Google’s driverless cars can’t spot potholes or drive in heavy rain

Guess we’re not going anywhere today, then. Image: public domain.

And it seemed like everything was going so well for Google’s amazing new driverless cars. The first set of prototypes has been tested; they’ve driven over 700,000 miles of US roads; they’ve even created a second generation two-seater car with what looks like a friendly face on the front:

Aww, look at its smiley face.

So you could be forgiven for thinking that Google were on the home straight, and we’d all be chauffeured around in autonomous vehicles before the year was out.

But, it turns out, not so much. The most recent issue of MIT Technology Review has revealed a list of the things the cars can’t yet do, as confirmed by Chris Urmson, director of the Google car team. These range from the mildly problematic  - for example, the cars can’t detect the nature of an obstacle, so would swerve around balls of paper as though they were rocks... the downright concerning. Such as not having been tested in adverse weather conditions such as snow or rain. Or being able to detect open manhole covers or potholes.

Perhaps the most worrying issue, however, is the fact that they still can’t operate on most roads. The cars rely on painstakingly detailed 3D maps, which require multiple visits to streets and analysis by both humans and computers: simply downloading Google Maps won’t cut it. And, since the cars can’t respond to unexpected visual signals, like temporary route changes or new sets of traffic lights, these maps must also be updated constantly. That’s a lot of effort, and so comes at a cost.

Urmson assured the publication, however, that engineers are hard at work on all these issues, and he still hopes the cars will be on roads within the next five years, by the time his 11-year-old son turns 16: “It’s my personal deadline.”

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Ankara's mayor is being sued for building a giant robot

Image: Getty.

It's tough, being a mayor. No matter what you do, no matter how hard you try to please your citizens, they'll find a way to pick holes in your plans. 

Take Melih Gökçek, mayor of the Turkish capital Ankara. His level-headed, money-minded decision to build a cool statue of a robot on a busy intersection has attracted nothing but derision, and now the country's Chamber of Architects and Engineers are actually suing him. The ingratitude. 

According to local media reports, the Chamber called the 20-foot statue a "monstrosity" and filed a lawsuit against Gökçek earlier this month for wasting taxpayers' money. The head of the Ankara branch, Tezcan Karakuş Candan, went so far as to call it a "freak statue".

In response to the attacks Gökçek made a single, short statement: "Respect the robot." 

The robot looks out over his hostile kingdom. Image: Getty.

Particularly enraging to Gökçek's detractors is presumably the fact that 20 more robot statues are planned for the Ankapark amusement park (which the mayor has called his "prestige project"), though it's unclear whether these will be publicly funded or not. 

While we can admit that it's possible Gökçek was a little irresponsible with his spending, we can't help but feel a bit sorry for him. After all, he does seem super excited about his new park. 

Here he is, feeling excited about some trees:


He's made some new friends:

And this robot just makes him really happy:

Please don't take his park away from him. 


Update 17.4:

Gökçek has now apparently taken to his Twitter feed (also notable for its liberal use of caps and emojis) to ask residents to vote for the dinosaur they would like to replace the robot.




Our vote is with the Brontosaurus. 

Images: Ankarapark.