Google’s self-driving cars are coming along quite well! Google’s software is divided into four categories: moving vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists and stationary things such as signs, curbs and parked cars. The new technology is able to read stop signs, including the hand held signs that school crossing guards use. However, the cars will need to understand the gestures that drivers give one another to signal it’s “OK” to merge or change lanes. Therefore, additional sophisticated sensors will be needed to read these gestures.
The self-driving cars can navigate on highways fairly well, but city driving is more difficult because of jay walkers and weaving bicyclists. Therefore, engineers have been programming the new software to predict the behavior of cyclists based on their likely movements. Engineers are teaching the software to plot the car’s path but react if something unexpected happens. Yet, Google says that human drivers would be expected to take control if the computer fails for any reason.
The new technology programs the car to stop at a four-way stop, but when to go again is more of a challenge because the cars are programmed to drive defensively. Google’s cars have been known to wait in place as people driving in other directions edge out into the intersection. The cars still have plenty of learning to do before 2017, which is when Sergey Brin who is Google’s co-founder, expects the new driveless cars will reach the public.
David Alexander, a senior analyst with Navigant Research who specializes in self-sufficient vehicles, projects that self-driving cars will not be commercially available until 2025. Mr. Alexander said “even once cars are better than humans at driving, it will still take several years to get the technology from development to large-scale production.”
Google has not said how it plans to market the technology, but may work together with major carmakers. There are a few states that already have driverless car laws. Among those are Nevada, Florida, Michigan and Washington, D.C. California’s Department of Motor Vehicles is also in the process of writing regulations to implement driverless car laws. To date, Google’s cars have gone about 700,000 miles in self-driving mode.
Some cars already have technology that brakes and accelerates in stop-and-go traffic, and keeps cars in their lanes. Computers will one day drive more safely than humans, and this will be a great way to reduce auto accidents and fatalities.