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...

...to 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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Literally just 27 city metro stations with really cool names

Pueurta del Sol square, Madrid. Image: Santiago Díaz/Wikimedia Commons.

Sol, Madrid Metro

Literally “sun”. Named after the Pueurta del Sol square. For several years it was known as “Vodafone Sol”, which was rather less attractive. 

Étangs Noirs/Zwarte Vijvers, Brussels Metro

“Black ponds”. This being Brussels, we get it in two languages.

Besses o’the Barn, Manchester Metrolink

Named for the area of Bury, north of Manchester, in which it stands. No one’s entirely sure why it’s called that but it might be to do with a pub.

Franklin D. Roosevelt, Paris Metro

The Paris metro is a particularly great one for names. This one opened as Rond-Point des Champs-Élysées – literally, “roundabout of the Elysian Fields”, which is lovely enough in itself, really.

But its name was changed in 1946, when the nearby Avenue Victor-Emmanuel III (named after the king of Italy, which had just fought against France in World War II) was renamed Franklin D. Roosevelt Avenue (in honour of the US president who helped win the thing).

Délices, Lausanne

Named for a neighbouring street. Means “delights”. The Swiss have a station called “Delights”.

Clot, Barcelone Metro

The name means hole/cove/hollow. Basically, it’s a hole in the ground. Called Clot.

Onkel Toms Hütte, Berlin U-Bahn

You’re thinking this can’t possibly be what it looks like, but, yes, it genuinely is. It translates as “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”, like the Harriet Beecher Stowe novel about slavery.

Image: DXR/Wikimedia Commons. 

The area seems to have taken its name from a pub run by a bloke called Thomas, whose beer garden was full of huts. There’s no pub there now, anyway, but the name remains.

Bonne Nouvelle, Paris Metro

This one’s named for the district above it, which took its name from the Notre-Dame de Bonne-Nouvelle church. Which is all very sensible – but it does mean there are on-board announcements which literally translate as, “The next stop is good news.”


Admiralty, Hong Kong MRT

Takes its name from the area which once housed Admiralty Dock. While looking it up we also found...

Адмиралте́йская, St Petersburg Metro

...and decided it sounds so much better in Russian, where it’s “Admiralteyskaya”. Say it out loud. Pleasing, isn’t it?

While we’re at it:

Комендантский проспект, St Petersburg Metro

This one means “Commandant Avenue.” But that doesn’t sound as cool as “Kommandansky Prospekt”.

Keeping with the Russian theme:

Stalingrad, Paris metro

Located in the Place de la Bataille-de-Stalingrad, which was named for the battle.

Brockley Whins, Tyne & Wear Metro

Named for the area it’s in, though where that got its name is anyone’s guess.

Dudley Street Guns Village, Midlands Metro

Named after a street in West Bromwich, and the neighbourhood it’s a part of. That in turn took its name from the area’s once dominant industry.

The local Guns Village Prime School is currently debating a name change on the grounds that guns are bad.

Image: Clicsouris/Wikimedia Commons.

Les Gobelins, Paris Metro

Avenue des Gobelins disappointingly takes its name from a family of medieval dye manufacturers, rather than some actual goblins. But still.

Crossmyloof, Glasgow commuter rail

This one’s technically a mainline station, not a metro, but nonetheless: what a name. It might come from the Gaelic Crois MoLiubha – “Saint (Ma)lieu’s Cross”. Then again, it might not.

In October 2012, Wikipedia tells us, “a highland cow escaped the nearby Pollok Park and walked the rail line to this station, where it was captured and returned”. Wikipedia has one of those “citation needed” notes there, but it’s kept the line in anyway. And little wonder: this is one of those stories that’s just too good to check.

One stop further out of Glasgow on the same line you’ll find:

Pollokshaws West, Glasgow commuter rail

Pollokshaws. Another one that it’s genuinely worth saying out loud, just to hear yourself.

The city’s subway also has a Cowcaddens and a Cessnock, both named for the districts they sit in.

I seriously need to visit Glasgow sometime, that place sounds amazing.

Barbès – Rochechouart, Paris Metro

“A sneeze of a station,” says one correspondent. “Makes you sound like the sausages dog from That’s Life,” says another.

Anyway, it’s named for two streets, which take their names from a revolutionary and an abbess respectively. There’s a rom-com for you right there.

Foggy Bottom-GWU, Washington Metro

Named for a low-lying suburb next to the Potomac River prone to filling up with mist, and also George Washington University. Anyway, it’s where you get off the train if you want to visit the State Department.

Wedding, Berlin U-bahn & S-bahn

During the Cold War, some of the lines this station sits on were closed, to prevent travel between East and West Berlin. They re-opened in 2002, in an event known – inevitably – as “Wedding Day”.

It’s actually pronounced “veding”, but there we are.

The winning bike. Image: David Edgar/Wikimedia Commons.

Eddy Merckx, Brussels Metro

Okay, the name’s hard to pronounce, but the guy won the Tour de France five times. How many cycling tournaments have you won recently?

Luchtbal, Antwerp commuter rail

Means “air ball”. Of course it does.

Burpengary, Brisbane commuter rail network

A suburb whose name is derived from the aboriginal word “burpengar”, meaning the “place of the green wattle”. But which, joyously, has both “burp” and “Gary” in it.

Kunst-Wet/Arts-Loi, Brussels metro

Sitting at the corner of Art and Law streets, the station takes its name from both, and the result is, well, yes.

Picpus, Paris Metro

“Picpus on the Paris metro is adorable,” writes Tom Forth, “and sounds like a type of Pokémon.” Yes. Yes, it does.

It’s not, though. Nearby there’s a Picpus Cemetary.

Thanks to the readers of the CityMetric Twitter feed for doing all the hard work on this one. If you have suggestions for ones we’ve missed, get in touch.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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