Google's self-driving cars are now tackling street driving, but are they too wimpy?

Google has released the latest update to its self-driving car project, showing how the vehicles have been busy learning to navigate not just motorways, but chaotic city streets.

The video below shows the company’s driverless car navigating a range of different hazards, including construction works, blocked lanes and railway crossings.

“As it turns out, what looks chaotic and random on a city street to the human eye is actually fairly predictable to a computer,” wrote Chris Urmson, the director of the project, in a blog post on Monday.

“As we’ve encountered thousands of different situations, we’ve built software models of what to expect, from the likely (a car stopping at a red light) to the unlikely (blowing through it).”

The technology giant say that their vehicles have now logged nearly 700,000 autonomous miles since 2009, with the only two recorded accidents directly caused by humans (in one a driverless car was rear-ended at a stop light in the other a human had taken control of the vehicle).

However, the latest video by Google highlights another potential problem: what if self-driving cars are too timid?

In the city driving demonstration Google’s vehicle is cautious to a fault, in one scenario detecting when a cyclist makes a hand signal to change lanes (a big step forward) and continuing to yield “even when [the cyclist] changes his mind multiple times".

Now, obviously a human driver would do the same – not knowing whether the cyclist was having some sort of trouble or just being an idiot – but it does suggest that self-driving cars might lack some of the intuition necessary for realistic driving.

Being extremely careful is certainly a point in self-driving cars’ favour, but it could cause problems – from bored kids playing chicken with robot drivers to humans taking advantage of the cars deferential treatment when, say, pulling out in traffic.

There’ll always be a human in the car to take the wheel (or beep the horn) but if Google really wants to build, as it says, “a vehicle that operates fully without human intervention" will it need to give its algorithms a bit of aggression, as well as prudence?

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

    Recruitment Genius: Trainee Programmer & IT Systems Technician

    £8000 - £10000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity ...

    Recruitment Genius: 2nd Line IT Support Engineer

    £17500 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity is now ...

    Recruitment Genius: Developer

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you familiar with the sayin...

    Day In a Page

    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
    Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy