When does a toot become a honk? The big question pondered by Google’s self-driving team

Google Self-Driving Car
When does a toot turn into a honk? And when does a honk become a blare, or even an all-out blast? It’s profound questions like these that are currently being pondered by Google’s self-driving team as it works on creating effective algorithms to control the vehicle’s horn.

In the future, when all cars are self-driving, the only need for a honk will presumably be to alert distracted pedestrians and cyclists. But until that day comes, self-driving cars will also have to continue looking out for careless human drivers, too.

‘Polite’ honking

“Our self-driving cars aim to be polite, considerate, and only honk when it makes driving safer for everyone,” the Mountain View company said in its latest monthly report on its driverless car project.

That’s really good to know, as the last thing you’d want is your self-driving car to start honking belligerently at other drivers, who, in a worst-case scenario, may wish to discuss the situation with the aid of a baseball bat.

The excuse, “It wasn’t me, it was the car,” may not go down too well with someone with rage in their eyes, and anyway, would you really want to shift the blame onto your beloved vehicle with all its snazzy, not to say very expensive, self-driving technology?

To reduce the chances of annoying a driver, Google said it’s trying to teach its vehicle to sound its horn “like a patient, seasoned driver” – rather than an irritable, impetuous, stressed-out one.

“Our self-driving software is designed to recognize when honking may help alert other drivers to our presence – for example, when a driver begins swerving into our lane or backing out of a blind driveway,” Google explains in its report.

During early testing, the horn would only sound inside the vehicle “so we wouldn’t confuse others on the road with a wayward beep.” Each time it sounded, the car’s test driver recorded whether the beep was appropriate and then passed the data to engineers back at base so they could set about improving that all-important honking algorithm.

Honing the honking

After much work, the team has now managed to hone the honking to such a degree that the horn now sounds off in different ways according to a particular situation. So, “if another vehicle is slowly reversing towards us, we might sound two short, quieter pips as a friendly heads-up to let the driver know we’re behind. However, if there’s a situation that requires more urgency, we’ll use one loud sustained honk.”

Considering its importance, honking has clearly been an underreported feature of self-driving cars, and one that, at Google at least, has been receiving much attention.

While the company reports self-driving accidents on a monthly basis, it’d also be interesting to hear about examples where a gentle toot or rhapsodic hoot has helped it to avoid a collision. Or caused a driver to get out with a baseball bat.


Audi’s traffic light information system shows the challenges facing V2X tech

Audi’s traffic light information system is among the first commercial applications of potentially game-changing V2X tech. So how does it work in the real world? We spent a few days getting stuck at red lights to find out.

Autonomous shuttle rides coming to New York City via Optimus Ride

Workers at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in NY City will soon be able to make their way around the 300-acre industrial park in Optimus Ride's self-driving shuttles. The tech startup says it's the first trial of its kind in the state.

Waymo boosts robo-taxi plans with new service center in Arizona

Waymo has announced plans for a facility in Phoenix, Arizona, that will help to service, maintain, and grow its fleet of autonomous Waymo One cars. The vehicles operate as part of the company's robo-taxi ridesharing service.

FWD vs. RWD vs. AWD: How the wheels that turn change the way you drive

Let's face it, you've likely heard front-, rear-, and all-wheel drive mentioned before in some context or another. But what do these terms mean, especially in terms of performance? We’ve got the answers.

Tesla wirelessly gives the Model 3 a 5-percent increase in power

Tesla again showed the potential of its innovative over-the-air software updating system by making the Model 3 five percent more powerful via a firmware update. The Performance model gained 23 horsepower.

Fiat wants to transform the cheeky 500 city car into an urban Tesla

Fiat is finally preparing a new 500. Scheduled to make its debut in early 2020, the retro-chic city car will go electric in part to comply with looming emissions regulations.
Product Review

Who needs a Range Rover? BMW’s X7 has better tech and just as much luxury

The 2019 BMW X7 is the German automaker’s long-overdue entry into the full-size luxury SUV segment. Packing three rows of seats and plenty of tech, can the new BMW take on Mercedes-Benz and Land Rover?

Say goodbye to Uber for good: Here's how to cut ties with the ridesharing service

If you thought that deleting the Uber app would also delete your account, think again. You'll have to deactivate your account, then wait 30 days in order to do so. Here, we outlined how to delete your Uber account once and for all.

Shift it yourself: How to drive stick in a manual transmission car

Driving a manual transmission car might seem intimidating at first, but it's not as difficult as you might think. Knowing how to operate this type of gearbox will serve you well. Here's everything you need to know to learn how to drive…

Vivint’s Car Guard keeps tabs on your vehicle when you’re not in it

A simple plug-in that you can place in just about any vehicle, Vivint's new Car Guard will automatically detect if your car is bumped, towed, or stolen and will alert you about it.

2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC coupe gets a tech upgrade, keeps quirky styling

The 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC coupe debuts at the 2019 New York Auto Show with an upgraded infotainment system that incorporates Mercedes' digital assistant. The SUV launches later this year with turbocharged four-cylinder power.

This modified Land Rover Discovery is heading to Africa to help fight malaria

A Land Rover Discovery will be used by the Mobile Malaria Project for a 3,900-mile trek across Africa to study malaria. The SUV is equipped with a mobile gene-sequencing laboratory, as well as everything necessary for serious off-roading.

Volvo wants to use speed limiters, in-car cameras, and data to reduce crashes

Volvo believes new tech is the best way to improve car safety. The Swedish automaker will let owners set speed limits when loaning out their cars, install cameras to monitor drivers, and use data to design better safety features.

BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe teased way ahead of its November debut

The BMW 2 Series Gran Coupe is coming to the United States, eventually. The new compact BMW won't be unveiled until the 2019 Los Angeles Auto Show in November. The Gran Coupe will be based on a front-wheel drive platform.