Bill's Conversational Musings

Google Car on a Sunday Drive

Sunday Drive

Can automated driving, like the Google Car really anticipate everything the road has to offer. There are a lot of questions I have that need to be answered before getting into one and just letting it drive. Just this weekend we visited my grandmother. While driving I gave consideration too all the ways my transportation would change if I were in a Google Car.

What happens when there is something in the road I want to avoid?

My Car: As I am driving along I might spot something I might want to avoid. For example, one day we encountered a family of ducks crossing the road. We have all seen it, the mama duck and her ducklings following behind her in single file. People were already stopped in the on-coming lane and flashing their headlights and waving hands at us.

Not only were we able to spot the ducks and slow down before they came into our lane, we were able to alert other motorists by turning on our flashers and sticking our hands out the window. Mama and her followers were able to safely cross the road to the pond nearby.

Automated Car: First, how would it know that there is trouble ahead? Would traffic stopped in the on-coming lanes be any indication that trouble could be crossing into our lane? Would the car be able to recognize something as small as a duck and determine that it needed to stop?

I have read that they have driven the roads of Mountain View, CA and have had driven them in an automated mode even with some chaos added. They don't exactly say what that chaos is but I wonder if it included little ducks.

What happens when there are emergency crews advising to exit?

My Car: Sometimes driving down the highway, you have to detour to the access road. This could be due to construction or an accident up ahead. Often you have to negotiate and cross multiple lanes of traffic in a short amount of time.

Automated Car: Would the car continue moving forward as it is following a digital map? Can you override the course? With no steering wheel or pedals as proposed by Google, how would you be able to turn around if you had to? I would imagine you could control the car with an smart phone application. But, that would open up to a whole new level of complexities.

What happens if traffic comes to a halt, how can I take an alternate route?

My Car: Sometimes on the way into work I'll take an alternate route. This usually happens when traffic is at a complete standstill. I'll find a parallel road three or so miles away and take it. Knowing different routes into the office has helped save time and fuel.

Automated Car: Again, with no steering wheel or pedals, how is an alternate route possible. You could use your smart phone app and plot a different path to take. Waze sort of does this. However, the alternate routes are usually no better. For example, they suggest getting off the freeway and taking the access road. Which, as it turns out, is just as busy as the highway.

What do you do when you get behind somebody who is driving slow?

My Car: In Texas, there is a tradition/courtesy that when you are driving slow, say on a two lane blacktop, you might drive on the shoulder to let others behind you pass when it is safe to do so. Most of the time, however, people do not do this and will continue to drive 50 MPH in a 70 MPH zone. When passing is allowed it is indicated on the road (usually as a broken yellow line) and, when safe, you can accelerate around the car continue on your way.

Automated Car: Would the driver-less car just continue to drive at the speed of the car in front of it? Sometimes going too slow is a safety hazard. Can you pass using a self-driving car? Would it know when it is safe to pass based on oncoming traffic? Can it tell the difference from a no-passing zone and passing zone?

What do you do when somebody is driving unsafe?

My Car: Often people don't always drive in the safest manner. They drift from lane to lane or cut in front of you at unexpected times. One of the lessons I learned back in driver's education was "Leave yourself an out." That means leave yourself space if you see a group of cars or give yourself distance if somebody is driving in an unsafe manner.

Automated Car: It's obvious the car has collision avoidance. Many of those features are already advertised on TV for many of the more luxury brands. Will an automated car know to avoid those drivers as they continue down the road? Perhaps you could ID the car that is being driven poorly and know to keep clear of it.


These are just a few of the questions that come to mind when people hail the coming of driver-less vehicles. I believe they have their place for shuttles and delivery mechanisms. They can also enable transportation for those who don't have a license to drive or are unable to drive. However, with all the variables on and around the road, a full self-driving car for the masses is still way off in the future.

1/5/2015 09:22 pm UPDATE

It appears that at the Consumer Electronics Show or CES BMW has demonstrated a some of it's driver-less features. The feature that interests me most is the Automatic Valet. That is a smart use of driver-less technology.

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