As the next stage of development for Google’s self-driving car project, its self-driving vehicles have been hitting actual city streets… and all the unexpected obstacles that jump out into them. Well, I guess the point is that they aren’t hitting those obstacles. Apparently, they’re doing that better than humans themselves.
“Since our last update, we’ve logged thousands of miles on the streets of our hometown of Mountain View, Calif,” Google writes. A mile of city driving is much more complex than a mile of freeway driving, with hundreds of different objects moving according to different rules of the road in a small area. We’ve improved our software so it can detect hundreds of distinct objects simultaneously—pedestrians, buses, a stop sign held up by a crossing guard, or a cyclist making gestures that indicate a possible turn. A self-driving vehicle can pay attention to all of these things in a way that a human physically can’t—and it never gets tired or distracted.”
Check out the video above (you probably already have, I guess) to see some of the common obstacles these self-driving vehicles are avoiding while trucking around the city streets of Mountain View (which, admittedly, isn’t the most jam-packed, chaotic city in the world).
Google notes that, while we humans may be thrown off by some “unexpected” moving objects in our roadway paths, these things are not as unpredictable as we tend to think.
“As it turns out, what looks chaotic and random on a city street to the human eye is actually fairly predictable to a computer. 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).”
That’s not to say Google’s self-driving cars are ready for the big-time, or even the entire city of Mountain View, but Google is making progress. “We still have lots of problems to solve, including teaching the car to drive more streets in Mountain View before we tackle another town,” Google writes, “but thousands of situations on city streets that would have stumped us two years ago can now be navigated autonomously.”
How far have Google’s self-driving vehicles driven on their own to date? A whopping 700,000 miles. Assuming the vehicles get a lot more showtime as the project moves along, perhaps we’ll see them cross the 1-million-mile barrier by the end of 2014.