They'll fit right in: Boston traffic lights confuse driverless cars, at least when the sun is going down

Robot car at MIT

Robot car stops to ponder how to get into MIT.

Xconomy reports that Nutonomy, which is testing robocars in Boston, has run into a problem in that the rolling Marvins can't figure out what to do at stop lights when there's solar glare that makes it hard to see just which color the signal is.

Unlike human drivers, though, the cars with a silicon chip inside their heads have a backup: An actual, trained human driver who goes on all test runs and who can take over in such perplexing circumstances. As the company notes in its quarterly report to Boston transportation officials:

Our system is designed to infer that a traffic signal is displaying a red light until the sensors can confirm the presence of a green light. If the inability to confirm a green light could create a safety risk, safety drivers are instructed to take over manual control of the vehicle.

Also, the company is not just sitting on its cold, steely hands and ignoring the issue:

When nuTonomy encounters a real world technical challenge like solar glare interfering with our traffic light detection, we prioritize the development of permanent hardware and/or software solutions, and implement an interim operational solution. In this case, our developers have added low-light data collection in the training of our algorithms. We have also made hardware adjustments, such as changing the exposure of a camera or adding glare shields. In the meantime, we have trained our safety drivers to be aware of this issue and know when to take over manual control preemptively.

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You mean we won't be riding in electric cars on the moon

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by the end of the decade?

You mean there's real technical challenges in automating human behavior that seems effortless to us humans?

You mean you can't just throw your hands up and assume technological magic will materialize overnight?

Well there go my dreams, bursting like the hydrogen-filled airships that we all knew for sure would carry us to far-off and exotic locales in the utmost luxury by the mid 1940s.

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Voting is closed. 27

Effortless

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I've almost missed lights many times due to solar glare.

I think eventually there will be a mechanical fix to lots of these things by adding a wireless device to signs, other cars, bikes, cell phones etc that interfaces with the device in the car.

Can't say when - but driverless vehicles are coming

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Voting is closed. 14

That mechanical fix is quite simple

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It's called a sunshade.

Even though as a dyed-in-the-wool Flat Earther, I reject any notion of a Capernican solar system, and believe firmly that the Sun is pulled across the sky by the God Apollo in his great Chariot, it does occur to me that with about ten minutes of tinkering with any computer planetarium program, the angle of the sun can be computed for any location on Earth at any time of year at any time of day, enabling a sun shade to be placed strategically at any intersection with a traffic light that is subject to solar glare for exactly the cost of some sheet metal and a utility pole.

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I was totally with you except

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I was totally with you except that it’s Helios who is the sun god with the chariot, etc., and Helios and Apollo are totally distinct, you heretic!

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Social ratings would also help

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Say a driverless car is about to collide head on with another vehicle with failed brakes and the only way to avoid the collision is to veer into a bike lane with almost certain death for an adjacent bike rider. The software in the driverless car must be able to instantly determine what the most utilitarian action should be taken. If the person on the bike is an engineer while the person in the car is a Social Media Manager for a new cupcake store, maybe the software can recognize the engineer as having more use to society and therefore should be spared?

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You're right and it's horrible

There is a technical solution where every traffic control device (stop sign, light, pedestrian crossing, etc) has a transmitter to tell cars what's going on.

So then pedestrians and cyclists will be "encouraged" to wear such transmitters themselves "for their own safety".

Should one of these chips fail and a driverless car hurts someone, the company/owner will claim it's the victim's fault. (In that way driverless cars are a lot like the human version.)

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Voting is closed. 13

On the flip side

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Most cars know what the speed limits are from GPS. Add in these signals and nobody will be able to speed or run a red light. Car won't let them.

Maybe this hybrid approach is most effective - still have the human to do the human stuff, but the car can't break the law.

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They have it already

I've rented cars which already have this feature. It's pretty cool -- shows a picture of a speed limit sign on the dashboard which turns red when you exceed the limit. I was surprised how well it worked.

It would probably help to mandate such technology in all cars. At least the driver couldn't claim they didn't know the limit.

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Because data in GPSes is

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Because data in GPSes is perfect and flawless, and clearly ready for life-safety-critical tasks.

And can a driverless car do Massachusetts?

How would it car know which lane goes where here? https://goo.gl/maps/4wYhYPgqD1U2

What would it do when faced with this traffic light? https://goo.gl/maps/xBy8j7ZG17E2

And be glad they won't have to figure out parking signs. Though I hope their database knows this road is blocked off on both ends today. https://goo.gl/maps/87cUTz9zydL2

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Voting is closed. 1

Driverless cars

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The more obvious solution is for driverless cars to talk to each other. So if one going North can't detect the light, the other cars going other directions can tell it what the other lights are. Also maybe the car 3 back will be able to see the light. The communication from smart cars already exists so it wouldn't be a stretch to add additional communication among themselves. Expecting pedestrians and bicyclists to wear transponders is impractical. I can't even remember to wear my badge to get into my building at work. How am I going to remember to wear my transponder to let drivers know I exist?

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We have this feature in Boston

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If you can't tell if the light is green, try coming to a stop at it. If you're immediately met by a cacophony of horn honks, you can pretty well assume it's a green light.

Maybe make it in to coding:

if traffic_light_sensed == false:
    if horn_level < masshole:
        light_color = red
    else:
        light_color = green

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Voting is closed. 17

Taking this a step further, I

Taking this a step further, I think Microsoft and Baidu are working on communication between autonomous vehicles that would alleviate traffic and reroute cars when bottlenecks started appearing.

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Ever try to use google to navigate the city?

Go here. no turn there no here you are on the fastest route recaculating turn left and then left and then left.

People can't even seem to use the walking directions without the thing going off the deep end - I'm constantly directing tourists to use the map without the directions because the gps doesn't work in the city. Even when I use Strava on my bike I get some really interesting guesswork until I get to the waterfront. Google for cars ads the additional noise of constantly assuming that because a light turned green over there, it must be the fastest route and asking you to drive in circles.

In short, BWAHAHAHAHA. They are going to have to get far better about positioning systems before this will work.

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I just hope the Hackers are Friendly when they take over

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You are really asking for it when you want Microsoft to be responsible for your safety, limbs and maybe even your life

Imagine tooling down a street waiting to arrive at a green turn signal for a left turn against major traffic in the other lanes --- and you get the message on your self driving [or at least augmented driving] car's display

..Don't turn your car off . . Installing 1 of 257 updates

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Holy crap the not-quite-almost self-awareness here

You're almost there, you're almost onto the point that we can't just double down on decades of 1950s thinking that assumes the magic of car technology (be it automated, fossil or battery fueled) is going to make our communities better and instead we should invest in proven, time tested alternatives.

This is like "self-aware wolves" territory at this point, I'm not holding my breath but maybe you're starting to see the light!

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Voting is closed. 15

Ain't no magic in mechanized personal transport

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Only time-tested improvements in standard of living enabled by the savings in time and manual effort brought about by this magic gizmo that lets you live and work as far away as you like from the noise, crime, and inconvenience of high-density housing without requiring back-breaking labor and consequent endangerment of personal safety to do so.

Oh look, it's the moon.

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Do you really have strong

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Do you really have strong opinions like this or do you just like to hear yourself talk

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Wait I'm confused, are we talking about trains and buses?

Cause it kinda sounds like you're talking about trains and buses, ya know in the context of magic gizmos that are time-tested and improve the standard of living without requiring back-breaking labor and consequent endangerment of personal safety.

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Maybe the cars ought to do

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Maybe the cars ought to do what I do and put a polarized filter over their photosensors. This is kind of obviously useful, and a reasonably quick fix.

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You have natural photosensors

That's what makes your pupils dilate and contract.

But I think he meant the "eyesight" feature on many newer cars that nags your kid when he lane wanders too much. Those are generally flanking the rear view mirror at the roof line. My car has the right sort of film for that.

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Done

If the robot cars can't reliably stop at a red light, then they're on par with the rest of Boston drivers.

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You have it backwards

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When the robot car can't tell what color the light is, it stops. When a Masshole can't tell, they assume it's green and plow right through.

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Pft...

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like Massachusetts drivers look at the lights.

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Driverless police cars

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The background of that picture suggests the thought that the day of driverless cars will have come when a police model can be persuaded by students/hackers to park itself on top of the MIT dome.

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Opportunities knocking.

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Opportunities knocking. Patent the fix, make some money licensing.

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Earthbound waste of money

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The problem with investing more resources into these driverless cars is that they're all based on the false assumption that the cars will be on the ground. When flying cars arrive -- any day now, according to the Popular Science magazines I've been seeing since the 1950's -- it will make all these investments obsolete. Get with the future, people!

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Brain the size of a planet

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Brain the size of a planet and you ask it to recognize a traffic light?

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