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Look what's making self-driving cars freak out

Patrick May, The Mercury News on

Published in Automotive News

--Vehicle in cross-traffic ran red light

--Software crash

--Unexpected steering due to path change

--Strong unexpected braking

Finally, the reports provide a window into how the companies are learning from their "disengagements:"

Waymo: "To help evaluate the safety significance of disengagements, Waymo employs a powerful simulator program. In Waymo's simulation, our team can "replay" each incident and predict the behavior of our self-driving car if the driver had not taken control of it, as well as the behavior and positions of other road users in the vicinity (such as pedestrians, cyclists, and other vehicles). Our engineers use this data to refine and improve the software to ensure the self-driving car performs safely." gave itself a stellar report card when reporting on its disengagements:

--As of 30 November 2017, we have seven vehicles licensed for autonomous operation in California.

--Total autonomous miles: 6,572. We drove 557 autonomous miles in 2016 and 6,015

autonomous miles in 2017.

--Total disengagements: We had a total of 151 disengagements where either a failure of the

autonomous technology was detected or safe operation of the vehicle required that the test

driver take manual control.

--Miles driven per disengagement (MPD): We have improved from 3 MPD in August 2016 to

110 MPD in November 2017.

--Sponsored Video--

--Most importantly, we are pleased to report that we completed our first reporting period

without any collisions or safety incidents of any kind.

GM Cruise remarked in its report to regulators that it was using San Francisco as a test lab for good reason:

"Last year we drove over 125,000 miles on San Francisco's complex city streets," wrote Albert Boniske, GM Cruise' director of product integrity. "All the attached data is from this urban driving. We drive in San Francisco because it allows us to improve more quickly. Cities like San Francisco contain significantly more people, cars, and cyclists that our self-driving vehicles must be aware of at any given time.

"That makes San Francisco one of the hardest places to test a self-driving vehicle, and creates a rich environment for testing our object detection, prediction, and response functions. It also helps us validate our vehicles' self-driving skills faster than testing in a suburban location alone. So, we drive here because by doing so we get better faster."

Zoox, a robotics company based in Menlo Park, Calif., also talked about San Francisco in glowing terms when it comes to putting autonomous vehicles through their paces. (Its CEO, Tim Kentley-Klayhas, has referred to the city as a "black diamond" ski slope for such things). In its report, Zoox also offered a self-serving marketing pitch while providing some very cool details on the number of bikes and people their vehicles has come across during the past year or so.

"In San Francisco, every year about 30 people lose their lives and over 200 more are seriously injured while traveling on city streets, as a result of these human factors. Autonomous mobility offers an opportunity to save lives and prevent injuries and crashes on our roadways.

"Cities are complex and dynamic. Zoox is creating an autonomous system with novel vehicles designed to safely share the road with pedestrians, cyclists, public transit, emergency vehicles and other road users.

"On the streets of San Francisco, our test system often sees more in 100 feet than a vehicle might experience over 100 miles on a freeway. During a recent 30-minute drive in downtown San Francisco, our system detected 503 pedestrians, 188 bicyclists and 2,741 cars."

Finally, NVIDIA in its report included this rather reassuring detail:

"The average period of time for the driver to assume manual control of the vehicle was (less than) one second."

(c)2018 The Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)

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