A Google self-driving car, yesterday

Google’s self-driving cars pass two million-mile mark on public roads

Image credit: Grendelkhan

Google’s self-driving cars have now logged over two million miles on public roads, as the autonomous vehicles continue to log around 25,000 miles of test driving every week.

The Alphabet Inc business unit also announced that its cars are increasingly mastering complex traffic situations on public roads, such as other cars approaching the wrong way down one-way streets or bicycles weaving and darting in front of cars.

Since the company first began developing self-driving cars in 2009, the stakes in being the first company to create a fully autonomous range of vehicles have become higher, as more and more companies have adopted the technological challenge.

Since Google’s work in the field began, traditional carmakers have stepped up their self-driving plans in response to avoid being left behind. All major carmakers now have either autonomous or semi-autonomous models in production or at the prototype stage, with varying claims for how long it will be before the majority of vehicles on public roads are controlled autonomously.

Google is focused on making cars fully autonomous, which it says will make driving safer, more efficient and will open up self-transportation to the disabled and the elderly. Google estimates that its cars could be ready for production by 2020.

Rival carmaker Tesla has said that its cars have logged over 100 million miles since last October from drivers using its partially autonomous Autopilot system. However, this system has come under fire in recent months, following the fatal crash in May 2016 that killed the driver while the car was in Autopilot mode. Consequently, collision-avoidance systems developer Mobileye split with Tesla, as it felt Tesla was “pushing the envelope in terms of safety”. Tesla has since released a new version of the system, Autopilot 8, which the company says is safer, relying more on radar than optical camera.

Google’s response to Tesla’s mileage claims is that miles driven on predictable open highways are much easier than navigating busy city streets, according to Dmitri Dolgov, the head of Googles self-driving technology effort. You have to have a deeper understanding of whats on the road and to the side, Dolgov told Reuters. Every time you drive its different.

The Google car can detect whether a moving object is a child or a bicycle and anticipates that both can make fast, unpredictable movements. The car's driving system calculates the probability of such movements and uses the results to determining how the vehicle will react. Those types of complicated social interactions are the last, most difficult element of autonomous vehicle technology, according to Dolgov.

You get to 90 per cent autonomy in 10 per cent of the time and then spend 90 per cent of your time on the last 10 per cent, he said.

Elsewhere, driverless vehicles are gradually extending their reach into other areas of daily life. A self-driving taxi service has already launched in Singapore and driverless passenger pods have been tested on the roads around Greenwich, London.

Now, a driverless tractor has been tested in Southampton. The vehicle uses technology from mapping agency Ordnance Survey (OS) to enable it to follow a pre-planned course. It is hoped that the model will enable farmers to work more efficiently during the planting, spraying, harvesting and cultivation of crops.

An OS signal network of more than 110 base stations covering all of Britain allows tractor manufacturer CNH Industrial to supply Real Time Kinematic (RTK) positioning data to the vehicle. According to OS, the use of RTK could save £34 million per year in reducing errors made in planting cereal and oilseed.

The Department for Transport carried out a consultation over the summer to pave the way for automated vehicles to be used on British roads.

Under the proposed measures, rules will be changed so automated vehicles can be insured. The Highway Code is also to be altered so advanced driver assistance systems that change lanes on the motorway and park the vehicle by remote control can be used safely.

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