Video: Google’s self-driving car meets cyclists and out-performs far too many human drivers

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

by John Stevenson   April 29, 2014  

Google driverless car meets cyclist

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.

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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.

posted by allez neg [4 posts]
29th April 2014 - 20:30

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

Aircraft auto pilots.

Next.

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posted by mrmo [1074 posts]
29th April 2014 - 20:34

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If we're going to insist on having multi-tonne metal boxes wizzing about at high speed, I'd prefer to have them computer controlled.

This is a comparatively low-tech implementation of robotic guidance systems (logistics based):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8gy5tYVR-28

Apparently, the Google car does much the same in real traffic now and has been on the road constantly for over a year.

Bring on the robocars Big Grin

posted by jacknorell [345 posts]
29th April 2014 - 20:37

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mrmo wrote:
allez neg wrote:
Cars by a computer company. Computers don't crash much, do they?

Aircraft auto pilots.

Next.

With the caveat of course that a pilot is still ultimately overseeing the flight and can override the autopilot at any point.

The more intelligent flight control system revolve around several system developed indepently using different method and decisions are made by majority decision. Very clever until all systems come up with entirely different intentions.

posted by SB76 [80 posts]
29th April 2014 - 20:51

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SB76 wrote:
With the caveat of course that a pilot is still ultimately overseeing the flight and can override the autopilot at any point.

The more intelligent flight control system revolve around several system developed indepently using different method and decisions are made by majority decision. Very clever until all systems come up with entirely different intentions.

Autopilot systems in planes are indeed very clever, but they don't come up with different intentions as you suggest relative to human intent.

In aircraft and cars, there are 3 primary causes of crashes; navigational error, mechanical failure or operator error. Mechanical failure per the autopilot system malfunctioning is extremely rare compared to pilot intervention (Air France and, likely, Malaysian Airlines).

Looking at the road, operator error is extremely common (running red lights, DUI, texting friends, etc). Reducing this through automated cars would result in a significant decrease in the accident and mortality rate of vehicle accidents, and it's extremely unlikely that we'd see the accident rate being commensurately replaced by autopilot operational error.

posted by Gordy748 [84 posts]
29th April 2014 - 21:55

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SB76 wrote:
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.

It is true that self drive cars might go wrong, but then again i don't think a self drive car would take a selfie, post it to Facebook and then run off the road.

The major issue we have at the moment is most drivers can not be trusted to obey the law. Why do we actually need speed bumps as an example, what do they achieve? In theory there is no need, set the speed limit on a road and the driver will obey the limit, pay attention to pedestrians other road users etc. However it doesn't happen.

Another example is driving in fog, drivers can not be trusted to drive at a safe speed, again the number of crashes in poor weather underlines this point.

So what is the solution, accept crashes and poor driving, or deal with the weakest link in the car?

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posted by mrmo [1074 posts]
29th April 2014 - 22:19

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I love driving. Amazing technology though. I would prefer to have a choice of several self drive options. For instance a switch to choose full self drive or partial self drive . In the latter the human could remain largely in control of the vehicle but the computers could adjust speed and steering .Eg that way it could be ensured that a car only overtakes a cyclist giving plenty of space, or prevent people from Generally driving stupidly, without completely transforming the nature of driving.

posted by Sub5orange [28 posts]
29th April 2014 - 22:34

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allez neg wrote:
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.

I do wonder though whether this would result in an increase in the number of cars. If you're rich, why not buy a car for each of your kids, regardless of their age? Send one to collect something (person at the other end would need to help, obviously!) when you're at work. The limiting factor isn't how many seats you can put your bum on, it's just financial.

Last night I would have considered trading a very loud baby for a really nice bike.

posted by notfastenough [3108 posts]
29th April 2014 - 22:35

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Sub5orange wrote:
I love driving. Amazing technology though. I would prefer to have a choice of several self drive options. For instance a switch to choose full self drive or partial self drive . In the latter the human could remain largely in control of the vehicle but the computers could adjust speed and steering .Eg that way it could be ensured that a car only overtakes a cyclist giving plenty of space, or prevent people from Generally driving stupidly, without completely transforming the nature of driving.

I can see the first stage being the Volvo approach, basically if the driver tries to do somethings the car over-rules. Quite how it works?

Try and tailgate and the car intervenes, exceed the speed limit the car intervenes, etc. Or if the driver starts to weave, i.e. tiredness, the car makes decisions and either compensates or stops.

Problem is cars are a tool for getting from a to b, but they are also an ego extension for too many people.

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posted by mrmo [1074 posts]
29th April 2014 - 22:40

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So who wants a self riding bike then?

posted by drfabulous0 [311 posts]
29th April 2014 - 22:47

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There is absolutely no denying that self drive cars would be 'safer', the tech is definitely good enough now to be able to react quick enough as in quicker than us.
The slight issue is any inherent bugs within the system would exist across all vehicles rather than as is currently the case in humans in a case by case basis.
My views aren't anti the technology more an awareness of the testing that would be required would be massive and then the next battle is that of mind. It being safe is different to people believing it to be safe.

posted by SB76 [80 posts]
30th April 2014 - 9:37

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I cant wait for driverless cars, driving is no longer a pleasure in the UK, and poor driving make the roads very dangerous for other road users.

I have to ride through Leytonstone Leyton Hackney Marshes Hackney Bow, Poplar Docklands Greenwich and Lewisham on the days i cycle commute and frankly ANYTHING is likely to be an improvement over the fools behind the wheels I encounter on my route.

Out on the roads at weekends its not much better either.

The UK needs a proper cycle infrastructure and equally important if not more so, compulsory training for vehicle drivers and cyclists alike to change attitudes and raise awareness of cyclists, mind you in all fairness its not always the drivers that behave like idiots!

posted by WashoutWheeler [8 posts]
30th April 2014 - 10:01

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drfabulous0 wrote:
So who wants a self riding bike then?

It's a fair point. I'm sure auto-pilot e-bikes would be welcomed by some for the commute, but if society removes the ability to drive for pleasure, why would it leave alone the ability to ride for pleasure?

Sh*t sh*t sh*t! Stop, stop now, no more of this self-driving car madness! Surprise

Last night I would have considered trading a very loud baby for a really nice bike.

posted by notfastenough [3108 posts]
30th April 2014 - 10:14

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drfabulous0 wrote:
So who wants a self riding bike then?

Self-walking roboshoes?

posted by FluffyKittenofT... [667 posts]
30th April 2014 - 11:58

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Don't really like the idea.

Gives me nightmare visions of streets constantly filled with bumper-to-bumper robo-cars cruising round endlessly, with-or-without actual occupants, who by that point are all corpulent blob-people barely able to move in any case.

While pedestrians and cyclists alike are further pressured into staying off the road entirely in order to simplify the computations and smooth the now perfect, uninterrupted and eternal 'traffic flow'.

Plus, the US, where "cruise control" seems to be very widely used, also seems to have endless arguments over alleged "sudden acceleration incidents". I really don't know if these are really down to computer malfunctions or if they are, as some claim, really due to elderly drivers getting confused, but the more computerisation there is the more room there is for these sorts of legal arguments.

posted by FluffyKittenofT... [667 posts]
30th April 2014 - 12:15

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There was a case a few years back in this country! Car driving up the M1 and the guy couldnt turn cruise control off/slow it odwn. Seem to remember he had a police escort until it ran out of petrol or something.

Thankfully these things are rare but do happen.

posted by SB76 [80 posts]
30th April 2014 - 12:49

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Impressive stuff. However the roads around Mountain View in California where they are trailing this right now are nothing like the UK - perfectly perpendicular junctions, no potholes to dodge, very wide lanes. Plus the cyclists in Silicon Valley have the luxury of often enormous cycle lanes, making them much less of an issue for the average driver or robot.

I can't help but wonder how well the software they are developing would work when faced with central London, or a winding country road...

One thing is for sure, it will be a great time to be a lawyer when these things hit the street for real.

posted by giobox [276 posts]
1st May 2014 - 6:38

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giobox wrote:
Impressive stuff. However the roads around Mountain View in California where they are trailing this right now are nothing like the UK - perfectly perpendicular junctions, no potholes to dodge, very wide lanes.

....

I can't help but wonder how well the software they are developing would work when faced with central London, or a winding country road...

Well to be fair to them, that's typically how you develop stuff and it is on their doorstep. Start simple, build up. The sign and gesture (signal) recognition looked good, as did the handling of the traffic cones (something it would have to do a lot over here in the UK).

As for windy roads, the cars have already done a lot of miles including winding roads (they do exist in the California) e.g. gone around Lake Tahoe, which has some lovely roads up and down and through the trees, and even down Lombard Street, SF (something more than a few humans seem to have a problem with).

So, yeah, they're probably not ready for prime-time yet, but I don't see a huge difference from a algorithmic/programming point of view between parts of California, Nevada and Florida and a lot of driving here. London ? That'd be a challenge mind - for Californian or computer.

Looks to be on the right track and certainly needs more miles, which is why Google are pressing for more legislation to allow driverless vehicles. It is getting closer, quickly though - and while I might have issues with some of what Google get up to, their R&D department is top notch.

giobox wrote:
One thing is for sure, it will be a great time to be a lawyer when these things hit the street for real.

Too true alas...

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posted by fukawitribe [375 posts]
1st May 2014 - 8:52

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Sure, your dystopian vision is frghtening but there is a different possible future - far fewer motor vehicles on our roads. It's been argued, by Google and others, that driverless cars will spell an end to private car ownership and public bus services. Instead, there will be fleets of robo-taxis, working 24/7, carrying passengers from point to point and fully networked to maximise journey sharing. If that utopian vision was to happen, I reckon it's at least 20 years away.
And cyclists would certainly miss the cheery banter of taxi drivers. Wink

posted by cycling science... [5 posts]
1st May 2014 - 10:59

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cycling science - the book wrote:
Sure, your dystopian vision is frghtening but there is a different possible future - far fewer motor vehicles on our roads. It's been argued, by Google and others, that driverless cars will spell an end to private car ownership and public bus services. Instead, there will be fleets of robo-taxis, working 24/7, carrying passengers from point to point and fully networked to maximise journey sharing. If that utopian vision was to happen, I reckon it's at least 20 years away.
And cyclists would certainly miss the cheery banter of taxi drivers. Wink

I love the dream and as a driver who doesnt love driving (due to idiots/traffic/tedium), i hope they're right. Sadly i suspect they've got one hell of a battle to convince much of the public to make the change. I suspect the task will be tough in the UK but no doubt far tougher in the USA where it was an immense battle to convince drivers to use seat belts.
Although it would be lovely to think that we had no more idiots drinking and driving.

posted by SB76 [80 posts]
1st May 2014 - 12:54

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Oh i agree, lots of great reasons for it to be attractive but you're also fighting with over a century of deep ingrained belief that the car and ownership is directly associated to our freedom, personal rights, life.....

Frankly a whole lot of public relations BS. Sick

posted by SB76 [80 posts]
1st May 2014 - 13:24

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SB76 wrote:
Sadly i suspect they've got one hell of a battle to convince much of the public to make the change. I suspect the task will be tough in the UK but no doubt far tougher in the USA where it was an immense battle to convince drivers to use seat belts.
Although it would be lovely to think that we had no more idiots drinking and driving.

There are so many potential reasons why these will be attractive to consumers though:
* Cheaper insurance premiums
* Better fuel economy
* "Drive" whilst drunk
* "Drive" whilst asleep (overnight travel to the South of France Smile )
* "Drive" without a license.

Dedicated cycling price comparison | http://www.leadoutbikes.com

posted by mckechan [185 posts]
1st May 2014 - 14:14

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simply amazing. even if the computer makes mistakes and kills a few people it doesnt matter, because you can guarantee the computer drivers will make far less mistakes than the human drivers!

Feel the fear and do it anyway

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posted by hood [117 posts]
2nd May 2014 - 13:26

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ollieclark wrote:
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.

That's highly debatable.

They haven't done enough miles yet to know if they're safer to all on average.
They get driven in the easiest roads for computers to understand.
Google naturally shows us clips of when they did well, even then, they couldn't tell the difference between 1 cyclist and 2 cyclists.
Knowing what mistakes humans make is easy to account for as a cyclist, but god only knows when a google-car would mistake a shadow or a plastic bag as something to avoid and make some crazy move to avoid it.
Watch the video again, the car doesn't see clearly, it's seeing some amorphous blobs, it can't tell a cyclist from a horse, it can't tell which way a car is facing. The technology has a long way to go.
The google cars have had backup humans who have had to take control of the cars a few times, this means the tech isn't yet ready.

This doesn't mean I wouldn't like driverless cars, I just think the tech needs to be better.

Worst case scenario for cycling: less deaths overall due to massively less passenger deaths, more pedestrian, cyclist and horse rider deaths. /devils advocate

posted by kie7077 [453 posts]
6th May 2014 - 14:29

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why should the car be able to differentiate between a horse or a cyclist? To be fair why should it differentiate between any object? It is in the way so avoid it.

Or are you one of those people who will slow to 2mpg go as far to the other side of the road as possible when you meet a car, but do nothing when you meet a cyclist?

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posted by mrmo [1074 posts]
6th May 2014 - 15:23

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kie7077 wrote:
The technology has a long way to go.
The google cars have had backup humans who have had to take control of the cars a few times, this means the tech isn't yet ready.

This doesn't mean I wouldn't like driverless cars, I just think the tech needs to be better.

Well, yeah- it's years away from being ready, nobody's saying otherwise. But I wouldn't bet against it progressing pretty quickly.
Just look at the progress in the DARPA grand challenge since the first year.

posted by Chuck [368 posts]
6th May 2014 - 15:30

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mrmo wrote:
why should the car be able to differentiate between a horse or a cyclist? To be fair why should it differentiate between any object? It is in the way so avoid it.

Or are you one of those people who will slow to 2mpg go as far to the other side of the road as possible when you meet a car, but do nothing when you meet a cyclist?

Horses, cyclists, pedestrians and (heavens, no) caravans behave rather differently. I'd rather have my robocar be able to distinguish, and know the more common "faulty" actions to better avoid them.

For example, passing a cyclist at 30 mph probably means simply giving enough room, with a horse it's giving the same amount of space (more if possible) and also slowing to 10 mph. Also, the cyclist will usually only veer off on a tangent, or go straight down. The horse may bolt at 90 degrees, or even turn around.

Maybe that helps explain why a car needs to be able to figure out what an obstruction actually is?

posted by jacknorell [345 posts]
6th May 2014 - 15:48

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@mrmo

What I'm trying to say is that these cars have the equivalent of really bad eyesight, if a human had such bad eyesight they wouldn't be allowed on the roads.

Like people don't 'see' the light that hits their retina - they see the brains interpretation of that information. The google cars don't see the nice hd video feeds they get, what they see is satnav info mixed with laser-distance measurement info and software interpretations of the images received. Writing software that recognises objects in video is very hard to do.

Watch the video again, and realise the difficulty the computer has recognising cars etc. Can the cars computer even tell the difference between a car and a picture of a car? Or a car at a distance and a box etc?

What happens when it snows? that's taxing enough for the human brain, I'd bet these cars can't handle snow on the ground + heavy snow falling.

posted by kie7077 [453 posts]
6th May 2014 - 16:21

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Another thing that occurs to me is that genuinely good driving would require contextual knowledge that a robocar is unlikely to have.

A football bounces out into the road in front of a moving car...would a robocar be able to anticipate that a child might soon follow it?

posted by FluffyKittenofT... [667 posts]
6th May 2014 - 16:47

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And have they managed to crack the robotic-hoover problem yet? Given the trouble they seem to have programming a device to safely make its way round the average living-room I remain skeptical that these cars will ever be able to cope with real world environments (unless those environments are themselves controlled - with more restrictions on actual human beings).

posted by FluffyKittenofT... [667 posts]
6th May 2014 - 16:50

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