Google Pleased With ‘Honking’ Algorithm In Self-Driving Cars

Google Cargoogle_car by sam_churchill on 2012-05-21 08:33:10

There is little question that the horn is a safety feature if used correctly. It’s also, unfortunately, a means by which impatient drivers make things worse and has prompted countless roadside fights and negative responses from other drivers including road rage. Based on where you live, the horn is also a bit like the car alarm it’s “going off” so often that it loses its intended utility in something resembling “the boy who cried wolf.”

Stop with the horn use please

I don’t know anyone who likes to get stuck in traffic. It surely wouldn’t bother me nearly as much if I was in a Tesla Model S equipped with “auto-pilot” features where I would simply get caught up on emails or perhaps read and actual newspaper or book made of, dare I say it, paper. Surely, I would find something to do. Hell, any self-driving car would do the trick. I’ve never in my life found that traffic is sped up by the maniacal use of a horn from six cars back. Firstly, you have no bloody honking at and I don’t want to be here either. The use of your horn is really on exacerbating matters and making traffic worse, and like yawning, it’s contagious.

There are even people out there that go to the smartphone when the light is red and may need a little “toot” to tell them that the light is now green. In theory, that should be alright and a legitimate use for a horn but some take it as a personal affront and the next thing you know you’re in a potential physical altercation with a really angry person simply through the use of horn.

Having lived in China for a few years, I genuinely believe all horns should be disabled. Drivers are largely taught to use their horn each time the approach an intersection or even driveway each and every time. With every car doing this it’s just a god-awful racket and the horn becomes something that must be ignored, that’s not why it’s there.

But the horn is clearly a life saver. When blared it alerts other drivers to a danger and has surely saved countless pedestrian lives (these days those that cross against traffic staring into their smartphone perhaps most often).

Google’s self-driving car could apparently teach humans about horn use

We’ve known for some time that Google’s been working on self-driving cars, and for some of us who read and write about them are coming to understand that they might be safer given accident statistics, and if they are not yet, they will be soon.

Google is now saying following its May report on its program that its fleet of self-driving vehicles are being taught to “honk like a patient, seasoned driver” and “only honk when it makes driving safer for everyone”. This is, of course, something that most humans are incapable of as detailed above unless you live in the Midwest in the 1950s.

It’s not a single horn blast necessarily, if the car senses (“sees”) that another driver is swerving towards it, the car (sans driver) releases a long “stop bloody doing that now” honk. However, if a car is simply backing into you slowly to little “Oi, silly” beeps alert the lost driver.

“During testing, we taught our vehicles to distinguish between potentially tricky situations and false positives, ie, the difference between a car facing the wrong way during a three-point turn, and one that’s about to drive down the wrong side of the road,” Google says.

So again, not just better drivers but more patient and conscientious as well apparently.

One of my problems with electric vehicles has always been their lack of sound, it takes a fair bit of getting used to especially if you got your driver’s license in 1989. Cars are meant to make noise and signal their approach. Now a world where people are taught to use their eyes or have driver assist features (if not autopilot) available, maybe the day where we all run silent is coming and will be most welcome, but until that day noise is good. One could argue that Harley Davidson’s needn’t be that loud or that the noise is simply to be the “big bad biker”? But if I was on one passing you on the highway I certainly wouldn’t mind if you definitely heard me coming.

This is why Google has added a noise to its fleet of self-driving vehicles and is now adding a pitch change.

“Our prototype mimics the sound characteristics of traditional cars, such as increasing the pitch when it accelerates, and decreasing the pitch when it decelerates,” Google says explaining the addition.

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About the Author

Brendan Byrne
While studying economics, Brendan found himself comfortably falling down the rabbit hole of restaurant work, ultimately opening a consulting business and working as a private wine buyer. On a whim, he moved to China, and in his first week following a triumphant pub quiz victory, he found himself bleeding on the floor based on his arrogance. The same man who put him there offered him a job lecturing for the University of Wales in various sister universities throughout the Middle Kingdom. While primarily lecturing in descriptive and comparative statistics, Brendan simultaneously earned an Msc in Banking and International Finance from the University of Wales-Bangor. He's presently doing something he hates, respecting French people. Well, two, his wife and her mother in the lovely town of Antigua, Guatemala. To contact Brendan or give him an exclusive, please contact him at [email protected]

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