Making an unprotected left turn in an urban environment is one of the trickiest maneuvers drivers have to perform. Crossing the path of oncoming traffic, judging the speed of approaching vehicles, keeping your eyes peeled for motorcycles and bikes, and watching for pedestrians stepping off the sidewalk force the driver to proceed with a great deal of caution. Accident statistics confirm that it doesn’t always work out.
In a future world of self-driving vehicles, such accidents should never happen, but the companies developing the autonomous technology still face serious challenges in creating the computing power to ensure that every left turn is a safe one — especially on roads where humans still dominate.
Driverless-car company Cruise Automation is keen to demonstrate that it’s making good progress with its own technology, this week posting a video showing its autonomous vehicle performing some of the 1,400 unprotected left turns that its cars are making daily on the streets of San Francisco. The point-of-view camera reveals that Cruise’s cars are moving assertively through the city and able to accurately judge the speed of oncoming vehicles for making the crucial decision on whether to turn or wait.
“In an unpredictable driving environment like San Francisco, no two unprotected left-turns are alike,” Kyle Vogt, the company’s president and chief technology officer, said in a release. “By safely executing 1,400 [left turns] regularly, we generate enough data for our engineers to analyze and incorporate learnings into code they develop for other difficult maneuvers.”
It’s not the first video General Motors-backed has released a video highlighting the power of its technology. Earlier this year it posted another one showing one of its autonomous cars skillfully making its way through the streets of San Francisco, tackling a wide variety of challenges as it made its way along.
In March, General Motors announced plans to double its autonomous-car team through the addition of 1,000 extra workers by the end of 2019 as it moves toward the launch of a robo-taxi service.
General Motors (GM) is competing with the likes of Waymo and Ford to launch wide-scale autonomous ridesharing services in U.S. cities.
Alphabet-owned Waymo, which was spun out of Google’s driverless-car project in 2016, became the first company to launch a ridesharing service using autonomous cars in a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona, at the end of 2018. At the current time, its vehicles include a back-up driver for safety and to answer riders’ questions about Waymo’s driverless technology.
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