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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

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.

John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.

He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.

Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc founder Tony Farrelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.

John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.

He joined road.cc in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

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61 comments

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allez neg | 9 years ago
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Cars by a computer company. Computers don't crash much, do they?

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Chuck replied to allez neg | 9 years ago
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allez neg wrote:

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

I think there'd definitely be the odd crash. But at the moment people crash all the time- I'm pretty sure computers will generally do a far better job than people do so I'm all for it.

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Initialised replied to allez neg | 9 years ago
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allez neg wrote:

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

There's always one!

Home computers crash because they are not subject to strict quality control on both hardware and software levels. But the bulk of problems are down to user error and expectation.

If a driverless car malfunctioned the vehicle would stop (as safely as possible) and call for assistance. Meanwhile it's onboard comms would be alerting all nearby vehicles and the smart signalling network that is was stuck so they could dynamically reroute traffic to minimise disruption.

Failsafes would be built in to minimise the impact of a failure, this is done at module level from a very early stage in the design process for all automotive components already and autonomous systems would likely be even more stringent to start with.

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notfastenough replied to allez neg | 9 years ago
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allez neg wrote:

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

I don't think they are suggesting running this stuff on Windows Vista or something. Safety-critical systems don't crash that often, and when they do, good design will bring everything to a halt without killing anyone.

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mrmo replied to allez neg | 9 years ago
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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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SB76 replied to mrmo | 9 years ago
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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.

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Gordy748 replied to SB76 | 9 years ago
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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.

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coldbeer | 9 years ago
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Stop this nonsense, if vehicles become driverless what would road.cc forum members have to chunter on about?  3

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allez neg replied to coldbeer | 9 years ago
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coldbeer wrote:

Stop this nonsense, if vehicles become driverless what would road.cc forum members have to chunter on about?  3

Hipsters. The bastards. And horses.

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notfastenough | 9 years ago
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I wonder about the step-change this will lead to. Realistically, a self-driving car will likely come with some disclaimer that the occupant of the driving seat is still responsible for safe conduct of the vehicle, ostensibly to ensure safety in the event of something unexpected happening that the AI can't deal with. BUT we already see people being massively distracted when they have a proper task (driving) to contend with - with this stuff they'll be welded to their phones or laptops etc. In a sense that's a good thing, because it will remove the stress of driving; they'll be engrossed in something else entirely and driving will become no more interactive than using a lift - unless it goes wrong, at which point the 'driver', the manufacturer and the third party (injured cyclist?) are all blaming each other.

So I guess your safety would actually depend on understanding the AIs limitations and working within it, because driver intervention probably won't happen.

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bikebot | 9 years ago
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It's going to be some years yet before we get true self drive cars, but it'll probably mark a further shift away from private car ownership.

The commercial carpools that are becoming increasingly popular in our cities start making even more sense when the cars can also drive themselves. Need a car for a few hours to go and buy something big and bulky (your latest n+1 bike of course...). No need to walk to the collection point, just book it by phone and wait for one to drive itself to your door!

Why would anyone spend a large chunk of their income on a private car when you can hire one just for the time you need it with all the convenience of a chauffeur as well. Carpool and taxi essentially merge, with Google's brain replacing the cabbie.

It'll be interesting to see how Google will eventually sell or license this technology, but I suspect they'll do something disruptive rather than just sell it to the car manufacturers.

We will however see more and more of this kind of technology appearing in private cars as safety features. The cars won't drive themselves, but they will actively intervene to prevent an accident.

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Jimbonic replied to bikebot | 9 years ago
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bikebot wrote:

We will however see more and more of this kind of technology appearing in private cars as safety features. The cars won't drive themselves, but they will actively intervene to prevent an accident.

They already do. VW has an "anti-accident" function. OK, it only works at certain speeds. But, it's out there. And Mercedes (I think) have had a car take a drive under its own initiative - well, they gave it a destination and let the Sat Nav do it.

I suppose that's my current concern: sat nav isn't accurate enough. Take a look at your Garmin / Strava / whatever traces of your rides to see how they wiggle all over the road. OK, a dedicated car-based sat nav should be better. But, how many times do we hear man drives into lake following sat nav, or some such nonsense?

In summary, not sure.

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SB76 replied to bikebot | 9 years ago
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bikebot wrote:

It's going to be some years yet before we get true self drive cars, but it'll probably mark a further shift away from private car ownership.

The commercial carpools that are becoming increasingly popular in our cities start making even more sense when the cars can also drive themselves. Need a car for a few hours to go and buy something big and bulky (your latest n+1 bike of course...). No need to walk to the collection point, just book it by phone and wait for one to drive itself to your door!

Why would anyone spend a large chunk of their income on a private car when you can hire one just for the time you need it with all the convenience of a chauffeur as well. Carpool and taxi essentially merge, with Google's brain replacing the cabbie.

It'll be interesting to see how Google will eventually sell or license this technology, but I suspect they'll do something disruptive rather than just sell it to the car manufacturers.

We will however see more and more of this kind of technology appearing in private cars as safety features. The cars won't drive themselves, but they will actively intervene to prevent an accident.

To be honest, car companieshave been looking into this, it's just Google want to advertising. The sensor application behind it wont be google developed so i cant see any chance for google to create a disruptive technology.

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bikebot replied to SB76 | 9 years ago
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SB76 wrote:

To be honest, car companieshave been looking into this, it's just Google want to advertising. The sensor application behind it wont be google developed so i cant see any chance for google to create a disruptive technology.

It's not the technology that's disruptive, it's the business model.

Correct, at the moment the technology is being developed by several car companies and Google. As the car companies are also developing the tech, Google obviously isn't producing it for licensing revenue.

Car companies are in the business of selling as many cars as possible, Google isn't.

Do you start to see how that might be enormously disruptive?

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SB76 | 9 years ago
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I know some drivers are bad but i'm amazed that the comments so far for self-driving cars are positive.

To some extent, the thought scares the life out of me whilst another bit of me quite likes the idea.

I do not think this these self drive cars are imminent. Just like the google drone deliveries, bit of a gimmick designed to grab headlines.

Any such move would come with an awful lot of safety systems/testing before any governemnt would accept it on the road and rightly so.

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paulrbarnard replied to SB76 | 9 years ago
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SB76 wrote:

I know some drivers are bad but i'm amazed that the comments so far for self-driving cars are positive.

To some extent, the thought scares the life out of me whilst another bit of me quite likes the idea.

I do not think this these self drive cars are imminent. Just like the google drone deliveries, bit of a gimmick designed to grab headlines.

Any such move would come with an awful lot of safety systems/testing before any governemnt would accept it on the road and rightly so.

it's definitely coming. All the manufactures are working hard on this. Several already have working demo systems. Legislation is already being discussed in Europe and the US. It will probably be on the roads far quicker than you might expect. As seen in this video they have the potential to be far safer than an existing human controlled vehicle. When the technology matures the legislation may switch the other way and make 'manual' cars very highly regulated

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SB76 replied to paulrbarnard | 9 years ago
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I know it's coming, i've seen some of the kit developed by small tech companies for the car companies wrt collision avoidance.
Some really good stuff already getting deployed on high branded cars to will deploy breaks/produce audible warning in the event of collision detection. Very, very clever stuff espcially considering how poor reverse sensors can be.

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SB76 replied to paulrbarnard | 9 years ago
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I know it's coming, i've seen some of the kit developed by small tech companies for the car companies wrt collision avoidance.
Some really good stuff already getting deployed on high branded cars to will deploy breaks/produce audible warning in the event of collision detection. Very, very clever stuff espcially considering how poor reverse sensors can be.

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stefv replied to SB76 | 9 years ago
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SB76 wrote:

I do not think this these self drive cars are imminent. Just like the google drone deliveries, bit of a gimmick designed to grab headlines.

I disagree. Google have spend considerable time and resources in research and development on this, as well as political lobbying for laws to be passed allowing the cars to drive on public roads.

The Amazon drone deliveries, as far as I know, is nothing more than words.

Driverless cars are coming, sooner than you might think, IMO.

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_driverless_car

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Sedgepeat replied to stefv | 9 years ago
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Don't all get excited. Believe it when you see it.

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mrmo replied to SB76 | 9 years ago
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SB76 wrote:

I know some drivers are bad but i'm amazed that the comments so far for self-driving cars are positive.

Any such move would come with an awful lot of safety systems/testing before any governemnt would accept it on the road and rightly so.

How much thought do you give to the fact that pilots very rarely fly aircraft?

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ollieclark replied to SB76 | 9 years ago
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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.

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kie7077 replied to ollieclark | 9 years ago
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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

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Chuck replied to kie7077 | 9 years ago
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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.

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rggfddne replied to SB76 | 9 years ago
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SB76 wrote:

I know some drivers are bad but i'm amazed that the comments so far for self-driving cars are positive.

Any such move would come with an awful lot of safety systems/testing before any governemnt would accept it on the road and rightly so.

The second part of that explains the rationale behind the first. We simply can't afford to test every single driver to the standards we'd expect of, say, pilots: hence, there are a lot of crap drivers.

We can, however, hold a few companies to a very high standard. Perhaps more importantly, when a driverless car does err, a team of intelligent people with the sole task of making cars better, with far less emotion clouding their judgement, can learn from it, and (if new hardware is not required) distribute that lesson to all driverless cars, with the cost of the latter being negligible.

It's the difference between treading water and rowing a boat - we're not going to need to expend resources keeping our road network just barely afloat (safety-wise) anymore. All the resources are being used to go forward.

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mrchrispy | 9 years ago
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I was talking to my kids about this the other day, they are 7 and 8, I seriously doubt they'll be driving a car like we currently do.
the sooner computers take over the better.

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Zermattjohn | 9 years ago
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Brilliant, really really impressive!  41

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qwerky | 9 years ago
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Self driving cars are definitely the future. Road safety has been incrementally improving over the last 50 years (mainly for car occupants) but taking the human factor out of it will be a huge step-change.

Hopefully the sensors/computers will be able to notice more subtle signs, such as a cyclist looking over their shoulder when approaching a turning, often the prelude to a hand signal, and a sign that good drivers will recognise.

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flathunt | 9 years ago
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It's great tech, now if only they could harness the power of being beeped at by the idiots behind who'd rather it just ran straight through any two-wheeled obstacle. Regenerative beeping, come on you eggheads, it can't be that hard.

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drfabulous0 | 9 years ago
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Self driving cars are the future, I'm a big fan of taking the idiotic and dangerous part of cars out of the equation.

On the video at 1.27 the car at in the RH lane at the bottom appears to door the cyclist passing in the bike lane. Why?

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