US: Google’s autonomous cars are preparing for the unexpected image

Chris Urmson, director of Google’s self-driving car program, showcased recently the variety of scenarios the company’s test fleet encountered on the streets around their Mountain View, California headquarters.

Google is now gearing up to focus its autonomous prototype fleet testing on the more difficult and unpredictable surface streets of an urban environment, which bring a range of issues that usually don’t come up on the freeways. Chris Urmson, director of Google’s driverless car program, spoke at the Automated Vehicle Symposium Wednesday in Ypsilanti, showcasing a range of broad and varying scenarios the cars have navigated through on surface streets around the company’s home town. One such case even involved a duck running afoul across an intersection followed in apparent pursuit by a woman in an electric-powered wheelchair going back and forth. “It doesn’t matter how long you gave me, I never would have come up with that scenario. There are no rules. The DMV has nothing in its handbook,” Urmson commented. The autonomous vehicle needs to establish “this is weird. I’m just going to chill out here and let that all play out.”

In this particular instance, the Google car would have to wait until its onboard “mind” will determine there is no driving hindrance, while human drivers might be able to predict the path of both the duck and woman and go about their business if a safe opening was found. “There’s been a lot of noise recently in the press about the fact that our vehicles have been in collision,” he added, showing a video of how a prototype stopped along with traffic and the vehicle behind striking from behind.