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Google teaching its self-driving cars to behave more like people, be more predictable, less annoying

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Google’s self-driving cars may have an impressive safety record – having never caused an accident in more than a million miles of driving on public roads – but the company admits that their ultra-cautious approach can make them a little unpredictable and annoying to other drivers, reports the WSJ. Examples include taking a very wide approach on turns, and braking at the slightest sign of danger.

The cars are “a little more cautious than they need to be,” Chris Urmson, who leads Google’s effort to develop driverless cars, [said]. “We are trying to make them drive more humanistically” … 

Nathaniel Fairfield, a Google team leader who conducted a test-drive for the WSJ, said that stopping abruptly for things it think might happen is one area they need to improve.

The car stopped at a busy T-intersection with limited views of cross traffic. It waited for about 30 seconds, began to make a left turn, but stopped in the middle of the intersection as a woman on the other side of the street walked near the edge of the sidewalk.

“I think that split-second we were yielding for a potential person crossing the crosswalk,” said Nathaniel Fairfield, a Google team leader who was conducting the test drive. “Better behavior there would be to not have stopped abruptly.”

Some local drivers have reported finding the cars annoying, when they repeatedly move and pause at intersections and steer a wide path when turning left to maintain clearance from pedestrians. Google has already changed the software to allow the cars to cross double-yellow lines when necessary to pass parked cars, and to edge forwards at 4-way stops to signal to other drivers that it intends to proceed.

Google has also gradually been increasing the intelligence of the cars, for example, recognizing when traffic signals are out and that others drivers are now treating an intersection as a 4-way stop. It wasn’t reported whether the cars can now cope with track-standing cyclists.

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