When people see Google’s driverless cars, things get weird.
Each month, Google releases a monthly report detailing its autonomous cars progress. In a recent report, the company detailed how many truly strange scenarios self-driving cars face everyday. Like, preparing for a massive group of leap froggers:
“We can try to come up with lots of wacky situations for our cars to handle, but the real world can defy even our wildest imaginations,” Google wrote in the report.
The scenarios highlight how the robot cars must be smart enough to handle situations that are so weird programmers wouldn’t think to address them in a hypothetical sense in advance.
Chris Urmson, who was director of Google’s self-driving car project at the time of the report, put into perspective just how crazy things can get at the “South by Southwest” music festival in Austin, Texas. Here are some examples:
Here we see a woman in an electric wheelchair chasing a duck with a broom in the middle of the road. You read that correctly.
As you can see, that ridiculous scenario actually happened. Urmson said there is a team at Google whose main purpose is to dream up crazy scenarios like this one and program how the car should respond. They missed dreaming up a duck-chasing lady, though.
But when there is a scenario the car can’t handle, like a group of leap froggers, something called anomaly detection kicks in.
This is when Google cars generalize what they have seen, and come up with their own solution to address the problem. That typically means slowing down, letting whatever weird thing is happening play out, and then going once it’s over.
That can be difficult when what it’s seeing defies all logic, like three cars in a row going the wrong way on an intersection.
Or a guy rolling on the hood of the car for fun.
Or my personal favorite, a man jumping out in front of the car last minute in his underwear.
We may hope people would use some better judgment, but at the end of the day, it’s on the driverless car to expect the truly unexpected. So far, Google’s cars are doing a solid job.
“I just want to say, thank you, Austin, for keeping it weird,” Urmson said.