Self-driving cars are getting closer to market availability and all signs point to this being a very high-impact innovation that will change the world in a very profound way. This technological breakthrough promises to make the roads safer and besides having a major impact on how we're going to think about passenger transport it's also going to result in significant changes in commercial and freight transportation as a lot of jobs in these sectors are going to become obsolete in the not too distant future.
Google just announced they've completed the first real build of the company's self-driving vehicle prototype. The search giant finished putting all prototypes-of-prototypes together in a fully functional car that's ready for road testing. On its Google Plus page, team members write they'll be testing the car on the streets of Northern California in the new year. Safety drivers will continue to oversee the vehicle for a while longer, using temporary manual controlers as needed while they continue to test and learn.
The Oatmeal had the opportunity to test Google's new self-driving car and reported his findings. The writer notes that the car drives like a person and explains that after a few minutes you forget that you're being driven autonomously. The technology is still in it infancy though, but interestingly the self-driving cars still have trouble with the same scenarios human beings have the most trouble with, such as traversing four-way stops or picking up cues from awkward body language.
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's self-driving car is very compact and has a cute look. The adorable look was done intentionally to spiritually disarm other drivers, the science behind this is that our brains are hardwired to treat inanimate (or animate) objects with greater care, caution, and reverence when they resemble living things.