In a blog post today, Google says it has “shifted the focus” of its self-driving car project to tackle more complex city driving.
“Jaywalking pedestrians. Cars lurching out of hidden driveways. Double-parked delivery trucks blocking your lane and your view. At a busy time of day, a typical city street can leave even experienced drivers sweaty-palmed and irritable,” says Google.
The update, posted this morning, is the first in nearly two years for the tech giant. The company says it has since logged more than 700,000 miles since. And city driving? Turns out it’s really no biggie for the driverless car.
“As it turns out, what looks chaotic and random on a city street to the human eye is actually fairly predictable to a computer. As we’ve encountered thousands of different situations, we’ve built software models of what to expect, from the likely (a car stopping at a red light) to the unlikely (blowing through it). We still have lots of problems to solve, including teaching the car to drive more streets in Mountain View before we tackle another town, but thousands of situations on city streets that would have stumped us two years ago can now be navigated autonomously.”
Google has been lobbying for robotic cars to be allowed on the roads, and in 2011 Nevada became the first state to allow them. They were soon followed by Florida, California and Michigan.
In Canada, legislation is expected to move slowly, although Transport Canada did leave the window open slightly. In an email to CBC last September, Transport Canada spokeswoman Andrea Moritz said the agency would be open to the possibility. “Transport Canada would permit the importation of a driverless vehicle, provided that it has been certified by the manufacturer as complying with the safety standards that apply to the vehicle class,” she said.
And then there’s the issue of Canada’s icy winter roads. The Google driverless car has, to date, only been tested in optimal conditions. A recent piece from Burkhard Bilger in the New Yorker detailed what we know now about how the vehicle handles weather.
“The car has trouble in the rain, for instance, when its lasers bounce off shiny surfaces. (The first drops call forth a small icon of a cloud onscreen and a voice warning that auto-drive will soon disengage.)”
One thing is certain: any approval of Google’s driverless car in Canada would require extensive testing in places that has weather more like Moose Jaw and less like Mountain View.
Below: Google’s Driverless Car on the streets of Mountainview, California: