What Driverless Vehicles “See”

A few weeks ago we had a comment thread debate about whether autonomous vehicles would drive more safely than humans.

The question was posed whether a driverless car could ‘see’ a pedestrian in dark clothes on a rainy night.

This tweet claims that Google’s vehicle gathers about 1GB of data each second. I’m pretty sure I see a lot of pedestrians in the accompanying image.

7 responses to “What Driverless Vehicles “See””

  1. I think my comment was that, but more importantly, does the Google car know it’s supposed to stop at an unmarked intersection for that pedestrian, and can if figure out if the pedestrian’s waiting for the bus, or attempting to cross? Can it see the pedestrian waving the driver on, and in turn motion back to the pedestrian “no, you go ahead?” Does the Google car have a humanoid robot with arms in the driver’s seat to do that? Perhaps the Google car can discern the person’s intent better than a human driver. Presumably the Google car can be taught every bit of the vehicle code, if only the programmers knew the code.

  2. Oh, and I’m not impressed by the Google Car safety record, when as far as I can tell, the Google Car’s mileage has all been in suburban Silicon Valley with no pedestrians. Has it been driving in San Francisco?

  3. How many drivers actually yield to pedestrians at unmarked crosswalks right now? The cars do drive through SF right now. Compared to a platonic ideal of a driver the driverless cars might fail, but compared to the people actually driving today I’d happily take Google’s car.;

    From this long New Yorker article:
    “In the beginning, Brin and Page presented Thrun’s team with a series of darpa-like challenges. They managed the first in less than a year: to drive a hundred thousand miles on public roads. Then the stakes went up. Like boys plotting a scavenger hunt, Brin and Page pieced together ten itineraries of a hundred miles each. The roads wound through every part of the Bay Area—from the leafy lanes of Menlo Park to the switchbacks of Lombard Street. If the driver took the wheel or tapped the brakes even once, the trip was disqualified. “I remember thinking, How can you possibly do that?” Urmson told me. “It’s hard to game driving through the middle of San Francisco.””


    • For other drivers, yes the Google car would probably be an improvement. For pedestrians, I’m not so sure. In many parts of Portland, yes, the drivers do stop for pedestrians, sometimes even at unmarked crosswalks. So are we trading “some drivers” stopping for pedestrians, to “no Google Cars” stopping for pedestrians?

      I don’t want to pay to see the New Yorker article. So tell me, does it describe such Google Car behaviour?

      • I suspect we have some local control. When (if?) Oregon has enabling legislation to allow driverless cars, can’t we specify that all traffic laws have to be followed by the algorithms?

        • Personally I think the number one complaint about driverless cars by users is that it goes too slow and stops far too often. The question is are people going to be willing to trade not having to drive for the time they lose by the car actually following traffic laws?

      • The article is free, if very long. Apparently the google cars use a combination of learned behavior and strict rules. So it does treat every stop sign as a hard stop. So to answer your question, the cars can be programmed to obey traffic laws. Perhaps self driving cars will force us to actually think about the reality of driving versus the what the law says. Eg, if everyone goes ten mph over the speed limit. perhaps we should raise it.

        One other thing that was interesting to me was this:
        “Dolgov was riding through a wooded area one night when the car suddenly slowed to a crawl. “I was thinking, What the hell? It must be a bug,” he told me. “Then we noticed the deer walking along the shoulder.” The car, unlike its riders, could see in the dark.”
        Stuff like this, I think, show why either self driving or semi-automated cars will catch on. The scariest accidents or near accidents I’ve ever been in have been wildlife related. Considering rural roads are the most dangerous, I think there will be an acceptance of at least some technology sooner rather than later.

        At the end of the article the writer talks about how Volvo and other car manufacturers focus on making drivers better. There’s a quite interesting test where Volvo has a pedestrian sensor built into their car, which prevents you from running over a child sized mannequin.

        Anyways, I found it a long but very worthwhile read.

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