The biggest problem facing self-driving cars is non-self-driving cars.
Autonomous vehicles have very sophisticated spatial awareness, safety features, and precise geolocation technology. But all that isn’t much good once a human-driven car starts lurching towards it on the motorway.
As a result, Google’s designers are giving their self-driving cars a facility to help them engage with their analogue counterparts: horns. In the company’s May self-driving car report, it said it had been training the cars to honk appropriately by playing honking sounds inside the cars in traffic, and asking riders to judge if the use was appropriate.
The report notes that thanks to this training, “our self-driving software is designed to recognize when honking may help alert other drivers to our presence”. This includes responding to different situations with “different types of horns”, depending on the urgency.