions to driverless cars on the road. “If all goes well, Google hopes to gain regulatory clearance to remove the steering wheel, brake pedal and emergency driver from the prototype,” according to US News. “Company executives have expressed hope that self-driving cars using its technology will be joining the flow of daily traffic by the end of this decade.”

4 comments

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  1. desmond
    desmond 6 July, 2015, 19:48

    Sergey should welcome being transported around Oakland, Compton Stockton. It would be a great proving ground, and if after a fender bender, he is removed from car and cooked in a smoker for the block party, it will only improve the next model year.

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  2. Bill Gore
    Bill Gore 7 July, 2015, 06:34

    Driverless cars are a priority for the elites because mobility is incompatible with a centrally planned and controlled economy. While the 0.01% will be hypermobile, seeming to be everywhere at once, mid-level dull normals will only go where they are allowed to go. Lowers will be relegated to mass transit, of course…Make no mistake, driverless cars are about control, control, control-social engineering. Absent the need for tight control over every human activity, there really is no justification for the “driverless” car (in quotes because someone will definitely be driving, and it won’t be you!).

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    • A Fellow Watchdog
      A Fellow Watchdog 21 August, 2015, 11:34

      Think people should be paying attention to what you say. What about all the things that can go wrong when hackers start having fun messing around with the driverless-car computer system in all its glory?

      Reply this comment
  3. A Fellow Watchdog
    A Fellow Watchdog 21 August, 2015, 11:48

    Where do I start?
    First of all, there is nothing man can make that will replace the superior complexity of even the dullest human intelligence (which includes more than just our brains and what is in them), so driverless cars cannot ever be better or safer than cars with a human at the wheel.
    Second of all, why is the Auto Club so in love with driverless cars?
    Third, what are the auto-insurers going to do when some person or their property is killed, maimed or destroyed by a driverless vehicle (at whatever stage the technology happens to be at the time) and the victim(s) or their survivors decide to sue, and what will be the limit to damages?
    My advice to people who want to invest their money in driverless cars or the outfits that make them is: don’t.
    This is not the way to make the world a better or safer place to be.

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