What the Hell Are These People Doing Around Google's Self-Driving Cars?

Illustration for article titled What the Hell Are These People Doing Around Googles Self-Driving Cars?

Among the many different hazards Google’s cars have to handle on the road is one particularly annoying one: pedestrians acting like jerks when they see Google’s cute little machines in the wild.

During the SXSW conference last month, Director of Google’s Self-Driving Car Project Chris Urmson detailed the weirdest things that the cars have seen in their 2.5 million miles on the road. Among the highlights: people playing Frogger, people chasing ducks in the street with a broom, and pantsless men running in front of the car.

Urmson says that Google “has an entire division of people to come up with weird stuff, but none of them could beat this.” In the company’s report on self-driving cars for March, it laid out a little more detail about its private test track, and the weird things it does to try and teach its cars about the outside world.

Apart from the comedy value of watching people leapfrog in front of a self-driving car, there’s also an important takeaway: Google’s cars are actually dealing with weird shit surprisingly well. They slow down, assess the situation, and generally wait for it to stop, without panicking or taking evasive action.


Otherwise, there’s little of interest in Google’s monthly report. One vehicle was involved in a crash, but it was a rear-ending that you’ll be hard-pressed to blame Google for.


Contributing Editor

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The most interesting part about this for me was his answer to the question of how the car decides in a dire situation where it cannot avoid hitting something.

Given the priority order of avoidance he gave us with vulnerable objects > moving objects > stationary objects, the hypothetical question we’ve asked if a self-driving car has to steer in a direction that will either kill those inside the car, or kill those outside the car, it sounds like it will favor those outside the car. Such as it would rather hit an oncoming car to avoid hitting a pedestrian or bicyclist if it’s in a situation where either the bicyclist or oncoming car did something stupid and now your car is going to hit something.

Not that I fully disagree with that decision-making, even though my gut says the traffic law-ignoring bicyclist should be signing their own death warrant and be incapable of putting my law-abiding vehicle in danger, but it is interesting to basically have that question answered if it wasn’t already answered somewhere else.