I have encountered a rare situation a morning on my way driving to the work. It was at a stop sign. A car on my left hand road and mine were stopped almost at the same time. I thought the other car was arrived first, so I just wait for that car to move forward. However, the driver on that car was gesturing to let me move ahead. I tried move, but saw the other car move as well. I stopped again and let the other car go. But the driver stopped and waving to let me go. After three or four times back and forth, I just determined to move forward anyway. And I made it through eventually. After that I was wondered how the self-driving car deal the situation like this.
I believe the ultimate goal of self driving car is to get rid of all stop signs and traffic lights. I believe it is possible if all cars are autonomous on the roads. Each car is able to calculate the distance and speed of other cars precisely. These cars are designed to operate on predefined rules. To take a example for the case just mentioned above, let’s say two cars arrived at exact same time at the crossroad, one at the right hand side goes first according the rule. The self-driving car can only operates according to the programmed rules. Machines are good at following rules.
However, the situation become totally different if human drivers are involved. We humans are not good at measuring things in our visual process. We felt like we arrived first at the STOP sign, but actually we were one second later than the other car. In addition, humans ignore rules sometimes. Some drivers just do not care the STOP sign at all. They won’t stop at the STOP sign. I encountered someone just drive through without stopping few times. But the good thing is that we humans communicate. We negotiate if it is necessary. We use hand sign to indicate the other driver who should go first. This works in general.
Let us consider a situation where some cars are autonomous and others are not. How things are going to work out? We won’t have a full self-driving car over a night. In a certain period of time, self-driving cars and regular cars will be coexist. Driving might be difficult in this transition period. Human drivers and self-driving cars are in different two different levels. Humans are good at negotiating, so they will try to negotiate in some difficult situation like at the STOP sign. On the other side is self-driving machines. These cars are precise. They drive exactly according to rules. This might cause problem.
Self-driving car is a complicated problem. This technology is moving surprisingly fast in recent days. However, there are still many challenging issues need to be solved in the short future.