Here’s a really interesting report on the traffic accidents and other incidents Google’s self-driving car has experienced in one million miles of driving. Thirteen accidents have been reported, but none of them appear to be the car’s fault.
A very interesting description of the potential of self-driving cars to prevent accidents is given on page 2 of the report. Two cyclists, riding at night and not paying attention to where they were going, rode into the car’s path. The car predicted the cyclists’ trajectory based on their progress and stopped to avoid the collision. It is hard to say whether a human driver would have been able to do that in sufficient time in the dark.
Fault-free driving for one million miles is literally a super-human achievement. I believe we are on the cusp of a major change in the automotive industry, one which will redefine traffic jams as frustrating wastes of time to merely mildly frustrating occasions to find some other distraction.
At the heart of this revolution are cutting edge technologies in Computer Science and Computer Engineering: artificial intelligence, machine learning, computer vision, signal detection, signal filtering, and data analysis. And don’t forget a heavy dose of cyber security to make sure no one causes an accident by hacking into the car. These are the very same technologies our students are learning in our classrooms today.
With the ability to sense and respond to so many signals at once, driverless cars will both free us from the hassles of traffic jams and protect us from accidents. Forget no texting while driving; soon you’ll be able to play Need for Speed from the driver’s seat. It won’t be long before this will be regarded as one of those inventions we’ll wonder how we lived without.