Teaching Self-Driving Cars to be “Polite”

Date: Oct.4, 2016

Steering, accelerating, braking, parking and avoiding collisions are all abilities that self-driving cars are learning. But now something else has been added to the list of what autonomous cars are supposed to be. They are supposed to have good road etiquette and be “polite.”

“Audi’s Self-Driving A7 Stands Out with Autobahn Etiquette,” an article that Elizabeth Behrmann wrote for Bloomberg Technology on May 13, explains some of the “polite” behaviors that Audi has been testing in an experimental A7 that the carmaker has named “Jack.” Here are some of the considerate things that Jack has been taught to do:

  • Jack is being taught to drive less like a robot and more like a human driver.
  • Jack is being given a “cooperative attitude.” When he is in the fast lane and a faster car approaches from behind, Jack moves to the right. If the car that is fast approaching from behind is blinking its lights, Jack sees that too and cedes the lane.
  • When another car starts to merge into Jack’s lane, online computers calculate whether to slow down or speed up in order to allow the other car “comfortable” space.
  • Jack avoids making abrupt lane changes that could unsettle surrounding human drivers, even if there is enough room.

Uncharted Territory

If this trend continues, autonomous cars will have to learn to avoid tailgating (an ability already built into automatic braking and smart cruise control systems), dim headlights for approaching cars, recognize pedestrian signs, slow down in school zones, and practice many other behaviors that are commonly thought to be considerate and polite. It seems that so far, autonomous cars are not prone to road rage.

One challenge? There are no written rules for politeness that developers of self-driving cars can model. BMW’s CEO Harald Kreuger, quoted in Behrmann’s article, summed up the challenge this way: “. . . the proper legal framework for customers and manufacturers has not yet been decided.”

To Explore Further . . .

If you’d like to learn more about the future of driverless cars, you might be interested in attending our upcoming Driverless Cities Summit, to be held from October 26-28 in San Mateo, California.  The Summit will highlight the latest activities of regulators, modern designs for smart city planning, cutting-edge tech and applications for connectivity, and paradigms for allocating funding.