Google's self-driving cars hit a snag at the DMV

Earlier this year, Google unveiled a brand new self-driving car that was unlike anything we had seen before. The cars were completely automated and lacked basic features like a steering-wheel and brakes. But for the state of California, this presented a problem.

The concept was simple: Google wanted to create a transportation pod that did all of the work for you. While Google has shown that its cars are quite safe and that they have gotten quite good at building autonomous vehicles, the problem is for the outlier scenarios. The state of California DMV has told Google that its cars must have basic controls so that in the event of a machine going rogue, the occupants are able to take control of the vehicle. 

In short, the cars need to have a steering wheel and a brake pedal.

The vehicles that Google showed off were still in the prototype stage which means that the company still has time to comply with these features before the cars start mass-production. 

There are few who doubt that the future will likely include autonomous vehicles on the road as you can imagine how much more you could get done if you didn't have to think about driving to work. Not to mention, autonomous vehicles, in theory, should be able to reduce accidents and traffic jams too.  While a full-scale deployment of driverless vehicles is still many years away, the day they do hit the roads outside of testing scenarios is not all that far off.

Source: Slashdot | Image Credit: Google

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The amount of work mankind puts into making it easy to be lazy astounds me. If they put that much effort into more important things like clean water, food, forest protection and restoration, sheltering the homeless, who knows where we'd be.

I predict several people being injured if not killed (moreso than is normal) if these things ever actually hit the market, completely because of a computer's inability to respond to a dynamic environment. What if there's construction on this road today that wasn't there yesterday and they have one lane closed? What if there's a temporary red light (the solar powered ones on wheels) set up today for the next week or so while they do road maintenance? What if there's an open manhole cover or pothole? Can it account for weather conditions and adjust speed and driving practices accordingly?

There's a lot of things human beings do while they're driving that I don't think computers are ready to do yet.

Edited by Gerowen, Sep 1 2014, 8:45am :

Which is probably one of the reasons why the Californian state wants basic controls in the car, so should the unexpected happen, the driver can take over.

Gerowen said,
There's a lot of things human beings do while they're driving that I don't think computers are ready to do yet.

I really don't think we need to teach robots how to smoke, drink alcohol, fall asleep, do their makeup in the mirror, ignore speed limits or get distracted talking to passengers.

theyarecomingforyou said,

I really don't think we need to teach robots how to smoke, drink alcohol, fall asleep, do their makeup in the mirror, ignore speed limits or get distracted talking to passengers.

And generally drive like Ar*****

Munroe said,
Which is probably one of the reasons why the Californian state wants basic controls in the car, so should the unexpected happen, the driver can take over.

If you tell people they can do other things while the car drives itself, they will. And that will including sleeping.

They may not be awake when they need to take over. If people will text while driving, they'll also get into the back seat and fall asleep in a self-driving car.

And if they do happen to take over, let's hope they remember what to do. It only takes a few morons to cause traffic chaos, and self-driving cars will essentially encourage more people to unleash their inner moron.

What I'm interested to see... is what happens when GPS takes one of these things down a two-way, one-lane road that are not too uncommon in Europe... and it encounters another vehicle.

Gerowen said,

I predict several people being injured if not killed (moreso than is normal) if these things ever actually hit the market, completely because of a computer's inability to respond to a dynamic environment.

That sentence suggests a fundamental misunderstanding of computers. Your mouse responds to dynamic environments and the technology in that has been around since the 80s.

That is exactly what these cars are built to do, respond to dynamic environments and get you where you need to go without any instruction but a destination. They read traffic lights using on-board cameras. If it could see a road was blocked, it would not go down it and if a lane was closed there would be signs (how else would people know it was closed) that the car can read. I don't know for certain how it deals with different weather conditions but everything else I've mentioned above is done in the cars that they're testing today.

These cars are covered in sensors that give them a far better view of what is going on around them than a human. You seem to think that these cars will just be driving around using outdated maps and crashing into anything that isn't on the map. When these things are mainstream, the data they collect will be the source for up to date maps and street view because their sensors allow for live changes in roads and traffic to be shared back to mapping services.

If the cars were unsafe, Google would not allow them on the road because everywhere that self driving cars have been integrated into the legal framework, the manufacturer is deemed to be at fault in the event of a collision, not the passenger. This means that Google would have to pay for every accident that was the fault of its cars.

mbg said,

What I'm interested to see... is what happens when GPS takes one of these things down a two-way, one-lane road that are not too uncommon in Europe... and it encounters another vehicle.

A handful of the thousand+ sensors included in the car, will make sure you don't hit anything. It's not simply a car with built in stop/go/gps

Gerowen said,

There's a lot of things human beings do while they're driving that I don't think computers are ready to do yet.
Sorry to burst your bubble buddy. But these cars are smarter than the average drivers. Car accidents will be less when these AI are added into the cars. They will brake for you while you bend down to pick up something, or sipping coffee, or while you were texting.

The only accident that will cause all these to happen is if someone hacked in your car computer and create some kind of havoc command. I can see that those car above, if you added the driving wheel and the brake, there will be some idiots who saw it and then jump in it and take it for a spin. Google make a good call to remove the wheel and the peddle.

Just consider how many people fake their death with the Google car driving by. People do this for fun. Now if they see a car of such coming their way, they will have someone block the road while the second person smash the window and jump in and then go on a driving spree. I believe this is why Google do all this to prevent the idiots from wrecking their property.

You know I am not gonna say there's gonna be no issues, but I think long run these cars will be SAFER than current ones. Why? No human factor. They AREN'T gonna drive too close to the car infront. They AREN'T gonna be distracted with phones, radio, kids, whatever. Their reaction time will be a fraction what a persons is on a good day.

I doubt the tech is here yet to make them a reality, but long run, I think it will be good.

mbg said,

If you tell people they can do other things while the car drives itself, they will. And that will including sleeping.

They may not be awake when they need to take over. If people will text while driving, they'll also get into the back seat and fall asleep in a self-driving car.

And if they do happen to take over, let's hope they remember what to do. It only takes a few morons to cause traffic chaos, and self-driving cars will essentially encourage more people to unleash their inner moron.

What I'm interested to see... is what happens when GPS takes one of these things down a two-way, one-lane road that are not too uncommon in Europe... and it encounters another vehicle.

I'd be interested as well. I drive a school bus, and one of the roads I drive on goes from 2 lanes, to one lane with no markers or signs, to gravel. Just today I met somebody flying around a blind curve with kids on my bus. I stopped but the other driver was on my "side" (in other words they were somewhat on my half of the one lane) and they locked up their wheels on a wet road, which meant they started sliding and lost all ability to steer. I realized what was going on and managed to slap the gas and jump across to the left edge of the road in time for them to miss me by about 2 feet as they went sliding past where they eventually came to a stop in the grass just short of a tree.

In a situation like that where the road is un-marked (no white lines on the edge, no lines down the middle, one lane, no speed limit signs, no traffic lights, etc., just one lane of blacktop which turns into one lane of gravel, a lot of trees and deer for 6 or 7 miles) and an emergency arises, I honestly wouldn't trust a computer to make the right decision, or even realize an emergency was taking place since a car directly in front of you would be considered normal on a one lane road.

Maybe I'm just old school, but I will never trust a computer to control mechanical parts of my car. Fuel injection and sensors is about as far as I'm willing to go because if your fuel pump quits working, you still have mechanical control of the vehicle so you can coast it to a stop.

Gerowen said,

I'd be interested as well. I drive a school bus, and one of the roads I drive on goes from 2 lanes, to one lane with no markers or signs, to gravel. Just today I met somebody flying around a blind curve with kids on my bus. I stopped but the other driver was on my "side" (in other words they were somewhat on my half of the one lane) and they locked up their wheels on a wet road, which meant they started sliding and lost all ability to steer. I realized what was going on and managed to slap the gas and jump across to the left edge of the road in time for them to miss me by about 2 feet as they went sliding past where they eventually came to a stop in the grass just short of a tree.

In a situation like that where the road is un-marked (no white lines on the edge, no lines down the middle, one lane, no speed limit signs, no traffic lights, etc., just one lane of blacktop which turns into one lane of gravel, a lot of trees and deer for 6 or 7 miles) and an emergency arises, I honestly wouldn't trust a computer to make the right decision, or even realize an emergency was taking place since a car directly in front of you would be considered normal on a one lane road.

Maybe I'm just old school, but I will never trust a computer to control mechanical parts of my car. Fuel injection and sensors is about as far as I'm willing to go because if your fuel pump quits working, you still have mechanical control of the vehicle so you can coast it to a stop.

I still don't think you understand that these cars are seeing everything in full 3D and every frame is analysed. This means it knows things like trajectory, speed and pretty much everything else about the other cars on the road. When the computer can see all these things its simple to see when another car has gone into a slide and adjust its route accordingly.

As soon as an objects trajectory is seen to collide with yours, the car takes avoiding action, whatever that may be and it will do it a damn sight more quickly than any human.

I'm a fan of Google and the work they're doing, and even as a petrolhead I'm really excited about driverless cars - the possibilities and opportunities it opens are mind blowing. But yeah.. with all that said, I most definitely think they need a manual override.

I disagree. Humans have proven themselves to be inherently unsafe behind the wheel, from tiredness to drink driving to getting distracted to road rage, and allowing an override means you add all those risks back into the mix.

Automated cars shouldn't have any manual controls.

theyarecomingforyou said,
I disagree. Humans have proven themselves to be inherently unsafe behind the wheel, from tiredness to drink driving to getting distracted to road rage, and allowing an override means you add all those risks back into the mix.

Automated cars shouldn't have any manual controls.

Given that people do drive drunk / tired / whatever despite the potential risks (injury, jail time, death!) - so surely having the automated system on cars would be a bonus.

Chicane-UK said,
Given that people do drive drunk / tired / whatever despite the potential risks (injury, jail time, death!) - so surely having the automated system on cars would be a bonus.

And removing humans from the wheel altogether is an even bigger bonus. Nearly all accidents are the result of human error, as opposed to mechanical fault or acts of nature.

There are too many bad drivers on the road and the sooner they are eliminated from the equation the safer we'll all be.

theyarecomingforyou said,

And removing humans from the wheel altogether is an even bigger bonus. Nearly all accidents are the result of human error, as opposed to mechanical fault or acts of nature.

There are too many bad drivers on the road and the sooner they are eliminated from the equation the safer we'll all be.

As long as there's still options for those of us who like driving, not to be forced from behind the wheel. As I say, I love this technology and am in favour of it - but I'm also a petrolhead and drive for pleasure as well as for practical reasons.

Chicane-UK said,
As long as there's still options for those of us who like driving, not to be forced from behind the wheel.

As long as humans are allowed to drive they will be putting others at risk. Humans should be banned from driving on public roads as soon as practicable. There will always be venues where petrolheads can drive manually.

Chicane-UK said,
But with all that said, I most definitely think they need a manual override.
Think again. How many odd and stupid things have you seen on Google Street View map? You see how far people have gone just for laughs? How about smash the car window and then go on a joyride? Do you think that's a possibility?

I think for the first few versions and years, they should be as 'car like' as possible. Not because the systems aren't in place to have these cars autonomous, but because people have become extremely resistant to change. If you want to make autonomous cars a normal thing to see on our roads then you're going to have to ease them in gradually. Make them as 'normal' car like as possible at first, and slowly but surely change them in to a vision of the future.

It's not a technical thing either, the sensors and systems in these cars can react faster and have much better perception than human drivers, it's completely down to how the public sees them and how comfortable they become with them.

The sad fact is, crashes can and will happen. The day one of these cars crashes they'll be all over the news as unsafe, deadly, killer cars and the media ill choose to ignore the millions of car crashes in 'normal' cars, that happen every day.

And begins the comments of the fanboys and the people who don't trust software because they know that it does have bugs. Great car, no car should be without manual controls. Heck, even aircraft have manual controls, despite things becoming more and more automated such as auto-braking, auto-pilot, and self-landing aircraft. Computers do not learn like humans and hence cannot make the same judgement calls (or lack of judgement).

Without looking too much into it, can these cars adequately deal with one way streets? Many a sat nav has tried to send me the wrong way down a one way street in the past. If maps are it's only way of identifying one way streets then this will fail miserably in any built up area.

Hardcore Til I Die said,
Without looking too much into it, can these cars adequately deal with one way streets? Many a sat nav has tried to send me the wrong way down a one way street in the past. If maps are it's only way of identifying one way streets then this will fail miserably in any built up area.

They can read road signs. If there are no signs marking a one way street then a human would struggle to identify it too.

You can't just go from "full manual steering" to "no manual steering at all". To make a long story short, Google are idiots for doing so. Self-flattery at its finest. Manual override is a must. I don't want the world to learn this the hard way.

agtsmith said,
You can't just go from "full manual steering" to "no manual steering at all". To make a long story short, Google are idiots for doing so. Self-flattery at its finest. Manual override is a must. I don't want the world to learn this the hard way.

1. What kind of argument is that? When you call someone an idiot and don't offer any explanation, guess what that makes you sound like. These cars will hit things many times less often than regular cars, as demonstrated by their entirely crashless record to date. "Learning the hard way" would most likely be a few traffic jams caused by self driving cars that have gotten themselves confused by an incorrect road sign or something.

2. They have said since they announced these cars that they will be putting steering wheels and pedals on any of these cars used on puplic roads in order to comply with current laws. This is a project to explore what can be done with the driverless car. And I for one applaud their efforts to remove the incredibly dangerous humans from behind the wheel.

Google needs to do a better job showing off their tech to people before taking away manual control. The comments here show how little anyone knows about how the cars work.

We are all horrible drivers compared to this tech. The real time 3d laser mapping and cameras can keep eyes on way more things than any human can even in bad weather. Heck, even if the self driving car is only 50% safer than our safe manual drivers this will save thousands of lives every year.

The car can handle the chaos of bad manual drivers, deer or other animals jumping out, crazy bikers, etc better then we ever can because it can monitor the big picture in real time and make the safest choice of action. Just research the tech behind it.

Now I do believe that removing manual control will reduce accidents just public perception won't accept that yet.

A mechanic here with years and years of experience (5 years of aircraft experience, 8 years of automotive/heavy truck) Don't trust the crappy Chinese made electronics as they fail. Fuses, relays, and wires do wear out (wires are only worn if they are in a fleet for a trucking company it seems). In addition, lines can get holes, parts can suddenly fail without warning, and vibrations can because great enough to predict an imminent failure (oh hey look my tire just fell off!!).

I think you are jumping the gun and putting way too much trust into new technology. To believe that a vehicle that is not even mass produced nor has thousands of drivers with 5 years of use behind it doesn't need manual controls is just plain naive. There is a reason that an airplane has manual controls for the pilot. Technology fails, and sometimes human maneuvers can be the difference between life and death.

Technology is great, and without the introduction of new ideas, it can never become safe. But lets not trust the all mighty Google (or any other company) just because it seems neat! I currently work at an airport and we have manual controls for everything, why? Because ###### happens! What if the car engine catches fire and you need to pull over? Well the car probably doesn't have a fire detection system, and yes I've seen several car and truck fires due to faulty electrical wires (sadly at work).

I build a lot of automated systems with electronics and software so I guess my view is a little slanted so I'll give you that. Even with "cheap Chinese" electronics with the right design utilizing redundant systems, sensors to detect failure you could have a pretty darn safe system in my opinion. Nothing will be 100% but in my opinion the bar is set pretty low when it comes to making something safer than human drivers.

Sure they will have failures and will need to have sensors to detect the failures. The great thing is software/firmware can be upgraded remotely to make the cars safer when something goes wrong or a situation can be handled safer. Hardware can be added to the system if its found more sensors are needed too. So if one car makes a mistake all cars can learn from it. Heck most modern cars today have temp sensors in the engine compartment if not fire detection for on-star type systems. Having other sensors in the engine compartment would not be difficult to do. Although with things moving electric those cars already have sensors to detect battery fires and shorts anyway.

Not to mention with all those sensors the car can be made not to drive or only to drive to a repair shop if regular maintenance doesn't happen or a failure is detected. So there could be less un-maintained cars on the road.

Commercial airlines are way behind in automation, hell look at the control tower system, yikes! Some of the new full size drones out or about to come out have no manual controls in the air craft and don't even require a remote pilot on the ground (they can take orders right from the mission planning systems) and can land on Aircraft carriers. Heck they can even fly in formation with other jets with real pilots. So I'm sure down the road once that tech has been made cheaper and proven it self pilots on passenger jets will be a thing of the past and again that will hinge on public perception of the technology because its going to take a lot to convince people flying on a jet with no pilot is safe. Same with google and their automated cars, its going to take a lot of PR to convince the public their cars don't need manual controls.

I agree there is still a lot of testing to do but from what I've seen this stuff is pretty darn good right now but the last mile always takes the longest. Good enough to remove the manual controls? Maybe not but I almost think that more has to do with me not 100% trusting and understanding the tech yet vs reality in if its really needed.

Way into the future I don't see the average person evening owning a car. A simple app on your phone will summon the nearest car that meets your needs (car,svu,truck, etc) and you have it drive you anywhere. Once done the car will drive it self to get fueled, cleaned & repaired and go to the next customer.

Heck maybe google won't even be selling these cars, you can only use them on demand and google owns them.

Edited by Dolby, Sep 1 2014, 7:02am :

SpeedyTheSnail said,
A mechanic here with years and years of experience (5 years of aircraft experience, 8 years of automotive/heavy truck) Don't trust the crappy Chinese made electronics as they fail. Fuses, relays, and wires do wear out (wires are only worn if they are in a fleet for a trucking company it seems). In addition, lines can get holes, parts can suddenly fail without warning, and vibrations can because great enough to predict an imminent failure (oh hey look my tire just fell off!!).

I think you are jumping the gun and putting way too much trust into new technology. To believe that a vehicle that is not even mass produced nor has thousands of drivers with 5 years of use behind it doesn't need manual controls is just plain naive. There is a reason that an airplane has manual controls for the pilot. Technology fails, and sometimes human maneuvers can be the difference between life and death.

Technology is great, and without the introduction of new ideas, it can never become safe. But lets not trust the all mighty Google (or any other company) just because it seems neat! I currently work at an airport and we have manual controls for everything, why? Because ###### happens! What if the car engine catches fire and you need to pull over? Well the car probably doesn't have a fire detection system, and yes I've seen several car and truck fires due to faulty electrical wires (sadly at work).

Ok, you say they have manual override because ###### happens. But now imagine someone tried to do something similar to 9/11 on a plane with no pilots. They'd have a pretty hard time threatening the computer. Having a manual override in this situation seems more like a vulnerability than a strength.

Well a terrorist can still go into subway and blow up a train. You can't account for factors that are highly unlikely (unless you are living in the Middle East right now) and out of your control for everything. Add a biometric pass code: Case solved.

Also, prior to 9/11 I do believe that the pilots would leave to door unlocked to the cockpit.

As much as I don't trust Chinese brand names, I would not trust the American brand name too. You want to know why? Many of the accidents on the road happens when the car accelerate while it's suppose to stop. There's a computer control fuel injection. The one that is made by American car company. It is used mostly by Ford company. This fuel injection cause many car accidents but it was falsely reported as human error. Why is that?

At random times, the fuel injection accelerate the car even while your foot is on the brake. Drivers sometimes think they step on the wrong peddle and frantically move their foot to counter the logic that you made a mistake with the peddle. I have seen many of these false report about stepping on the wrong peddle but it's dumb that the driver even think they make a mistake. This computerized fuel injection is an American made-American Engineering.

I came close to these kind of accidents but it happens while my feet is on the brake peddle. And I don't change thinking I make a mistake. I step on it hard to make sure the car don't go further and then turn off the engine. Why? Because when this happen you can't change the gear. The only way to save yourself from this acceleration issue is to shut down the engine completely.

I have not seen any report to recall the car due to the fuel injection issue. So this basically something that the media and the world have not understood fully of.

Pancakes! What your gonna have when the soccer mom driving the oversized SUV hits this piece of plastic. Their just going to keep on driving thinking they hit a bump in the rain.

Manual override is a must honestly. It doesn't have to be much, a simple joystick with left/right/forward/back will do.

Does the DMV actually require a wheel and pedal? Surely not as a lot of modern cars are entirely drive by wire meaning the actual mechanical inputs do nothing, they simply tell a computer what to do. The physical pedal is really a placebo, a potentiometer measures the braking action and translates it into how much "force" to apply to said brakes. Just mount a dial on the armrest or dash?

Car project is cool though. You could just have a bunch of electric inner city pods that come pick you up, drop you off and return to some tiny underground parking dungeon. ready to call when you need. No more congested on street parking!

I would want some manual controls as well... in fact, even if the car is allegedly so good at driving itself, I think not having some sort of manual override is, frankly, stupid...

so who is liable if a legitimate software issue results in an accident? after seeing what happened with GM, I could only imagine the litigation that starts a month after the first accident. still would be a lot better way to do transportation but the human aspect is always the hardest aspect to figure out and assigning blame is very human.

blackjezuz said,
so who is liable if a legitimate software issue results in an accident? after seeing what happened with GM, I could only imagine the litigation that starts a month after the first accident. still would be a lot better way to do transportation but the human aspect is always the hardest aspect to figure out and assigning blame is very human.

This question has been answered so many times. In this case, Google is liable. That's just the way it is and Google are still prepared to go ahead with these cars so I guess they are pretty damn safe.

These cars also keep logs of everything that happens to them and will have extremely detailed data (including 3D footage of the moments leading up to the crash) to prove fault. The act of deciding fault would obviously be left up to humans but would be based on much more detailed data than we currently have.

"...lacked basic features like a steering-wheel and brakes."

I'm not sure where the report an issue button went in the new design, but I really hope those cars have breaks and the report should have read break-peddles.

Colonel-Sanders said,
...the report should have read break-peddles.

For when the car gets tired?
Also, more than one pedal...are you sure?

Colonel-Sanders said,
"...lacked basic features like a steering-wheel and brakes."

I'm not sure where the report an issue button went in the new design, but I really hope those cars have breaks and the report should have read break-peddles.

What's the matter Colonol Sanders? ... Chicken?

_Alexander said,
I want a future where I can sleep while driving to work each day.

I know, right? So many positives to this technology.. folks with disabilities (such as blindness) will suddenly be far more mobile. If you're ill, or tired from a long trip, just let the car guide you. Hell, you can take your car on a night out and be driven home after a lot of alcohol and no longer have to pay for an expensive taxi ride.

I simply cannot wait.

And I see no reason why a self-driving car should not have a break, steering wheel, or gas pedal. For example, those motorcyclists who weave in and out through traffic are so unpredictable, that even a car with a million sensors could not possibly react to every possibility. How about stopping as a courtesy to let someone turn from a shopping center to three lanes over? How about parking the vehicle? Obviously most people can tell when there is a motorcyclist is around by hearing and can also tell when an ambulance or police is coming. Also, how can the self-driving car tell there is a stop sign or when there is a broken traffic light when to go?

Too many questions right now.

Watch the indepth video. It'll show you what the on board computer sees. They actually did a real world test of bicyclists that weaved in and out and the comouter picked it up instantly and reaponded.

If you understand how lidar works the video is pretty interesting.

No system is perfect though. One glitch and you're looking at a crash that could cost the occupant's life. You always need a backup plan, usually a manual option.

I still think that it makes sense that these early models should have a steering wheel and brakes as a "backup", but I think they purposefully want to keep it out to prove how autonomous the car actually is.

I agree that the vehicles need a steering wheel and brakes. A manual backup plan should always exist. I was just pointing out the technology used to detect "obstructions"