An anonymous reader writes
The better question may be whether it will ever be ready for the road at all? The car has fewer capabilities than most people seem to be aware of. The notion that it will be widely available any time soon is a stretch. From the article: "Noting that the Google car might not be able to handle an unmapped traffic light might sound like a cynical game of 'gotcha.' But MIT roboticist John Leonard says it goes to the heart of why the Google car project is so daunting. 'While the probability of a single driver encountering a newly installed traffic light is very low, the probability of at least one driver encountering one on a given day is very high,' Leonard says. The list of these 'rare' events is practically endless, said Leonard, who does not expect a full self-driving car in his lifetime (he’s 49)."
Re:How hard is it to recognize a stoplight?
I think the problem is that "good accuracy" is not yet to the point where the driverless car is less likely to run over a pedestrian at an intersection than a car piloted by a human.
I very much disagree with this assessment. Google's SDC has been tested thousands of times with a huge range of pedestrian scenarios. It may not be better than an alert and primed human, but it is almost certainly better than an average human, which is the important criteria. If I was walking across an intersection, I would trust a Google SDC far more than someone late for an appointment, driving a Chevy Tahoe with a cellphone in one hand, a Starbucks latte in the other, and two screaming kids in the back seat.
Cars will be the secondary market
The first vehicle with this technology is not going to be a personal car, or anything that resembles a personal car (like a taxi). It's going to be semi trucks with trailers.
From a conference I sat in on last week (dealing with railroads, not trucks themselves), the turnover rate for truck drivers is over 100% per year. This is considered a plus for the railroads. I say that this is a plus for autonomous trucks. They drive autonomously site to site, and then, a driver takes over to get them parked into the loading dock (most likely), the trucks manage to do this autonomously (maybe, but not the scenario I see winning out, not at the beginning), or the docks are redesigned to make it easy for the autonomous trucks to park them in loading position (what will happen once autonomous trucks are widely used).
Yes, I realize other changes will have to be made. Refueling will have to be done manually in the beginning. That may mean the truck stop hires a person or two, that then takes care of the autonomous trucks, and I'm sure the owners will gladly pay a bit of a premium to get their trucks fueled. At least until the automated fuel pumps for the trucks are in place, at existing or new truck stops.
I have zero doubt that my great grandchildren won't have to learn how to drive a vehicle. I have grandchildren, and yes, I expect that they will have to learn how to drive, the technology is moving that fast.
Humans have rules for driving
Humans have rules for driving. For example:
-> If you see a traffic light, identify what color it is, then continue, slow down, or stop based on one of those 3 colors.
So the Google Car cannot identify a traffic light? Or if it does, it cannot identify its color? If so, is that a weakness in the computing power? Like, a supercomputer could do these things, but a reasonably sized onboard computer cannot? Or a weakness in "vision" sensors?
-> Paper versus rock in the road: This, I can understand. There are a myriad things in the road. The decision here is, can the car safely pass over it? Inability to determine this is due to vision sensors or limitations in computing power?
I saw an interesting problem the other day: a piece of wood baseboard trim (for a wall) blew off a truck. It seemingly hung suspended in air then came down. I hit my brakes but kept going straight, hoping for the best. It hit the ground, bounced and lay flat. I imagine that might legitimately freak out an autonomous car.
A moron can drive safely, through city traffic, if he's highly motivated, manages to keep his attention on the road and his speed down. I guess a moron is still more capable of navigating the world than a computer.
Another stupid viewpoint from slate that is
almost genius in its idiocy. If self-driving cars really start to hit the roads, cities would definitely mandate that all traffic lights show up in maps, and require that traffic lights show up in maps before being installed. This is not a problem of the driving car, it's a problem of trying to imagine future technology in a current context, which is of course always going to lead you astray.
Plus, as other commenters have said, self-driving cars can definitely recognize traffic lights. It's just that right now they aren't quite as good at doing that as humans are. The reason is that traffic lights and construction cones and stuff like that are optimized for human visibility, not robot visibility. It's quite trivial to adapt them for robot visibility as well (perhaps even incorporating stuff like specialized radio signals).
I predict that horseless carriages will never take off because without an animal like a horse with hooves on the ground, you could hit rocks and fall into ditches without knowing it.
Re:How hard is it to recognize a stoplight?
I think the real goal would be to have all vehicles self-drive; then they can be coordinated to interlace at intersections, removing the need for stop lights and saving a ton of fuel!