Google was one of the first companies to release information about its driverless car trials and with testing well underway, it’s also obvious the company will remain to be a frontrunner in the technology in the years to come.
Google is also working hard to overcome some of the many challenges to making such cars a reality, such as the dangers surrounding pedestrians.
With a combination of complex computer algorithms and communicative devices, the self-driving cars may soon be able to tell pedestrians that it is safe to cross the road via a flashing sign or even the wave of a robotic hand.
01/09/2017: Waymo has unveiled Carcraft – software the company uses to test its automated cars in a virtual world.
The software was revealed to the Atlantic, which had an exclusive chat to one of the engineers working on the self-driving project.
“The vast majority of work done—new feature work—is motivated by stuff seen in simulation,” James Stout, the engineer who created the software, told The Atlantic.
At any time, the sophisticated tech could test up to 25,000 self-driving cars in these virtual worlds, based upon real cities such as Austin, Mountain View, and Phoenix. The testing is so stringent, the cars are clocking up 8 million miles a day.
The company is using the software to test every aspect of its driverless cars, as well as building a massive 100 acre pretend city called Castle that can throw any conditions it likes at cars including torrential rain, high-speed winds and more to put them through their paces.
Castle features every type of road – motorways, residential streets and cul-de-sacs to help engineers make totally sure the cars are ready for real life. The streets are all named after famous cars – both real and from films and TV, including DeLorean, Bullitt, Thunderbird, Fury, and Barbaro.
But if you want to visit Castle, you’ll have to get pretty chummy with someone who’s working on the project because its location is secret, although we don know it’s stationed at an old army base somewhere in California.
19/05/2017: Lyft will be helping Waymo implement its driverless car technology, which could cause even more friction between the tech giant and rival Uber.
Lyft is one of Uber’s biggest competitors, offering consumers a platform on which to find a taxi. Last year, it claimed 162 million people had used its services to hail a taxi.
Lyft and Waymo will work together to integrate driverless car technologies into cars, contributing the data it holds about its customers and possibly helping the tech giant break into the taxi space, maybe even launching a service rivalling Uber’s driverless taxi service.
“[We are] looking forward to working with Lyft to explore new self-driving products that will make our roads safer and transportation more accessible,” Waymo said in a statement. “Lyft’s vision and commitment to improving the way cities move will help Waymo’s self-driving technology reach more people, in more places.”
Lyft could provide Waymo with the insights about customer demand and also, the extra services users are requesting via Lyft’s taxi app. This would help Waymo not only build in extra-value services to its car tech, but also make its driverless cars more profitable.
“We can confirm that we are partnering with Waymo to safely and responsibly launch self-driving vehicle pilots,” Lyft said in a statement. “Waymo holds today’s best self-driving technology, and collaborating with them will accelerate our shared vision of improving lives with the world’s best transportation.”
01/05/2017: Google will offer people free rides in autonomous cars as it hopes to become the market leading autonomous car tech in the coming years.
The trials will apparently try to convince people that they should be thinking about buying a driverless car to add to their personal transportation options.
“We’re getting some sense … that if we can figure out a way to get this right it could be persuasive for folks deciding whether they should add a second or third car to their garages,” John Krafcik, head of Waymo and a former automotive industry executive, told the Wall Street Journal.
The free journeys will be offered as part o the company’s Early Rider programme, which will cover trials for families and commuters in Phoenix, Arizona in an attempt to bring opinion round to using driverless cars. They will be able to use one of Google’s self-driving SUV or minivans to try out as their main or secondary car.
However, they won’t be entirely alone in the vehicles – safety drivers will monitor every journey they make to ensure Google keeps within the driverless car rules of the road.
06/02/2017: It’ll come as no surprise to hear that Google’s driverless car efforts, as led by Waymo, are clocking up more hours than its competitors, a report has revealed.
Regulators in California have revealed the company’s car logged 30 more miles than all of its competitors in the state, combined.
The cars were also the safest, with human intervention only needing to be sought 0.2 times per thousand miles travelled.
Others included in the study were BMW, Ford and Nissan. Those three car manufacturers, along with Waymo’s tech showed the most accuracy, while others being tested on the roads weren’t so fortunate, specifically Bosch, Mercedes Benz and Tesla.
However, the data isn’t completely accurate, because the tests happened in varying conditions, such as bad weather or on different road surfaces, where the surroundings may have been at fault rather than the car tech itself.
Also, Bosch commented that its research may have been for a different reason compared to Waymo’s, such as a proof of concept, rather than for testing more finalised software.
25/01/2017: Waymo’s head honcho has revealed the company is using its sensors, software, artificial intelligence and other self-driving car components in a fleet of Chrysler Pacifica minivans, set to be road tested before the month is out.
Because everything packed into the vehicles is made in-house, Waymo said it’s managed to considerably cut the cost of the driverless cars, making them more attractive for manufacturers to get them on the road.
“We’re serious about creating fully self-driving cars that can help millions of people, and to do that we have to oversee both the self-driving software and the self-driving hardware,” John Krafcik, Waymo’s chief executive officer, said at the Automobili-D conference in Detroit.
“We’ve made tremendous progress in our software, and we’re focused on making our hardware reliable and scalable. This has been one of the biggest areas of focus on our team for the past 12 months.”
The vans integrate Waymo’s rooftop Lidar unit, which although makes the vans look a little like 1970s police cars, packs in a short-range Lidar device to help create 3D maps of the vehicle’s surroundings, sensors for detecting objects a little too close for comfort and a radar system to track any other cars around the entire chassis of the vehicle.
27/12/2016: Waymo is about to team up with car manufacturer Honda to test its automated car sensors, computer tech and software in its vehicles.
Honda revealed it will try out Waymo’s tech in a range of its car models, although it’s only as an experiment to see whether they work and the cars won’t go on sale quite yet.
The car manufacturer explained talks between the two companies were in “mid-stage”, but the partnership hasn’t been confirmed yet.
“Waymo should be a one-stop shop for Honda” in self-driving technology, Dave Sullivan, an analyst for AutoPacific, told the Wall Street Journal. “This could free up resources at Honda.”
Waymo has already said it wants to help companies with smaller budgets than the major auto car makers to introduce automated car tech and this partnership would certainly help the Japanese company realise what it needs to do in order to compete with the likes of Ford and Volvo, both of whom have already released details about their driverless vehicle plans.
Honda plans to launch self-driving cars in 2020, although it’s not clear whether the company is developing its own tech or will stick to using third party hardware and software to makes its self-driving cars a reality.
15/12/2016: Google’s parent company Alphabet has handed over the reigns of its self-driving technology to a new subsidiary – Waymo.
Although the initiative has always existed as a part of Google, the establishment as the division as a standalone company demonstrates Google’s commitment to self-driving tech, which it hopes can be rolled out to more than just cars in the future.
“It’s an indication of the maturity of our technology,” Waymo CEO John Krafcik said at a press conference in San Francisco. “We can imagine our self-driving tech being used in all sorts of areas.
“The move shows ‘confidence that we are close to bringing this (technology) to a lot of people. We’ve sort of reached an inflection point.”
Up to this point, Google’s self-driving car tech has clocked up 300 years of human driving, most of that on city streets. “That’s on top of 1 billion simulated miles we drove just in 2016,” the company said.
“We continue to test and learn on real city streets across four locations in the US. We plan to bring fully self-driving cars to the world soon.”
25/10/2016: Google has revealed its self-driving car has passed 90 per cent of the tests its makers have put it through, although the remaining 10% are comparatively more complex.
The robotic cars have clocked up two million test miles to date. The first million mile of autonomous driving took six years to drive, but the second million only took 16 months.
That’s the equivalent of 300 human years of driving – a lot more than the average person on the road has clocked up!
“What takes a self-driving car from concept, to demonstration and finally to reality is this accumulated experience. Even in the early days of our project, it didn’t take long before we could give a good demo ride in our self-driving car,” Dolgov said.
“That’s because it’s relatively easy to master the first 90% of driving where you’re traveling on freeways, navigating light city-street traffic, or making your way through simple intersections.”
Dolgov explained in his Medium post that the focus of the last few years has been more accurately detecting obstacles, including crossing guards, emergency vehicles and construction zones.
The company has also learnt that “being a good driver is more than just knowing how to safely navigate around people, but also knowing how to interact with them.”
For example, how to react if someone pulls in front of an autonomous car, or if a pedestrian inadvertently swerves because they hit a rut in the road.
“Our cars can often mimic these social behaviors and communicate our intentions to other drivers, while reading many cues that tell us if we’re able to pass, cut in or merge,” he wrote.
“When we first started the project 7.5 years ago, we saw the potential of this technology to help millions of people, making roads safer and improving quality of life. Today, our team is more confident than ever of a fully self-driving future.”
The future of driverless cars
In 2012, Google submitted a patent for the manner in which their cars can perceive objects in their surroundings and how they respond to these objects, and the patents have only recently been approved.
These measures are focused around how the cars would respond to pedestrians, and keeping this, especially vulnerable kind of road user safe. Google put forward a design in which the car used a robotic hand to communicate to pedestrians via hand signals.
These would be taken from commonly-used gestures, such as waving people across the road, or showing the palm to indicate to stop.
Latest Google Autonomous Car News
30/08/2016: AirBnB’s Shaun Stewart will lead Google’s driverless car development
Google has announced Shaun Stewart will join the company’s self-driving car team after Chris Urmson, previously chief technical officer of the autonomous car project decided to quit.
Stewart’s main role will be to commercialise the technology, whether that means helping to sell the cars or the technology to third parties that may want to use the autonomous tech in their cars, vans and lorries.
He previously helped get AirBnB’s vacation rental business off the ground and has a extensive experience helping companies embrace new technologies to boost their revenues.
In the last year, Google’s autonomous car businesses has accelerated, with a collaboration with Fiat Chrysler to double its fleet of cars on the road and new schemes in four additional cities. It has also opened an engineering tech centre in Michigan to improve the car’s internals.
Road signs aren’t a challenge for driverless vehicles
In addition to the possibility of a robotic hand, Google has suggested the exterior of the car could form part of the signalling system. Using flashing symbols on the body of the cars, combined with audio cues, they would communicate important information to pedestrians.
This could include whether the car has seen the pedestrian, the car’s current intent (such as ‘maintaining speed’ or ‘slowing down’), or provide instructions to the pedestrians, such as ‘safe to cross’.
Google is hoping to have the driverless car on the market by 2020, and the company is currently in discussions with a number of leading automobile manufacturers. With the approval of its safety measures, Google has moved one step closer to making the car that drives itself a reality.
When will Google’s self-driving cars launch?
27/04/2016 update: Google’s self-driving cars could be arriving on roads soon, if legislation allows, because Google has revealed they will soon be moving from the company’s X new launch division, possibly breaking out into a division of its very own.
Google’s parent company Alphabet’s new launch boss Astro Teller told NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt that the idea is no longer just a crazy shot in the dark Google decided to back for fun. They’re one step closer to becoming a reality in our lifetimes, even though there have been plenty of incidents involving the automated vehicles in initial testing.
It’s unlikely they will head to public roads first though. They’re more likely to be arriving on university, business and other small campuses before being let out onto the big roads. Such legislation could take years to pass, so we’ll just have to stick to boring human-controlled cars for sometime yet.
Who will Google work with for its driverless vehicles?
08/05/2016 update: There have been many rumours about who Google will be partnering with when it comes to producing its driverless cars and it seems everyday a new car manufacturer rumour pops up. The latest suggestion is that Fiat Chrysler will make the autonomous cars.
It has been drafted in to build 100 self-driving Pacifica hybrid minivans and the company is hoping this will lead to a longer-term deal for the company.
“We are approaching this in a completely open-ended fashion,”Fiat Chrysler’s CEO, Sergio Marchionne said. “They found it easy to work with us and to explore and learn. Whether this is enough for them to feel comfortable to take the next step is unclear to me.”
“We need to get to a stage where the car is viable so we can discuss the spoils of that work,” Marchionne added.