Google self-driving car brakes for wheelchair lady chasing duck with broom

Humans, it turns out, are providing a real learning experience for Google’s self-driving cars. In its monthly report on the autonomous-vehicle project, Google added a link revealing a number of downright odd behaviors that have occurred around its cars.

The link brings up a video of the company’s robot car chief Chris Urmson delivering a speech at SXSW in Austin, Texas last month. Urmson ran through several strange incidents witnessed by robo-car sensors and cameras. A little more than 1 1/2 years ago in Mountain View, a Google car came around a corner and paused – because a woman in an electric wheelchair was chasing a duck around the intersection with a broom, he said. “We have a team of people whose job it is to come up with weird stuff,” Urmson said. “They didn’t come up with this.”

That incident highlighted the cars’ “anomaly detection” capacities, which cause the car to slow down when “unusual situations” arise, and wait until the environment returns to normal, Urmson said.

There have been other anomalies, he added. “We’ve seen people play frogger with our car,” he said, while displaying video of folks hopping across a road around a Google car. “Please don’t.”

Austin, however, “takes the cake,” Urmson said. “Some dude comes out of nowhere and decides to roll on our hood then run away,” he said. Urmson also screened video from one of Google’s cars, in Austin, showing three vehicles driving the wrong way in front of the Google car.

“Thank you, Austin, for keepin’ it weird,” Urmson said.

Google reported that it has created hundreds of “odd scenarios” to test robot cars’ responses. “We even had someone jump out of a porta potty on the side of the road,” the monthly report said. But the random weird events that confront the cars during testing on public roads is important, the report said. “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.”


Photo: U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx and  Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt listen to Chris Urmson, director of Google’s self-driving car project, discuss the revolutionary vehicle at the Google campus in Mountain View last year (Karl Mondon/Staff) 


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  • Karl Rowley

    Google, why don’t you test your cars on a private course? There’s no need to put the rest of us in danger.

    • Jason Williams

      Really? Seriously? The whole point of this article is to show that it’s humans putting self-driving cars in danger – not the other way around.

      It’s one thing to engage in fear-mongering… But this doesn’t have an ounce of validity to it!

  • Greg Dove

    Where is the video of woman in wheelchair chasing duck?

    • Fred

      If it walks like a duck…

  • Jason Williams

    If you want anomalous behaviour, just do all your testing in Florida.