Google‘s automated driving system reaches another milestone today with the release of the first fully functional build of its self-driving car. While Google gave a first look at the vehicle in May, the preliminary model was lacking many of the capabilities of its recently revealed brethren — the preceding months have seen a bevy of prototypes, each of which improved upon the one before it. While the car is still limited to the Google test track for now, keep an eye out for a glimpse of the vehicle on the streets of Northern California early next year. Read the excerpt below for some of The Oatmeal‘s thoughts on riding on of these cars, and click here for the full post.
It’s not done and it’s not perfect.
Some of the scenarios autonomous vehicles have the most trouble with are the scenarios human beings have the most trouble with, such as traversing four-way stops or handling a yellow light (do you brake suddenly, or floor it and run the light?). At one point during the trip, we were attempting to make a right turn onto a busy road. Everyone’s attention was directed to the left, waiting for an opening. When the road cleared and it was safe to turn right, the car didn’t budge. I thought this was a bug at first, but when I looked to my right there was a pedestrian standing very close to the curb, giving the awkward body language that he was planning on jaywalking. This was a very human interaction: the car was waiting for a further visual cue from the pedestrian to either stop or go, and the pedestrian waiting for a cue from the car. When the pedestrian didn’t move, the self-driving car gracefully took the lead, merged, and entered the roadway.
Google self-driving cars are timid.
The car we rode in did not strike me as dangerous. It struck me as cautious. It drove slowly and deliberately, and I got the impression that it’s more likely to annoy other drivers than to harm them. Google can adjust the level of aggression in the software, and the self-driving prototypes currently tooling around Mountain View are throttled to act like nervous student drivers.
In the early versions they tested on closed courses, the vehicles were programmed to be highly aggressive. Apparently during these aggression tests, which involved obstacle courses full of traffic cones and inflatable crash-test objects, there were a lot of screeching brakes and roaring engines and terrified interns. Although impractical on the open road, part of me wishes I could have experienced that version as well.