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Autonomous Driving Becomes More Human in Nature

06.22.16 - Google Self-Driving Car

It’s no secret that Google is working on autonomous technology to make cars that can do everything without any human interaction at all. Nearly every car company in the world is working on some form of this technology and many tech companies are as well including Google and Apple. There have been pictures over the past several months of the Google cars that have logged more autonomous miles than any other self-driving cars in the industry and now it seems there is a bit more programming being installed to help these cars blend in better with the world around them.

When driving on any road what happens when you hear the honk of a horn? Most of the time you may wonder if that honk was meant for you or for someone else. The horn honk is meant to help alert other drivers of your presence if they happen to be entering the road where you’re driving or they’re trying to alert you to something they feel you’re doing wrong. In some cases these honks can be long and obnoxious and you can almost feel the negative emotions coming through while in other situations these honks are short warnings.

Google had changed the programming in their cars to offer the honk that is supposed to be similar to a short warning honk that you might hear from someone who is simply trying to alert you to possible danger and help keep you out of trouble. While some of us may find this honking rude, it’s a necessary part of having these self-driving cars enter our world and become more integrated with the driving needs around them. With this short honk the Google cars can now alert a driver of the danger they are causing by recognizing when another driver is entering the lane the car is already in.

The software has been designed to be intelligent enough to recognize when the honking may help to alert other drivers of the presence of the Google car and offer the warning to stop and take different action. Originally this honking was only sounded inside the cabin of the car with a test driver present to allow the driver to teach the software when honking the horn was appropriate and when it wasn’t. Because autonomous vehicles will have to be integrated with human drivers for many years before the communication can be done simply over the airwaves from car to car, an algorithm for honking is necessary.

Now, the advancement for the honking Google cars is to determine what type of honk is needed, and when. They are currently building more software to differentiate between when a simple reminder honk is needed, which is sounded by two short blips on the horn, and when a longer more sustained sound is needed in a situation that is close to an emergency. While this is an interesting difference and certainly makes the Google car appear to have driving habits that are more similar to us than ever before, it makes me wonder how the test drive is enjoying this kind of testing.

Because these cars are meant to be used for everyday driving and eventually replace us as the control behind the wheel it makes sense for Google to address every single situation that may arise on the roadways. They have even found wats to make the car recognized pedestrian children entering a crosswalk and to know when the car is pointed in the wrong direction or is on the wrong side of the road so that it can adjust and become a better driver.

So far as I have seen, Google is the first company to address the human behavior issues in their autonomous vehicles, which may actually make them the leader in the industry and the first ones to market with the right technology to be able to perform exactly as we need them to on the road. When will we actually see fully autonomous vehicles on the road? Some say within the next four years, but if the software has to continually be altered it may be longer than that.

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