Google’s self-driving car project, having started back in 2009, has come quite a long way since its humble beginnings as just another moonshot. Google’s autonomous fleet has, collectively, driven over 1 million miles in full auto mode in various settings, from Google’s own test track in Mountain View to the streets of Austin, Texas. Their fleet of self-driving cars have been gifted, through advancements in artificial intelligence, with what amounts to common sense and the ability to make decisions as needed on the road. The self-driving cars are smart, but that alone isn’t quite enough to give them their surprisingly great testing records. In their monthly report for March, Google reveals that they help them out with some fairly sophisticated mapping techniques.
Having a look at the newest Google Maps gives you a fairly detailed view of an area, with an option to make that view three-dimensional via WebGL. Google builds on these maps to power self-driving cars’ understandings of their surroundings and what to expect on the road ahead, adding things like construction, obstacle hight, the curvature of turns and road conditions. The maps are updated frequently and paired with the self-driving cars’ sensors to create a comprehensive picture of the cars’ surroundings and how the rest of their route is looking. Traffic, accidents, pedestrian conditions and many other factors go into these detailed live maps. Google also tests the cars extensively, giving them the chance to learn how to deal with new things. Some of their most recent tests include a gaggle of testers playing real-life Frogger in front of the moving vehicle and a man springing suddenly from a port-a-potty by the side of the road.
In terms of accidents since the last report, there has only been one. Predictably, it was not the self-driving car’s fault. On March 14, one of Google’s autonomous Lexus models pulled up to a red light in Austin, Texas and came to a complete stop, as any other law-abiding driver would do. A driver who was just a bit less law-abiding kissed the self-driving car’s rear bumper at 10 miles per hour, causing slight damage to the Google car and some moderate damage to the offender’s front bumper. The operator in the self-driving car noted that the other driver looked disoriented and called 911 to get some emergency vehicles out to the scene of the crash.