How to remove the nut behind the steering wheel
Q. What’s the most dangerous part of a car, the part that’s most likely to fail?
A. The nut behind the steering wheel.
Google has apparently gotten us a lot closer to fixing the problem suggested by that old joke.
When I’m training software, I’ll sometimes have somebody say, “Why doesn’t it do X?” It’s usually something that would make sense, but just isn’t part of it. One of my responses was to say, “Why doesn’t my car drive itself?” I’ll go on to explain that I want to be able to just say an address, and kick back and read as the car drives me there. At a break, I might also show them this video from YouTube of Junior, a car that did just that.
Junior knows the rules of the road, knows to stop at a stop sign, and so on.
However, Junior also went pretty slowly…in a controlled environment in a parking lot.
That video was from June 2007, though.
Now, in their official blog,
that they have been testing self-driving cars. That seems somewhat reasonable…there have quite a few people testing self-driving cars in the past few years. There is a DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) challenge which is a competition for self-driving cars.
However, here’s the thing…
These Google cars are already on the road with us. They’ve driven 140,000 miles in California…right in traffic with the rest of us. Down Lombard Street (supposedly the crookedest street in the world)…across the Golden Gate Bridge…around Lake Tahoe.
Have they had any accidents? Yes. Reportedly, one was rear-ended by somebody. The cars have also asked the human driver behind the wheel to take over in a few cases.
What I’ve heard is that they actually have a voice…sort of like KITT telling Michael Knight he’s switching to manual control. It’s apparently as easy as overriding cruise control…you just takeover.
Yes, these cars have drivers…which I think is good. Well, it’s Google…you knew you might need to download a driver, right? Sorry, geek joke… ;) Not only does the car have a driver, they’ve had a software engineer monitoring them.
They’ve also had a scout car run the route first, which helps (identifying unusual conditions, like road work)…although it seems a tad bit cheating.
Do I think this works?
Sure. Some cars sold commercially already have lane drift alerts and obstacle avoidance. This is an extension of that.
I had somebody ask me in a class once what would happen is a child ran out in front of the car? Believe me, I’d much rather have dispassionate software guiding the car in that situation than a person who might panic and step on the gas instead of the break or swerve too much and slam into a tree.
Yes, the cars would fail sometimes, but much less often than people do. They aren’t going to drive drunk, or over-tired, or drive crazily in the midst of road rage.
Google thinks they would cut down road deaths by fifty percent. They should reduce fender bender type accidents. If all the cars were robocars, you could probably considerably raise the speed limits.
This is quite far away from the market, but I can’t wait! A lot of people will start out not wanting it, because they want to drive their cars themselves. But hey, I’m fine with it.
What about you? Good idea? Do you worry that the government could tell your car to take you to the police station? That the car would override you speeding on the way to the maternity ward? Do you just worry about software failures?
Feel free to leave me a comment.
This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle.