Google is more than just a search engine and the latest re-organization proves that. Google X, the project that includes the self-driving cars has become a subsidiary of Alphabet. The project has been a pet of Google for quite some time now and under Alphabet, the company has begun work on the design of cars. The company has tested out a number of cars over the past year. Have you ever wondered how these cars work? How do they know when to slow down and when to speed up? How can they respond to real-time situations? Chris Urmson, self-driving car project head, was at a Ted Talk recently and explained how the car works and the improvements that have been incorporated so far.
The car first of all ascertains where it is in the world by making use of the map and sensor data. Based upon what it sees, Google imparts another layer of how it sees the world. In the following image, the purple boxes represent vehicles on the road while the cyclist can be seen in red. Apart from merely knowing its surroundings, the car also has to predict what’s going to happen next.
This is how the car tackles a single vehicle, however, the process becomes really complex when you increase the number of vehicles, cyclists, pedestrians, trucks and so on. The car must be able to predict what every object intends to do. Once predicting it, the car has to determine how to respond to this predicted behavior; slow down or go fast and so on.
The vehicle has also been programmed to be able to tackle construction and can spot people crossing or working in the construction zone. The cones ensure that the car moves accordingly while considering where the construction is being done. The next question is what the car will do when it encounters police? The car has been programmed to be able to distinguish police from regular folks and is also capable of distinguishing between a school bus (represented by orange box) and it treats it differently. If a cyclist puts up his arm requesting the car to yield and make room for her/him, the car will slow down and allow the cyclist to change the lane. It will also be able to ascertain when a police office requests it to stop and shall continue once allowed by the officer to leave.
It seems like everything has been catered for, yes? Wrong! In words of Urmson, “So just a couple of months ago, our vehicles were driving through Mountain View, and this is what we encountered. This is a woman in an electric wheelchair chasing a duck in circles on the road. (Laughter) Now it turns out, there is nowhere in the DMV handbook that tells you how to deal with that, but our vehicles were able to encounter that, slow down, and drive safely.”
The project seems to be taking off really well and as per Urmson, he and his team are committed to bringing this car to the market in 4-5 years! Fingers crossed for this project’s success.