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December 13, 2016

Scenes from the street, March 2016

  • Technology

Each month we'll give examples of everyday situations we encounter.

What do a 1980s Japanese arcade game and our self-driving car have in common? This month we showed a compilation of odd encounters we’ve recently had on the streets while out testing. One of these included half a dozen people leap-frogging through traffic in front of one of our self-driving cars (if you’re finding that difficult to imagine, you can watch Chris Urmson show this encounter in his SXSW speech at 26:00).

Despite never encountering humans posing as an army of frogs, our car still knew how to behave safely (though your parents would probably tell you this is unsafe behavior anyway, so kids don’t try this at home!). That’s because rather than teaching the car to handle very specific things, we give the car fundamental capabilities for detecting other road users or unfamiliar objects, and then we give it lots of practice in a wide range of situations.

On our private test track, we’ve dreamt up and recreated hundreds of odd scenarios to gauge our car’s response (e.g we even had someone jump out of a porta potty on the side of the road), but situations like these demonstrate why public testing of our self-driving cars is important to developing our cars for the road. We can try to come up with lots of wacky situations for our cars to handle, but the real world can defy even our wildest imaginations.