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Artificial intelligence? Not quite, but Google might have cracked artificial courtesy and consideration

Google has released a new video showing how its self-driving car is being taught to cope with common road situations such as encounters with cyclists. We’d far rather share the road with a machine that’s this courteous and patient than a lot of human drivers.

We’ve all been there. You need to turn across the traffic, but you’re not quite sure where, so you’re a bit hesitant, perhaps signalling too early and then changing your mind before finally finding the right spot.

Do this in a car and other drivers just tut a little. Do it on a bike and some bozo will be on the horn instantly and shouting at you when he gets past because you’ve delayed him by three-tenths of a nanosecond.

But not if the car’s being controlled by Google’s self-driving system. As you can see in this video, the computer that steers Google’s car can recognise a cyclist and knows to hold back when it sees a hand signal, and even to wait if the rider behaves hesitantly.

Later in the video we see the car waiting to turn right at a junction, the equivalent of a UK left turn. Not only does it wait for cyclists ahead of it to clear the junction, but it detects cyclists behind it and lets them through before making the turn.

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

61 comments

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drfabulous0 [409 posts] 2 years ago
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Self driving cars are the future, I'm a big fan of taking the idiotic and dangerous part of cars out of the equation.

On the video at 1.27 the car at in the RH lane at the bottom appears to door the cyclist passing in the bike lane. Why?

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flathunt [117 posts] 2 years ago
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It's great tech, now if only they could harness the power of being beeped at by the idiots behind who'd rather it just ran straight through any two-wheeled obstacle. Regenerative beeping, come on you eggheads, it can't be that hard.

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qwerky [184 posts] 2 years ago
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Self driving cars are definitely the future. Road safety has been incrementally improving over the last 50 years (mainly for car occupants) but taking the human factor out of it will be a huge step-change.

Hopefully the sensors/computers will be able to notice more subtle signs, such as a cyclist looking over their shoulder when approaching a turning, often the prelude to a hand signal, and a sign that good drivers will recognise.

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James Whateley [1 post] 2 years ago
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It's likely to be that when the bike went past the car, the google car could only tell one big object, hence why the bike disappeared for a bit. It then reappears as the sensor realises it's actually two separate objects.

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Zermattjohn [201 posts] 2 years ago
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Brilliant, really really impressive!  41

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mrchrispy [442 posts] 2 years ago
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I was talking to my kids about this the other day, they are 7 and 8, I seriously doubt they'll be driving a car like we currently do.
the sooner computers take over the better.

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SB76 [102 posts] 2 years ago
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I know some drivers are bad but i'm amazed that the comments so far for self-driving cars are positive.

To some extent, the thought scares the life out of me whilst another bit of me quite likes the idea.

I do not think this these self drive cars are imminent. Just like the google drone deliveries, bit of a gimmick designed to grab headlines.

Any such move would come with an awful lot of safety systems/testing before any governemnt would accept it on the road and rightly so.

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bikebot [1755 posts] 2 years ago
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It's going to be some years yet before we get true self drive cars, but it'll probably mark a further shift away from private car ownership.

The commercial carpools that are becoming increasingly popular in our cities start making even more sense when the cars can also drive themselves. Need a car for a few hours to go and buy something big and bulky (your latest n+1 bike of course...). No need to walk to the collection point, just book it by phone and wait for one to drive itself to your door!

Why would anyone spend a large chunk of their income on a private car when you can hire one just for the time you need it with all the convenience of a chauffeur as well. Carpool and taxi essentially merge, with Google's brain replacing the cabbie.

It'll be interesting to see how Google will eventually sell or license this technology, but I suspect they'll do something disruptive rather than just sell it to the car manufacturers.

We will however see more and more of this kind of technology appearing in private cars as safety features. The cars won't drive themselves, but they will actively intervene to prevent an accident.

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Jimbonic [136 posts] 2 years ago
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bikebot wrote:

We will however see more and more of this kind of technology appearing in private cars as safety features. The cars won't drive themselves, but they will actively intervene to prevent an accident.

They already do. VW has an "anti-accident" function. OK, it only works at certain speeds. But, it's out there. And Mercedes (I think) have had a car take a drive under its own initiative - well, they gave it a destination and let the Sat Nav do it.

I suppose that's my current concern: sat nav isn't accurate enough. Take a look at your Garmin / Strava / whatever traces of your rides to see how they wiggle all over the road. OK, a dedicated car-based sat nav should be better. But, how many times do we hear man drives into lake following sat nav, or some such nonsense?

In summary, not sure.

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paulrbarnard [182 posts] 2 years ago
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SB76 wrote:

I know some drivers are bad but i'm amazed that the comments so far for self-driving cars are positive.

To some extent, the thought scares the life out of me whilst another bit of me quite likes the idea.

I do not think this these self drive cars are imminent. Just like the google drone deliveries, bit of a gimmick designed to grab headlines.

Any such move would come with an awful lot of safety systems/testing before any governemnt would accept it on the road and rightly so.

it's definitely coming. All the manufactures are working hard on this. Several already have working demo systems. Legislation is already being discussed in Europe and the US. It will probably be on the roads far quicker than you might expect. As seen in this video they have the potential to be far safer than an existing human controlled vehicle. When the technology matures the legislation may switch the other way and make 'manual' cars very highly regulated

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SB76 [102 posts] 2 years ago
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bikebot wrote:

It's going to be some years yet before we get true self drive cars, but it'll probably mark a further shift away from private car ownership.

The commercial carpools that are becoming increasingly popular in our cities start making even more sense when the cars can also drive themselves. Need a car for a few hours to go and buy something big and bulky (your latest n+1 bike of course...). No need to walk to the collection point, just book it by phone and wait for one to drive itself to your door!

Why would anyone spend a large chunk of their income on a private car when you can hire one just for the time you need it with all the convenience of a chauffeur as well. Carpool and taxi essentially merge, with Google's brain replacing the cabbie.

It'll be interesting to see how Google will eventually sell or license this technology, but I suspect they'll do something disruptive rather than just sell it to the car manufacturers.

We will however see more and more of this kind of technology appearing in private cars as safety features. The cars won't drive themselves, but they will actively intervene to prevent an accident.

To be honest, car companieshave been looking into this, it's just Google want to advertising. The sensor application behind it wont be google developed so i cant see any chance for google to create a disruptive technology.

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SB76 [102 posts] 2 years ago
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I know it's coming, i've seen some of the kit developed by small tech companies for the car companies wrt collision avoidance.
Some really good stuff already getting deployed on high branded cars to will deploy breaks/produce audible warning in the event of collision detection. Very, very clever stuff espcially considering how poor reverse sensors can be.

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SB76 [102 posts] 2 years ago
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I know it's coming, i've seen some of the kit developed by small tech companies for the car companies wrt collision avoidance.
Some really good stuff already getting deployed on high branded cars to will deploy breaks/produce audible warning in the event of collision detection. Very, very clever stuff espcially considering how poor reverse sensors can be.

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notfastenough [3665 posts] 2 years ago
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I wonder about the step-change this will lead to. Realistically, a self-driving car will likely come with some disclaimer that the occupant of the driving seat is still responsible for safe conduct of the vehicle, ostensibly to ensure safety in the event of something unexpected happening that the AI can't deal with. BUT we already see people being massively distracted when they have a proper task (driving) to contend with - with this stuff they'll be welded to their phones or laptops etc. In a sense that's a good thing, because it will remove the stress of driving; they'll be engrossed in something else entirely and driving will become no more interactive than using a lift - unless it goes wrong, at which point the 'driver', the manufacturer and the third party (injured cyclist?) are all blaming each other.

So I guess your safety would actually depend on understanding the AIs limitations and working within it, because driver intervention probably won't happen.

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stefv [211 posts] 2 years ago
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SB76 wrote:

I do not think this these self drive cars are imminent. Just like the google drone deliveries, bit of a gimmick designed to grab headlines.

I disagree. Google have spend considerable time and resources in research and development on this, as well as political lobbying for laws to be passed allowing the cars to drive on public roads.

The Amazon drone deliveries, as far as I know, is nothing more than words.

Driverless cars are coming, sooner than you might think, IMO.

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_driverless_car

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mrmo [2064 posts] 2 years ago
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SB76 wrote:

I know some drivers are bad but i'm amazed that the comments so far for self-driving cars are positive.

Any such move would come with an awful lot of safety systems/testing before any governemnt would accept it on the road and rightly so.

How much thought do you give to the fact that pilots very rarely fly aircraft?

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bikebot [1755 posts] 2 years ago
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SB76 wrote:

To be honest, car companieshave been looking into this, it's just Google want to advertising. The sensor application behind it wont be google developed so i cant see any chance for google to create a disruptive technology.

It's not the technology that's disruptive, it's the business model.

Correct, at the moment the technology is being developed by several car companies and Google. As the car companies are also developing the tech, Google obviously isn't producing it for licensing revenue.

Car companies are in the business of selling as many cars as possible, Google isn't.

Do you start to see how that might be enormously disruptive?

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coldbeer [5 posts] 2 years ago
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Stop this nonsense, if vehicles become driverless what would road.cc forum members have to chunter on about?  3

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ollieclark [19 posts] 2 years ago
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It's already legal to road test self-drive cars in various jurisdictions. Presumably they have to have a human driver and dual controls. I'd be surprised if they aren't legal somewhere within ten years and compulsory within thirty.

Personally I can't wait. Computers are much better at things like driving than humans. If people still want to drive around themselves then there should be a massively extended test and instant bans for all minor infractions.

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allez neg [497 posts] 2 years ago
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coldbeer wrote:

Stop this nonsense, if vehicles become driverless what would road.cc forum members have to chunter on about?  3

Hipsters. The bastards. And horses.

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allez neg [497 posts] 2 years ago
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Cars by a computer company. Computers don't crash much, do they?

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Chuck [530 posts] 2 years ago
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allez neg wrote:

Cars by a computer company. Computers don't crash much, do they?

I think there'd definitely be the odd crash. But at the moment people crash all the time- I'm pretty sure computers will generally do a far better job than people do so I'm all for it.

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Initialised [289 posts] 2 years ago
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allez neg wrote:

Cars by a computer company. Computers don't crash much, do they?

There's always one!

Home computers crash because they are not subject to strict quality control on both hardware and software levels. But the bulk of problems are down to user error and expectation.

If a driverless car malfunctioned the vehicle would stop (as safely as possible) and call for assistance. Meanwhile it's onboard comms would be alerting all nearby vehicles and the smart signalling network that is was stuck so they could dynamically reroute traffic to minimise disruption.

Failsafes would be built in to minimise the impact of a failure, this is done at module level from a very early stage in the design process for all automotive components already and autonomous systems would likely be even more stringent to start with.

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notfastenough [3665 posts] 2 years ago
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allez neg wrote:

Cars by a computer company. Computers don't crash much, do they?

I don't think they are suggesting running this stuff on Windows Vista or something. Safety-critical systems don't crash that often, and when they do, good design will bring everything to a halt without killing anyone.

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allez neg [497 posts] 2 years ago
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If its switch-off-and-on-able then it'd be great - leave it on and have a nap on the boring commute to and from work, and be able to switch it off for a bit of enthusiastic helmsmithing (as Troy Queef might say) and apply the requisite dab of oppo when you're in the mood.

No more taxis back from the boozer either!

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nuclear coffee [208 posts] 2 years ago
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SB76 wrote:

I know some drivers are bad but i'm amazed that the comments so far for self-driving cars are positive.

Any such move would come with an awful lot of safety systems/testing before any governemnt would accept it on the road and rightly so.

The second part of that explains the rationale behind the first. We simply can't afford to test every single driver to the standards we'd expect of, say, pilots: hence, there are a lot of crap drivers.

We can, however, hold a few companies to a very high standard. Perhaps more importantly, when a driverless car does err, a team of intelligent people with the sole task of making cars better, with far less emotion clouding their judgement, can learn from it, and (if new hardware is not required) distribute that lesson to all driverless cars, with the cost of the latter being negligible.

It's the difference between treading water and rowing a boat - we're not going to need to expend resources keeping our road network just barely afloat (safety-wise) anymore. All the resources are being used to go forward.

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vbvb [564 posts] 2 years ago
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I believe the US military use driverless trucks in places where they worry about IEDs. Best not dwell on the ethics of that, if the system isn't safe for locals.

Great thing about the google cars is they'll not go above 20 in the 20 zone, hopefully.

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SB76 [102 posts] 2 years ago
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The commercial airliners, most notably have developed very sophisticated systems to do alot of the flying, even the landing. It works well but not without some pretty fatal accidents. The Frankfurt air show is the most notable. That led to Airbus changing the polling system that decided what to do from 3 machines to 5 then 7. In that case, the airliner and system had undergone many million hours of testing yet it had a massive flaw.
Whilst self drive cars would be a serious step forward and step change, massive concern would exist regarding the true actual safety of the driver not having any involvement. The cost to gain the safety clearance would be akin to the SIL rating utilised on safety critical systems.
Drones are an interesting comparison as governments clearly would like to use them over manned flight (will happen in time) but quite a sizeable lobby have massive concerns that will be difficult to write off.

What will happen is an increased addition of assistance systems that still ultimately have the driver in override control. Enough time and proven quality of these systems will result in the eventual leap forward

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IanW1968 [262 posts] 2 years ago
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Bikebot has it, spot on.

The manufacturers want to sell cars and the present message "this car gives you the freedom of the road, enlarge your man part etc etc" isn't going to work with a self driving car. They may pick up a few sales from additional safety features but that's it, why spend money on something that upsets your market.

I can see them setting up some new brands, maybe sell them as taxis and it will be sooner rather than later google "internet of everything".

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allez neg [497 posts] 2 years ago
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IanW1968 wrote:

Bikebot has it, spot on.

The manufacturers want to sell cars and the present message "this car gives you the freedom of the road, enlarge your man part etc etc" isn't going to work with a self driving car. They may pick up a few sales from additional safety features but that's it, why spend money on something that upsets your market.

I can see them setting up some new brands, maybe sell them as taxis and it will be sooner rather than later google "internet of everything".

I'm inclined to disagree. Car marketing is pretty clever - if as I said earlier the tech is switched on/off as the owner chooses then it could still be a car for those who enjoy driving, but also with the benefits of a train (you can sleep/read/work/be pissed) without the downsides of a train (lateness, lack of seating, shared space, the inevitable puking drunk) for when you can't be arsed to drive.

As the technology matures, no more tedium of parking as it could drop you off then go park itself, and no more Dad's taxi for teenage daughters either as it could drive itself while you stay home!

I'd love it, although would certainly want to retain the option of taking control for when the tarmac turns twisty.

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