How GM’s Cruise self-driving cars navigate around double-parked vehicles

For self-driving cars, learning the rules of the road is just the beginning. Cars can be programmed to acknowledge stop signs and obey speed limits, but it’s much harder to account for the unpredictability of human drivers. Double-parked cars are a common sight in most cities, so General Motors’ Cruise autonomous-driving division is teaching its prototype self-driving cars how to navigate around them.

Before it can do anything, a self-driving car needs to figure out whether a vehicle in front of it is double parked. To do this, the car can use “contextual cues,” such as the appearance of hazard lights, or the amount of time a vehicle has been stationary, according to a Cruise blog post. Self-driving cars can also recognize if the vehicle in front is a type that tends to double park frequently, such as a delivery truck. Cruise’s cars rely on cameras, radar, and lidar to “see” what’s around them, and machine learning to synthesize information into a conclusion. Human beings do this all the time, but it’s something autonomous cars must be painstakingly taught.

A self-driving car can’t just sit behind a double-parked vehicle indefinitely. A human driver would simply look to see if there was a clear path and drive around the stationary vehicle, but a self-driving car’s control software must break that action down to its discrete parts. Algorithms consider everything from the potential actions of other road users, to how quickly the car will respond to control inputs. Cruise uses what it calls a “model predictive control” algorithm to try to chart how the situation around the car may change, and how the car is expected to react to a given command.

Cruise does most of its testing in San Francisco, providing a more challenging environment than some other popular testing locations. That exposes Cruise’s test cars to more difficult scenarios, giving engineers more opportunities to improve the autonomous-driving tech. But it also shows just how complicated it is to get a self-driving car to respond to a scenario most human drivers can easily figure out. Cruise parent GM hopes to put large fleets of autonomous cars on the road within the next few years, but getting the tech to work everywhere may take much longer.

Emerging Tech

Autonomous ships are coming, and we’re not ready for them

Cars may dominate today’s discussion about the future of autonomous transportation, but some of the world’s largest maritime companies are betting big on autonomous shipping.
Cars

Built-in coolers, tents, and kitchenettes make these the best cars for camping

For a successful camping trip, you’ll need a tent, s’mores, and some quality humans to share them with. A good car can transform the entire experience, though, so we’re counting down 15 of the best cars for camping.
Cars

How Lexus, one of the industry’s hybrid champions, is preparing for the 2020s

Lexus predicts significant shifts will reshape the automotive industry during the 2020s. The hybrid champion is preparing to branch out into electric cars, it's investing in autonomous technology, and it wants to keep focusing on SUVs.
Cars

How selectable driving modes are able to turn your car from Dr Jekyll to Mr Hyde

If you don’t have unlimited cash to spend on buying a whole stable of cars to fit every need and occasion, you’re going to need your current car to fill multiple roles.
Cars

Playing Forza inspired this gamer to 3D-print a Lamborghini for his son

Lamborghini charges about $400,000 for an Aventador S, so Colorado physicist Sterling Backus decided to make one in his garage for $20,000. Working with his son, he is painstakingly 3D-printing the supercar's body panels.
Cars

AWD vs. 4WD: What’s the difference between the two and which is right for you?

Although four-wheel drive (4WD) and all-wheel drive (AWD) are related, they are actually quite different in how they operate. Here, we talk about the fundamental differences between the two systems, and what it means for you as a driver.
Cars

Formula E races aren’t just exciting, they’re driving EV tech into the future

Formula E made its annual trip to the Big Apple, showing just how far the all-electric racing series has come. The cars are faster, and the racing is closer, but the tailpipe emissions are still at zero.
Cars

Manual vs. automatic vs. CVT: Different types of transmissions explained

From automatic to manual to CVT, there are several types of transmissions in the automotive world. In the battle of automatic versus manual, which wins? We'll help you pick the right gearbox for you.
Cars

There is no way to say pickup truck in emoji, and Ford wants to change that

Ford asked the Unicode Consortium to include a pickup truck in the database of emojis. The company is confident its request will be approved, and a blue pickup truck loosely shaped like an F-150 will be available in early 2020.
Cars

Carbuying can be tiring: Here are the best used car websites to make it easier

Shopping for a used car isn't easy, especially when the salesman is looking to make a quick sale. Thankfully, there are plenty of sites aimed at the prospective buyer, whether you're looking for a sedan or a newfangled hybrid.
Mobile

Uber’s in-car shopping service now sells way more than just snacks

The Cargo Box launched in 2018 to offer Uber drivers an easy way to sell snacks and drinks to riders. The service is now expanding to include lots more items, including tech products and travel accessories.
Cars

The last two affordable station wagons in America are about to retire

Volkswagen confirmed it will stop making the Golf Sportwagen and the Golf Alltrack by the end of 2019. Both station wagons are at the end of their life cycle, but they won't be replaced because they compete in a shrinking segment of the…
Cars

Cadillac’s new 2020 CT5 sedan lets you Super Cruise across America

The 2020 Cadillac CT5 proves the General Motors-owned luxury brand still cares about sedans. Introduced at the 2019 New York Auto Show, it's optionally available with Cadillac's Super Cruise technology and a lineup of turbocharged engines.
Cars

Toyota’s futuristic golf cart will transport people around at the 2020 Olympics

Toyota is reinventing the golf cart for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. The company designed a vehicle named the Accessible People Mover that will transport visitors, athletes, and staff members from venue to venue.