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When Autonomous Cars Teach Themselves To Drive Better Than Humans

Friday May 7, 2021. 03:25 AM , from Slashdot
schwit1 shares a report from IEEE Spectrum, written by Evan Ackerman: A few weeks ago, the CTO of Cruise tweeted an example of one of their AVs demonstrating a safety behavior where it moves over to make room for a cyclist. What's interesting about this behavior, though, is that the AV does this for cyclists approaching rapidly from behind the vehicle, something a human is far less likely to notice, much less react to. A neat trick -- but what does it mean, and what's next? In the video [here], as the cyclist approaches from the rear right side at a pretty good clip, you can see the autonomous vehicle pull to the left a little bit, increasing the amount of space that the cyclist can use to pass on the right.

One important question that we're not really going to tackle here is whether this is even a good idea in the first place, since (as a cyclist) I'd personally prefer that cars be predictable rather than sometimes doing weirdly nice things that I might not be prepared for. But that's one of the things that makes cyclists tricky: we're unpredictable. And for AVs, dealing with unpredictable things is notoriously problematic. Cruise's approach to this, explains Rashed Haq, VP of Robotics at Cruise, is to try to give their autonomous system some idea of how unpredictable cyclists can be, and then plan its actions accordingly. Cruise has collected millions of miles of real-world data from its sensorized vehicles that include cyclists doing all sorts of things. And their system has built up a model of how certain it can be that when it sees a cyclist, it can accurately predict what that cyclist is going to do next.

Essentially, based on its understanding of the unpredictability of cyclists, the Cruise AV determined that the probability of a safe interaction is improved when it gives cyclists more space, so that's what it tries to do whenever possible. This behavior illustrates some of the critical differences between autonomous and human-driven vehicles. Humans drive around with relatively limited situational awareness and deal with things like uncertainty primarily on a subconscious level. AVs, on the other hand, are constantly predicting the future in very explicit ways. Humans tend to have the edge when something unusual happens, because we're able to instantly apply a lifetime's worth of common-sense knowledge about the world to our decision-making process. Meanwhile, AVs are always considering the safest next course of action across the entire space that they're able to predict.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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