Trick or treaters on the porch

Google Preps Smart Cars for Halloween

You have to hand it to Google- this next development is a prime example of how thorough they aim to make their smart car safety features.

Last week Google announced that it has adapted the person-detection technology of its self-driving vehicles so that they can detect human beings (especially children) wearing costumes.self driving car

Although this may seem to be a rather specific modification, Halloween night (and every night in the Castro in San Francisco) serves as proof that people wearing costumes do walk the streets, and they tend to do so at night.

This is not the first self-driving car safety feature that is tailored for unusual circumstances; Volvo is coming up with a setting for its Australian customers that allows for vehicles to recognize the presence of kangaroos.

Children and kangaroos are known to make sudden, erratic movements, so the cars are programmed to detect their presences and be ready to adapt in case those erratic movements are directed towards the street.

Paul Teich of Tirias Research claims that these features will make self-driving cars the safest options on the market:

“Autonomous vehicles are probably already safer than half of the drivers on the road today,” he said.

“[Self-driving] cars have a 360-degree unobstructed view around the car that is designed to spot for objects and movement.”

Not only can the cars see in more directions, but they can detect movement on a larger variety of wavelengths. According to Teich, autonomous cars can see in infrared and radar.

Smart cars would also make better choices than most human drivers in more general situations; they don’t speed, and they will be programmed to make proper speed and turning adjustments given icy roads, snow and rain.

Despite the potential of self-driving cars to make roads safer, Google and other car manufacturers predict slow progress in terms of implementing their products into the market.self driving car2

Susan Shreiner of C4 Trends had this to say:

“The older generation will likely savor the human element that comes with driving, even if many older drivers may not be the safest drivers. As a result, we may go through a transition as people begin to accept what the car can do.”

It’s true that a lot of people savor the opportunity to drive manually.

Unfortunately, it’s also true that a lot of people are on the road that shouldn’t be; the United States is one of the easiest places to receive and keep a drivers license, meaning that the streets are filled with people that are too young and too old to drive. Add in the people that are sick, tired, distracted, on drugs, or even just neglecting to wear their glasses, and you have a war zone on your hands.

Full disclosure: I may be somewhat biased because I commute in Los Angeles.

Regardless, research director of automotive and transportation at Frost & Sullivan Praveen Chandrasekar believes that there may be a middle way that can move the self-driving transition forward while working for everyone.

“…U.S. consumers are not ready to give the vehicle full control at all times, but rather want the vehicle to take control during stressful scenarios like poor visibility or bad weather. As technology advances and consumers are getting more used to these automated features and initial glitches are solved, and if the vehicle does support them [during] stressful situations, the ultimate change in attitude will be more inclination to adopt these.”

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