Google’s self-driving cars may have notched up 700,000 accident-free miles without anyone needing to press the big red Stop button, but project director Chris Urmson’s personal deadline to have the cars on sale to the public is still five years away, reports the MIT’s Technology Review.
Most tech-heads know that the cars rely on inch-perfect modelling of the specific streets they will use, the cars unable to drive anywhere else, but the piece revealed that this is just one of the challenges ahead …
Intricate preparations [must be] made beforehand, with the car’s exact route, including driveways, extensively mapped. Data from multiple passes by a special sensor vehicle must later be pored over, meter by meter, by both computers and humans […] If a new stop light appeared overnight, for example, the car wouldn’t know to obey it.
Google says this isn’t a safety issue, as the cars are programmed to slow or stop if they detect people or vehicles ahead, so even if the car didn’t recognize the stop light, it would still avoid collisions – but anything unexpected causes it to fallback to its slowest, most cautious mode.
Those five other challenges?
- Weather: the cars haven’t yet been used in poor weather, not even heavy rain
- Police officers: they wouldn’t recognize an officer signalling them to stop (for example, for an accident ahead)
- Obstacles in the road: they can’t tell the difference between a rock and a piece of paper
- Potholes and open manhole covers: neither is detected
- Construction zones: the cars have very limited ability to navigate these
And the reason Umrson has that five-year personal deadline?
Urmson wants his cars to be ready by the time his 11-year-old son is 16, the legal driving age in California.
Whether a teenager will want to be seen in a car quite as cutesy as some of the Google designs kicking around at present is another question entirely …