Impressive progress hides major limitations of Google’s quest for automated driving.
Would you buy a self-driving car that couldn’t drive itself in 99 percent of the country? Or that knew nearly nothing about parking, couldn’t be taken out in snow or heavy rain, and would drive straight over a gaping pothole?HT: Marginal Revolution
If your answer is yes, then check out the Google Self-Driving Car, model year 2014.
Of course, Google isn’t yet selling its now-famous robotic vehicle and has said that its technology will be thoroughly tested before it ever does. But the car clearly isn’t ready yet, as evidenced by the list of things it can’t currently do—volunteered by Chris Urmson, director of the Google car team.
Google’s cars have safely driven more than 700,000 miles. As a result, “the public seems to think that all of the technology issues are solved,” says Steven Shladover, a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley’s Institute of Transportation Studies. “But that is simply not the case.”
No one knows that better than Urmson. But he says he is optimistic about tackling outstanding challenges and that it’s “going to happen more quickly than many people think.”
Google often leaves the impression that, as a Google executive once wrote, the cars can “drive anywhere a car can legally drive.” However, that’s true only if intricate preparations have been made beforehand, with the car’s exact route, including driveways, extensively mapped. Data from multiple passes by a special sensor vehicle must later be pored over, meter by meter, by both computers and humans. It’s vastly more effort than what’s needed for Google Maps.
Google’s cars are better at handling some mapping omissions than others. If a new stop light appeared overnight, for example, the car wouldn’t know to obey it. However the car would slow down or stop if its on-board sensors detected any traffic or obstacles in its path.
Google’s cars can detect and respond to stop signs that aren’t on its map, a feature that was introduced to deal with temporary signs used at construction sites. But in a complex situation like at an unmapped four-way stop the car might fall back to slow, extra cautious driving to avoid making a mistake. Google says that its cars can identify almost all unmapped stop signs, and would remain safe if they miss a sign because the vehicles are always looking out for traffic, pedestrians and other obstacles.
Alberto Broggi, a professor studying autonomous driving at Italy’s Università di Parma, says he worries about how a map-dependent system like Google’s will respond if a route has seen changes.
Michael Wagner, a Carnegie Mellon robotics researcher studying the transition to autonomous driving, says it is important for Google to be open about what its cars can and cannot do. “This is a very early-stage technology, which makes asking these kinds of questions all the more justified.”...MORE