This Google Patent Aims to Help Driverless Cars ‘See’ Other Car’s Movement

There is a chance the future will look like it was depicted in Sci-Fi films. Driverless cars were generally seen as the primary element of this future.

For now, humanity – Google and other companies – is trying to improve things. There is still a long road ahead, but recent patents are paving the way.

The latest patent from Google is a good example of that. It is taking thing forward, innovating.

The patent describes a driverless car’s ability to understand other vehicles’ turning lights. Originally filed in 2013, it became public in April 2016.

How Could Driverless Cars “See”?

You can imagine that this technology is meant to be a bridge. It is expected to pave the way towards fully automated traffic. But until humanity reaches that point, smart cars will have to “communicate” with non-smart ones.

According to the patent’s abstract, Google’s idea is to use a camera. It would be mounted on the side of the car. “Vision-based indicator signal detection using spatiotemporal filtering” – this is the name.

The camera would capture other cars’ movements. It will also be able to interpret turn signals. That will be possible by analyzing brightness and color.

Google also plans on developing technology that would allow its driverless cars to “see” potholes and bushes.


Will It Be Useful or Frustrating for Drivers?

Google said it themselves – autonomous cars will be slowThey will drive safely. So, drivers could become frustrated by this. Here are two possible scenarios:

  1. Driverless cars will eventually make traffic safer. By driving slow, the possibility of a fatal crash decreases.
  2. Humans driving cars will be frustrated by this – especially if they are in a hurry. That could deter some people from buying the cars.

The software behind Google’s autonomous cars is programmed to obey traffic laws.

During tests in Palo Alto, California, these driverless cars came to a full stop even when a pedestrian leaned out to look down the street.

This extremely safe driving style of Google’s autonomous cars has a big problem, though.

Tests have revealed that the cars often get stuck at four-way stops. That happens because the software always waits until it’s 100% safe to go, something that almost never occurs.

Humans have the capacity to understand each other. We don’t always need turn signals. Just a simple look or a nod is usually enough.

Driverless cars lack that ability. However, this “driving style” could eventually influence human drivers. And that is a good thing.

Commercial Viability vs. Science-Fiction Innovation

Things are changing at Google’s autonomous cars division. Last year, they appointed an experienced auto industry executive to head the division – John Krafcik. He is a former head of Hyundai in the US.

At the beginning of August, Chris Urmson left the company. He was the driving force behind Google’s driverless cars for the last seven and a half years. The reasons are unknown. But it may have to do with the company’s desire to steer all of its operations towards commercial viability.

Accidents like the Tesla crash that killed its passenger have had an influence on the future development of driverless cars too – even if Google’s autonomous cars gathered almost 2 million miles of driving. But that has been accomplished just through their fleet of test cars.

However, earlier in 2016, Google has managed to seal the deal with Fiat Chrysler. The automaker agreed on turning 100 of its minivans into driverless cars. The release date is unknown yet.

New Laws

On the 19th of February, 2016, Assembly Bill No. 2866 was introduced in California. It would allow autonomous cars to operate on public roads.

It even includes cars without a steering wheel, accelerator or brake pedal. It has yet to pass the house of origin, however. There are many discussions about how these vehicles should be treated from a legal point of view.

Singapore is currently working on a big project in partnership with Delphi as well. They plan to launch a test run for a fleet of driverless cars in 2017. These vehicles will act as an on-demand cab service.

There is still a long way to go. When all cars on public roads will be able to communicate with each other, things will change. Let’s hope it’s for the better.

I’ll keep an eye out and cover any new information about this topic. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your opinion.

Let me know how you feel about driverless cars in the comments section below.

Philipp Kandal