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Old 10-09-2010, 06:55 PM   #1
banyan
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News Google Cars Drive Themselves, in Traffic


Google Cars Drive Themselves, in Traffic



Ramin Rahimian for The New York Times

Dmitri Dolgov, a Google engineer, in a self-driving car parked in Silicon Valley after a road test.

By JOHN MARKOFF

Published: October 9, 2010

Articles in this series are examining the recent advances in artificial intelligence and robotics and their potential impact on society.











Ramin Rahimian for The New York Times

A self-driving car developed and outfitted by Google, with device on roof, cruising along recently on Highway 101 in Mountain View, Calif.




The car is a project of Google, which has been working in secret but in plain view on vehicles that can drive themselves, using artificial-intelligence software that can sense anything near the car and mimic the decisions made by a human driver.


With someone behind the wheel to take control if something goes awry and a technician in the passenger seat to monitor the navigation system, seven test cars have driven 1,000 miles without human intervention and more than 140,000 miles with only occasional human control. One even drove itself down Lombard Street in San Francisco, one of the steepest and curviest streets in the nation.The only accident, engineers said, was when one Google car was rear-ended while stopped at a traffic light.


Autonomous cars are years from mass production, but technologists who have long dreamed of them believe that they can transform society as profoundly as the Internet has.


Robot drivers react faster than humans, have 360-degree perception and do not get distracted, sleepy or intoxicated, the engineers argue. They speak in terms of lives saved and injuries avoided — more than 37,000 people died in car accidents in the United States in 2008. The engineers say the technology could double the capacity of roads by allowing cars to drive more safely while closer together. Because the robot cars would eventually be less likely to crash, they could be built lighter, reducing fuel consumption. But of course, to be truly safer, the cars must be far more reliable than, say, today’s personal computers, which crash on occasion and are frequently infected.


The Google research program using artificial intelligence to revolutionize the automobile is proof that the company’s ambitions reach beyond the search engine business. The program is also a departure from the mainstream of innovation in Silicon Valley, which has veered toward social networks and Hollywood-style digital media.
During a half-hour drive beginning on Google’s campus 35 miles south of San Francisco last Wednesday, a Prius equipped with a variety of sensors and following a route programmed into the GPS navigation system nimbly accelerated in the entrance lane and merged into fast-moving traffic on Highway 101, the freeway through Silicon Valley.


It drove at the speed limit, which it knew because the limit for every road is included in its database, and left the freeway several exits later. The device atop the car produced a detailed map of the environment.


The car then drove in city traffic through Mountain View, stopping for lights and stop signs, as well as making announcements like “approaching a crosswalk” (to warn the human at the wheel) or “turn ahead” in a pleasant female voice. This same pleasant voice would, engineers said, alert the driver if a master control system detected anything amiss with the various sensors.


The car can be programmed for different driving personalities — from cautious, in which it is more likely to yield to another car, to aggressive, where it is more likely to go first.
Christopher Urmson, a Carnegie Mellon University robotics scientist, was behind the wheel but not using it. To gain control of the car he has to do one of three things: hit a red button near his right hand, touch the brake or turn the steering wheel. He did so twice, once when a bicyclist ran a red light and again when a car in front stopped and began to back into a parking space. But the car seemed likely to have prevented an accident itself.


When he returned to automated “cruise” mode, the car gave a little “whir” meant to evoke going into warp drive on “Star Trek,” and Dr. Urmson was able to rest his hands by his sides or gesticulate when talking to a passenger in the back seat. He said the cars did attract attention, but people seem to think they are just the next generation of the Street View cars that Google uses to take photographs and collect data for its maps.


The project is the brainchild of Sebastian Thrun, the 43-year-old director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, a Google engineer and the co-inventor of the Street View mapping service.


In 2005, he led a team of Stanford students and faculty members in designing the Stanley robot car, winning the second Grand Challenge of the Defense Advance Research Projects Agency, a $2 million Pentagon prize for driving autonomously over 132 miles in the California desert.
Besides the team of 15 engineers working on the current project, Google hired more than a dozen people, each with a spotless driving record, to sit in the driver’s seat, paying $15 an hour or more. Google is using six Priuses and an Audi TT in the project.


The Google researchers said the company did not yet have a clear plan to create a business from the experiments. Dr. Thrun is known as a passionate promoter of the potential to use robotic vehicles to make highways safer and lower the nation’s energy costs. It is a commitment shared by Larry Page, Google’s co-founder, according to several people familiar with the project.



The self-driving car initiative is an example of Google’s willingness to gamble on technology that may not pay off for years, Dr. Thrun said. Even the most optimistic predictions put the deployment of the technology more than eight years away.




One way Google might be able to profit is to provide information and navigation services for makers of autonomous vehicles. Or, it might sell or give away the navigation technology itself, much as it offers its Android smart phone system to cellphone companies.


But the advent of autonomous vehicles poses thorny legal issues, the Google researchers acknowledged. Under current law, a human must be in control of a car at all times, but what does that mean if the human is not really paying attention as the car crosses through, say, a school zone, figuring that the robot is driving more safely than he would?
And in the event of an accident, who would be liable — the person behind the wheel or the maker of the software?
“The technology is ahead of the law in many areas,” said Bernard Lu, senior staff counsel for the California Department of Motor Vehicles. “If you look at the vehicle code, there are dozens of laws pertaining to the driver of a vehicle, and they all presume to have a human being operating the vehicle.”


The Google researchers said they had carefully examined California’s motor vehicle regulations and determined that because a human driver can override any error, the experimental cars are legal. Mr. Lu agreed.
Scientists and engineers have been designing autonomous vehicles since the mid-1960s, but crucial innovation happened in 2004 when the Pentagon’s research arm began its Grand Challenge.


The first contest ended in failure, but in 2005, Dr. Thrun’s Stanford team built the car dubbed Stanley that won a race with a rival vehicle built by a team from Carnegie Mellon University. Less than two years later, another event proved that autonomous vehicles could drive safely in urban settings.


Advances have been so encouraging that Dr. Thrun sounds like an evangelist when he speaks of robot cars. There is their potential to reduce fuel consumption by eliminating heavy-footed stop-and-go drivers and, given the reduced possibility of accidents, to ultimately build more lightweight vehicles.


There is even the farther-off prospect of cars that do not need anyone behind the wheel. That would allow the cars to be summoned electronically, so that people could share them. Fewer cars would then be needed, reducing the need for parking spaces, which consume valuable land.
And, of course, the cars could save humans from themselves. “Can we text twice as much while driving, without the guilt?” Dr. Thrun said in a recent talk. “Yes, we can, if only cars will drive themselves.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/10/sc...nted=1&_r=2&hp
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Old 10-09-2010, 09:05 PM   #2
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Interesting, but I enjoy doing the driving myself.
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Old 10-09-2010, 09:23 PM   #3
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Cars driven by AI in public traffic? Thats kind of risky in terms of liability.
But Google is loaded. They can deal with the lawsuits.
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Old 10-09-2010, 09:27 PM   #4
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Cars driven by AI in public traffic? Thats kind of risky in terms of liability.
But Google is loaded. They can deal with the lawsuits.
"Driver" always behind the wheel.
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Old 10-10-2010, 02:42 AM   #5
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Scary stuff. Reminds of that Will Smith movie with robots...
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Old 10-10-2010, 08:15 AM   #6
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I think it's fantastic. I have no interest in driving to work every day. Ruins the fun of driving.
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Old 10-11-2010, 06:31 AM   #7
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Imagine if you could cut your drive time in half during rush hour. AI or some form of automated driving can easily do this. The average highway speed around here during rush hour is between 20 and 30 mph. Imagine an automated system that maintained minimum space between cars and a steady speed. You could easily double the speed traffic is moving during the highest volume periods. Think about it. The Nascar guys can drive 200 mph only separated by a few feet. Why, because there isn't some idiot chick in front of them putting on her makeup and randomly tapping her brakes.

Think of the time saved, the gas saved and all the emissions avoided. This idea will happen. It's just a question of when because honestly, who really likes driving in bumper to bumper rush hour traffic.
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Old 10-11-2010, 06:54 AM   #8
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I think its a good idea but don't you think that the are slowly taking away our rights? i love to drive i enjoy it quite a bit and if i have to just sit there without doing anything what is the fun in that? Now people might say well you can still drive your car, but for the whole thing with the minimum space between cars and steady speed all the cars working together then no one can drive a normal car anymore that isn't completely controlled by a computer. Don't get me wrong its a great idea and works in theory, but not everyone can even buy one either unless Google is just giving them away. Works good on paper but not in real life yet were not ready for something like this.
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Old 10-11-2010, 07:08 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CSwrx22 View Post
I think its a good idea but don't you think that the are slowly taking away our rights? i love to drive i enjoy it quite a bit and if i have to just sit there without doing anything what is the fun in that? Now people might say well you can still drive your car, but for the whole thing with the minimum space between cars and steady speed all the cars working together then no one can drive a normal car anymore that isn't completely controlled by a computer. Don't get me wrong its a great idea and works in theory, but not everyone can even buy one either unless Google is just giving them away. Works good on paper but not in real life yet were not ready for something like this.
It will happen in high traffic zones during highest volume periods like the rush hours. I'm sure you'll see it implemented in selected lanes, similar to what you see with HOV lanes. Something like the left 2 lanes of the 4 lane highway will be "automated" and the other 2 will remain "normal".

I certainly don't enjoy driving in rush hour traffic and would gladly take advantage of an automated driving option or of an effecient mass transit option if it were available.
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Old 10-11-2010, 10:21 AM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by robertrinaustin View Post
Imagine if you could cut your drive time in half during rush hour. AI or some form of automated driving can easily do this. The average highway speed around here during rush hour is between 20 and 30 mph. Imagine an automated system that maintained minimum space between cars and a steady speed. You could easily double the speed traffic is moving during the highest volume periods. Think about it. The Nascar guys can drive 200 mph only separated by a few feet. Why, because there isn't some idiot chick in front of them putting on her makeup and randomly tapping her brakes.

Think of the time saved, the gas saved and all the emissions avoided. This idea will happen. It's just a question of when because honestly, who really likes driving in bumper to bumper rush hour traffic.
there is already a solution to this, it's called a f'n train or L.
just come up with a system that accelerates every single car waiting at the intersection once the light turns green and there will be much less congestion.
Imagine if all the cars waiting started moving at the same time after the light switched. At least twice as many cars could clear the intersection and not create the traffic jam. We just need a system that would take the controll of the car while within the intersection area.
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Old 10-11-2010, 10:38 AM   #11
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I am down with this autodrive. My average speed in the course of a week in only 37mph over a 550 mile average. 15 hours of driving in almost all DC rush hour traffic per week is crazy. When we get our Z28 Convertible, I'd never allow this sort of system to graze the freedom of that car.
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Old 10-11-2010, 10:48 AM   #12
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I just want the Schumacher mode in my Ferrari
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Old 10-11-2010, 12:27 PM   #13
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One of the google cars being driven by itself almost a year ago


This will be a great system. Cars with faster settings will automatically be set to the left side and people who aren't in a rush on the right. No more tickets. And all the while you can do whatever you want. Then for those who want to drive manually be required to show some driving skill. Win Win.
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Old 10-11-2010, 12:29 PM   #14
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I've seen the cars up close. Pretty cool stuff.
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Old 10-11-2010, 12:38 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CSwrx22 View Post
I think its a good idea but don't you think that the are slowly taking away our rights? i love to drive i enjoy it quite a bit and if i have to just sit there without doing anything what is the fun in that? Now people might say well you can still drive your car, but for the whole thing with the minimum space between cars and steady speed all the cars working together then no one can drive a normal car anymore that isn't completely controlled by a computer. Don't get me wrong its a great idea and works in theory, but not everyone can even buy one either unless Google is just giving them away. Works good on paper but not in real life yet were not ready for something like this.
Driving is a privelege, not a right.
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Old 10-11-2010, 02:09 PM   #16
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I am down with this autodrive. My average speed in the course of a week in only 37mph over a 550 mile average. 15 hours of driving in almost all DC rush hour traffic per week is crazy. When we get our Z28 Convertible, I'd never allow this sort of system to graze the freedom of that car.
No kidding. You can tell here who has to deal with nasty rush hour traffic and who doesn't. If I never drove another mile in my life, I'd be happy with that.
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Old 10-11-2010, 02:43 PM   #17
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i would get a luxury car and ride in the back seat would be pretty cool for those nights you go out with friends and no need to call a taxi, be driven home by a computer in your own car.
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Old 10-11-2010, 02:57 PM   #18
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i would get a luxury car and ride in the back seat would be pretty cool for those nights you go out with friends and no need to call a taxi, be driven home by a computer in your own car.

I can think of a lot of agencies against Drunk Driving that could back this.
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Old 10-11-2010, 02:57 PM   #19
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thanks Google for helping make skynet a reality and killing us all.
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Old 10-11-2010, 03:00 PM   #20
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thanks Google for helping make skynet a reality and killing us all.
Don't worry "I'll Be Back" says the Cali. Gov. with a resolution to put a stop to Google's Skynet.
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Old 10-11-2010, 03:08 PM   #21
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you know, its fun to have a car that you can enjoy and have fun with.

then be able to work on the internet or talk to friends on the way to work or wherever...that would be pretty awesome. i could get a bit more done
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Old 10-11-2010, 03:15 PM   #22
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Driving is a privelege, not a right.
Bingo. I love driving down a twisty backroad.. I hate drive on congested city streets. I rarely rent a car when visiting a big city.. I use public transportation or taxis. I'd rent a car if it could drive itself. It isn't that I'm unable to drive.. but I'd rather sight-see. During my commute, I'd rather read or watch television. Bring it on, IMO.

BTW: anyone with a Netflix subscription can watch this cool documentary on the 2nd DARPA Grand Challenge. It includes some of the people from the article.
http://www.netflix.com/WiMovie/The-G...?trkid=1211017
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Old 10-11-2010, 07:20 PM   #23
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Looks like I need to add my steering wheel to the list of things they'll need to pry from my cold, dead hands. I'll never own a self driving car. Driving, even in rush hour is about the only thing that keeps me on an even keel.
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