Google's self-driving car fleet has been hitting the roads of both Mountain View, California and Austin, Texas for the past two months — and it has some very eccentric happenings to report. Alongside newer street infrastructure and horizontal traffic signals, Google's autonomous vehicles have been getting acquainted with the stray renegade granny chasing ducks on her electric wheelchair, according to the company's most recent self-driving status report.
Google didn't originally specify whether its run in with one of the Many Mothers of Mad Max Fury Road happened in Mountain View or Austin. But a Google spokesperson later clarified that it happened in the sunny streets of Google's hometown in California — and the car and its Google driver survived the dangerous encounter.
One more time: a woman in an electric wheelchair chasing a duck
Google says it teaches its cars how to handle the more fundamental aspects of unpredictable road behavior instead of implementing specific directions for particular cases, like how to deal with a duck-chasing wheelchair rider. That way, the car gets practice in broader range of situations. Most of the time, however, the best solution is to just slow down, Google says. For instance, Austin is notable for having a rather healthy population of deer, some of which like to hurl themselves into traffic. Google says its self-driving Lexus RX450h SUV is learning not only to detect the deer in the road, but also differentiate between them and inanimate objects like mailboxes when the deer are hanging out in the shoulder. That way, it can slow down when appropriate.
Google plans to begin expanding the rollout of its tiny, anthropomorphic prototype autonomous vehicles in Austin alongside the Lexus fleet this month, albeit still with a human driver at all times and a removable steering wheel and gas and brake pedals. The search giant is still mum on when these cars may see a wider launch or become available to the public, as regulatory hurdles remain a huge a roadblock. Only Nevada, Florida, California, and Michigan allow testing of self-driving cars, and Austin only became a viable destination after Google worked out a special arrangement with the city and state governments.
Yet the self-driving team's most recent status report makes it clear that progress is being made and the cars remain safer than humans. Google reported its 16th minor accident in the six years and 2 million miles of the self-driving project; again, like all the others, it wasn't the car's fault.