The latest self-driving car patent from Google dropped this week. This one describes a “Method to Detect Nearby Aggressive Drivers and Adjust Driving Modes,” and it pretty much does exactly what it says. And with all it’s talk about aggression, it’s the perfect excuse to honor the Ultimate Warrior Jim Hellwig’s untimely death last April with a collection of his best GIFs. Shall we begin?
A self-driving car uses its many sensors to track the behavior of nearby vehicles, similar to the predictive techniques described in a past patent. It’s looking for aggressive behavior, which Google defines as one or more of the following characteristics:
…exceeding a speed limit, driving fast for given road conditions, excessive lane changing without cause, failing to signal intent to pass another vehicle, tailgating another vehicle, using the horn excessively, and flashing headlights excessively at oncoming traffic.
This seems to be a broad characterization of aggressiveness. If forgetting to signal before passing a car in the slow lane is aggressiveness, then ratpag is the Ultimate Warrior’s evil clone Renegade. Flashing your head lights used to be a sign for “speed trap ahead”, and is even protected as a form of free speech. We’re hoping by “excessively” Google means something closer to an emergency siren, and the patent certainly seems broad enough to cover behavior of emergency vehicles.
Once aggressive behavior is detected, a self driving car begins to drive defensively. This is done through one or more of these behaviors:
(i) reducing a speed of the [automated] vehicle,
(ii) maintaining a predetermined safe distance from the [aggressive] vehicle,
(iii) avoiding being in a blind spot of the [aggressive] vehicle,
(iv) changing lanes to move away from the [aggressive] vehicle,
and (v) stopping the [automated] vehicle.
This generally makes sense, and is what most drivers seem to do (or should do) in response to aggressive behavior. The only difference may be with slow-moving aggressive vehicles, such as some drunk drivers, where it may be safer to quickly pass them rather than follow at low speed. But we quibble.
Things get a bit more complicated when there are two or more aggressive vehicles. Google recommends assigning weights to those vehicles proportional to the risk they represent. An automated vehicle would try to maintain a safe distance away from both, based on their weights. Google weirdly uses an example where an aggressive motorcycle has a higher weight than a regular vehicle, implying that weights are based on aggressiveness rather than risk to the automated vehicle. That’s like choosing to wrestle Andre the Giant rather than say a five-year-old Ultimate Warrior—we’ll take the little guy every time, high-energy or not.
Assigning weights also gets into some moral territory. In reality, you’d want to assign a higher weight to an aggressive tractor trailer, as it carries more risk to you if it crashes. But in a situation with two aggressive vehicles, one motorcycle and one truck, the AV would position itself closer to the motorcycle to get away from the truck. This, in turn, exposes the motorcycle to a greater chance of colliding with the AV should the motorcycle crash. This doesn’t seem fair, since the aggressive truck is being much more irresponsible and reckless by using the larger and more dangerous vehicle, yet is exposed to less secondary risk than the motorcycle. We suppose in the world of vehicle automation, bigger is better.
And if you think this technology is limited to road vehicles just because that’s all we talk about, hold on to your Speedos. Google has a habit in patents of listing every technology to which an algorithm might apply. In this patent, the list includes not only ratpag-friendly transit, but also America’s love affair with the lawn mower:
Alternatively, a vehicle control system may be implemented in or take the form of other vehicles, such as cars, trucks, motorcycles, buses, boats, airplanes, helicopters, lawn mowers, recreational vehicles, amusement park vehicles, farm equipment, construction equipment, trams, golf carts, trains, and trolleys. Other vehicles are possible as well.
Aggressive lawn-mowering is the scourge of our suburbs.
How must I prepare, you must ask yourself. Should I jump off the tallest building in the world? Should I lay on the lawn and let them run over me with lawn-mowers? Should I go to Africa and let them trample me with raging elephants?
-The Ultimate Warrior, RIP