Google: Driverless cars are mastering city streets

Before you go, we thought you'd like these...

16 PHOTOS
Google's Driverless Car
See Gallery
Google: Driverless cars are mastering city streets
FILE - In this Sept. 25, 2012, file photo, Google co-founder Sergey Brin gestures after riding in a driverless car with officials, to a bill signing for driverless cars at Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. Google engineers say they have turned a corner in their pursuit of creating a car that can drive itself. Test cars have been able to navigate freeways comfortably for a few years. On Monday, April 28, 2014, Google said the cars can now negotiate thousands of urban situations that would have stumped them a year or two ago. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)
This Wednesday, April 23, 2014 photo provided by Google shows the Google driverless car navigating along a street in Mountain View, Calif. The director of Google's self-driving car project wrote in a blog post Monday, April 28, that development of the technology has entered a new stage: trying to master driving on city streets. Many times more complex than freeways, which the cars can now reliably navigate, city streets represent a huge challenge. (AP Photo/Google)
FILE - In this Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012, file photo, Google co-founder Sergey Brin stands on stage during a bill signing by California Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr., for driverless cars at Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. Google said Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, it is giving a few more people a chance to pay $1,500 for a pair of the Internet-connected glasses that the company is touting as the next breakthrough in mobile computing. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
California Gov. Edmund G Brown Jr. signs a bill for driverless cars as state Senator Alex Padilla, center, and Google co-founder Sergey Brin, right, look on at Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012. The legislation will open the way for driverless cars in the state. Google, which has been developing autonomous car technology and lobbying for the legislation has a fleet of driverless cars that has logged more than 300,000 miles (482,780 kilometers) of self-driving on California roads. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
From left, California Gov. Edmund G Brown Jr., state Senator Alex Padilla and Google co-founder Sergey Brin stand by a driverless car they arrived in at Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012. Brown visited Google to sign legislation for driverless cars. The legislation will open the way for driverless cars in the state. Google, which has been developing autonomous car technology and lobbying for the legislation has a fleet of driverless cars that has logged more than 300,000 miles (482,780 kilometers) of self-driving on California roads. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
California Gov. Edmund G Brown Jr., front left, rides in a driverless car to a bill signing at Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012. The legislation will open the way for driverless cars in the state. Google, which has been developing autonomous car technology and lobbying for the legislation has a fleet of driverless cars that has logged more than 300,000 miles (482,780 kilometers) of self-driving on California roads. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
From left, California Gov. Edmund G Brown Jr., state Senator Alex Padilla and Google co-founder Sergey Brin stand by a driverless car they arrived in at Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2012. Brown visited Google to sign legislation for driverless cars. The legislation will open the way for driverless cars in the state. Google, which has been developing autonomous car technology and lobbying for the legislation has a fleet of driverless cars that has logged more than 300,000 miles (482,780 kilometers) of self-driving on California roads. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval takes a spin in an driverless car Wednesday, July 20, 2011 in Carson City, Nev. Sandoval describes the experience as "amazing." The governor took the test run with a Google engineer and DMV Director Bruce Breslow. They started their trip at the DMV offices in Carson City and went north to scenic Washoe Valley, where they turned around. (AP Photo/Sandra Chereb)
MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA - SEPTEMBER 25: A Google self-driving car is displayed at the Google headquarters on September 25, 2012 in Mountain View, California. California Gov. Jerry Brown signed State Senate Bill 1298 that allows driverless cars to operate on public roads for testing purposes. The bill also calls for the Department of Motor Vehicles to adopt regulations that govern licensing, bonding, testing and operation of the driverless vehicles before January 2015. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 23: Googles Lexus RX 450H Self Driving Car is seen parked on Pennsylvania Ave. on April 23, 2014 in Washington, DC. Google has logged over 300,000 miles testing its self driving cars around the country. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 23: Googles Lexus RX 450H Self Driving Car is seen parked on Pennsylvania Ave. on April 23, 2014 in Washington, DC. Google has logged over 300,000 miles testing its self driving cars around the country. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 23: Googles Lexus RX 450H Self Driving Car is seen parked on Pennsylvania Ave. on April 23, 2014 in Washington, DC. Google has logged over 300,000 miles testing its self driving cars around the country. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA - SEPTEMBER 25: A reporter looks at a Google self-driving car at the Google headquarters on September 25, 2012 in Mountain View, California. California Gov. Jerry Brown signed State Senate Bill 1298 that allows driverless cars to operate on public roads for testing purposes. The bill also calls for the Department of Motor Vehicles to adopt regulations that govern licensing, bonding, testing and operation of the driverless vehicles before January 2015. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA - SEPTEMBER 25: A bicyclist rides by a Google self-driving car at the Google headquarters on September 25, 2012 in Mountain View, California. California Gov. Jerry Brown signed State Senate Bill 1298 that allows driverless cars to operate on public roads for testing purposes. The bill also calls for the Department of Motor Vehicles to adopt regulations that govern licensing, bonding, testing and operation of the driverless vehicles before January 2015. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Google Robocar Racetrack Ride
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE
SHOW CAPTION +
HIDE CAPTION


LOS ANGELES (AP) - Google says that cars it has programmed to drive themselves have started to master the navigation of city streets and the challenges they bring, from jaywalkers to weaving bicyclists - a critical milestone for any commercially available self-driving car technology.

Despite the progress over the past year, the cars have plenty of learning to do before 2017, when the Silicon Valley tech giant hopes to get the technology to the public.

None of the traditional automakers has been so bullish. Instead, they have rolled out features incrementally, including technology that brakes and accelerates in stop-and-go traffic or keeps cars in their lanes.

Google Self-Driving Cars Are Getting Smarter

"I think the Google technology is great stuff. But I just don't see a quick pathway to the market," said David Alexander, a senior analyst with Navigant Research who specializes in autonomous vehicles.

His projection is that self-driving cars will not be commercial available until 2025.

Google's self-driving cars already can navigate freeways comfortably, albeit with a driver ready to take control. In a new blog post, the project's leader said test cars now can handle thousands of urban situations that would have stumped them a year or two ago.

"We're growing more optimistic that we're heading toward an achievable goal - a vehicle that operates fully without human intervention," project director Chris Urmson wrote. The benefits would include fewer accidents, since in principle machines can drive more safely than people.

Urmson's post was the company's first official update since 2012 on a project that is part of the company's secretive Google X lab.

In initial iterations, human drivers would be expected to take control if the computer fails. The promise is that, eventually, there would be no need for a driver. Passengers could read, daydream, even sleep - or work - while the car drives.

That day is still years away, cautioned Navigant's Alexander.

He noted that Google's retrofitted Lexus RX450H SUVs have a small tower on their roofs that uses lasers to map the surrounding area. Automakers want to hide that technology in a car's existing shape, he said. And even once cars are better than humans at driving, it will still take several years to get the technology from development to large-scale production.

Google has not said how it plans to market the technology. Options include collaborating with major carmakers or giving away the software, as the company did with its Android operating system. While Google has the balance sheet to invest in making cars, that is unlikely.

For now, Google is focused on the predictably common tasks of city driving.

To deal with cyclists, engineers have taught the software to predict likely behavior based on thousands of encounters during the approximately 10,000 miles the cars have driven autonomously on city streets, according to Google spokeswoman Courtney Hohne. The software plots the car's path accordingly - then reacts if something unexpected happens.

Before recent breakthroughs, Google had contemplated mapping all the world's stop signs. Now the technology can read stop signs, including those held in the hands of school crossing guards, Hohne said.

While the car knows to stop, just when to start again is still a challenge, partly because the cars are programmed to drive defensively. At a four-way stop, Google's cars have been known to wait in place as other cars edge out into the intersection.

The cars still need human help with other problems. Among them, understanding the gestures that drivers give one another to signal it's OK to merge or change lanes, turning right on red and driving in rain or fog (which requires more sophisticated sensors).

To date, Google's cars have gone about 700,000 miles in self-driving mode, the vast majority on freeways, the company said.

Read Full Story

People are Reading