Google’s Self Driving Car Project Requires Currently Limited Map Data

May 15, 2014 - Written By Joshua Koh

Google’s Self-Driving Car (SDC) project is probably one of the most innovative projects that is under development. The potential for this is endless, from hailing driverless cab, to having your vehicle park itself and pick you up wherever you are. The only hiccup to this however, is the need for data, lots and lots of map data to enable the driverless car do its magic.

For those who are unaware, the project utilizes a modified Lexus RX350h with laser, radar and camera systems to enable the car to self drive. The issue however, according to Software Lead Dmitri Dolgov, isn’t the decision making process in real time, i.e. new obstacles such pedestrians or construction, but the lay of the roads aka map data. This comes in the form of more permanent fixtures such as traffic light height, curb locations, road width etc. As a result, the car is largely limited to locations where map data exists. Now you probably would think that data possessed by Google Maps would be more than sufficient, unfortunately this is not the case. Locations have to be manually driven through repeatedly so as to gather sufficient data to familiarize the car to these locations. Mapping is done through the use of the car’s laser which builds a 360-degree view of the surrounding area and the camera & radar system which supplies addition details. The team then has to stitch together the data and the process as a whole looks to be rather tedious.

Detailed mapping is also required to ensure that the SDC drives safely and predictably without endangering passengers. One possible solution to this need for mapping, is to bring in owners of cars to provide the necessary data a la crowdsourcing. This would probably shorten the amount of time and effort required to remap the world and expedite the day in which we can simply ‘drive’ without lifting a hand or a foot. The need for map data might very well reflect our need for data. In our increasingly tech orientated world, having access to the internet has become a need rather than a luxury. No map no car, no data no life?