Company’s self-driving car project attempts to incorporate human traits into how its vehicles drive
Google’s driverless cars are to drive more like humans by cutting corners and edging forward into junctions, after the vehicles’ cautious nature were seen as potential factors in accidents involving human drivers.
The self-driving vehicles have racked up more than a million miles on California’s roads, but often drive mechanically and with extreme care, leading to abrupt braking that human drivers do not anticipate.
In response, Google is trying to teach its cars to drive “more humanistically”, according to Chris Urmson, the head of the company’s self-driving car project.
Urmson, quoted by the Wall Street Journal, said that Google’s cars are “a little more cautious than they need to be”. “We are trying to make them drive more humanistically,” he said.
In the six years that Google’s fleet of driverless cars have been on the road, they have been involved in 16 accidents. Google has said that other cars were responsible in all the cases but one – and the one time that a Google car caused the crash, it was being driven by a human.
However, it sometimes takes two parties to cause a crash, and in many of the collisions involving Google cars, they had been hit from behind after stopping earlier than might have been expected.
Google’s cars are known for being exceptionally cautious – waiting for a person on the other side of the road to walk past a pedestrian crossing just in case they were planning to use it, for example – which has annoyed some drivers around Palo Alto, where most of the tests have been conducted.
They also tend to take a wide berth around corners in a way that humans don’t, which feels unnatural to passengers.
Google says it will study human driving patterns more closely to try and improve the way its cars drive. However, finding a balance is crucial – as well as freeing up time, driverless cars are expected to be safer and more efficient than human drivers, so imitating humans too much may not be the desired outcome.
For their early years at least, driverless cars will have to interact with humans on the road, so compromise is needed.
Google has not said when it plans to take its driverless cars out of the testing phase, but the company recently extended testing to Austin, Texas, and has developed a new form of the car.