Google’s driverless cars still on pace to become publicly available by 2017

Avatar By Aaron Sims | 7 years ago

Google’s self-driving cars are well on their way to mastering the complexity of city driving, the company announced Monday.

In its first update on the Google X driverless car project since August 2012, Google said test cars now can handle thousands of urban situations that would have stumped them a year or two ago.

“We’re growing more optimistic that we’re heading toward an achievable goal — a vehicle that operates fully without human intervention,” said project director Chris Urmson in a blog post.

From jaywalking pedestrians to cars lurching out of hidden driveways, cities present far more challenges to driverless cars than the open freeway, where the project’s focus had been aimed initially. But Urmson says his team is already building software models to overcome these challenges.

“A mile of city driving is much more complex than a mile of freeway driving, with hundreds of different objects moving according to different rules of the road in a small area,” said Urmson. “We’ve improved our software so it can detect hundreds of distinct objects simultaneously—pedestrians, buses, a stop sign held up by a crossing guard, or a cyclist making gestures that indicate a possible turn.”

Google admits there are still lots of problems to solve, including understanding the gestures that drivers give one another to signal a lane merge or change, turning right on red and driving in rain or fog.

But with nearly 700,000 autonomous miles logged by the self-driving cars, the company is confident it will meet its goal of getting a car to the public by 2017.

“As it turns out, what looks chaotic and random on a city street to the human eye is actually fairly predictable to a computer,” said Urmson.