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Stanford's Self Driving Car Tops 120mph On Racetrack 97

Posted by timothy
from the really-fast-baby-on-board dept.
kkleiner writes with this snippet: "Just as Google's self-driving Prius goes for distance, recently passing 300,000 miles, Stanford's self-driving Audi TTS instead has the need for speed. The Audi, known as Shelley, sped around the Thunderhill Raceway track north of Sacramento topping 120 miles per hour on straightaways. The less than two and a half minutes it took to complete the 3-mile course is comparable to times achieved by professional drivers." Now if only Montana could take a cue from Nevada's rules for self-driving cars, and bring back "reasonable and prudent" speed regulation, driving out west could get a lot more exciting.
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Stanford's Self Driving Car Tops 120mph On Racetrack

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  • I believe that the link "Montana's rules for self-driving cars" should have read "Nevada's rules for self-driving cars".
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I wish I had a robot car.

  • [quote]driving out west could get a lot more exciting.[/quote] Nothing exciting about sitting in a driverless sh1tbox and probably soaking up pre-made entertainment content and a few Google targetted ads. Would rather drive the thing myself, despite the miniscule chance of me crashing into a people carrier with 6 kids inside and killing everyone including myself
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by kaspar_silas (1891448)
      Damn straight, why worry about the safety of yourself or others when you can be having fun.

      For Americans death by car accident is about a 1 in 100 lifetime chance not massive but hardly minuscule. If you could say half that is that not a reasonable thing to do.

      Thou of course everyone is an above average driver so the odds don't apply to them.
      • by Magada (741361)

        It's huge, to be sure. But then you get into the causes of lethal accidents and you realize that it dwindles to insignificance if you're not an asshat (no DUI, no major breaches of traffic laws).

        • So you think that lethal accidents are caused by a minority of very bad drivers. Very bad as in not mere speeding or not paying attention as almost everyone does occasionally. That would be interesting if true. Do you have any stats. or links to back that up?

          I would (perhaps naively) have assumed that most types of non trivial road accidents have a chance of lethality. So I wouldn't expect those involved in lethal accidents to have a significantly different ability distribution to normal accidents.
          • Re:More exciting? (Score:5, Informative)

            by cduffy (652) <charles+slashdot@dyfis.net> on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @11:10AM (#41068331)

            I don't know the statistics for motor vehicles, but for bicycles, the common accidents are motorist-at-fault but avoidable by following best practices on the part of the cyclist (typically right-hook and left-hook, avoidable by things like proper lane positioning -- taking the lane rather than trying to ride in the gutter to avoid encouraging motorists to pass unsafely, using positioning to encourage drivers making right turns at an intersection to go behind rather than in front of you, etc) or cyclist-at-fault and thus avoidable (riding at night without lights, riding on the wrong side of the street, running intersections), and only a very tiny percentage are motorist-at-fault and unavoidable (ie. the "struck from behind while riding safely and properly" accident that everyone worries so much about... has a high chance of being lethal should it happen, but frequency is almost negligible).

            That said -- I'm curious as to whether the parent's asserted statistics more correctly refer to the party at fault in lethal accidents as opposed to the parties harmed in accidents. My suspicion would be very much the former.

          • I don't know where you live, but where I am "very bad drivers" is NOT in the minority!
      • That makes cars far more dangerous than terrorists, which you've blown about a trillion dollars on over the last decade or so. Universal adoption of driverless cars should be your #1 national priority.

      • by tyrione (134248)

        Damn straight, why worry about the safety of yourself or others when you can be having fun. For Americans death by car accident is about a 1 in 100 lifetime chance not massive but hardly minuscule. If you could say half that is that not a reasonable thing to do. Thou of course everyone is an above average driver so the odds don't apply to them.

        1 in 100 my ass. You have more than 240 million cars in daily circulation, just in the United states. Over the course of a year the total number of cars active is 200 million+ times 365 days. Out of those total vehicle transactions 40,000 fatalities and you come up with 1 in 100? Fail. Try 1 in 1,825,000 auto transactions per year or less result in a fatality. Of course, the total train fatalities were 10 last year and yet no one seems to realize how a mixed use of both would actually reduce your odds of b

        • by Anguirel (58085)

          I don't even know how to express auto-transactions per year in a life-time chance per person. Here, try something like this:

          (~40k people / year) / (~310M total population) * (~78 years life expectancy) = ~1% lifetime chance for an auto fatality, or 1 in 100

          I also tried it as (1 - ((~40k people / year) / (~310M total population)) )^78 = ~98.9% chance to not die each year for 78 years, which is once again ~1%, or 1 in 100. I think the original number is technically correct, though I won't claim to be the be

        • Maybe try googling " lifetime risk car accident america" and reading the very first link:

          http://www.medicine.ox.ac.uk/bandolier/booth/Risk/trasnsportpop.html [ox.ac.uk]

          They give annual US odds at 1:~6200 and lifetime odds of 1:~80.
          *sighs*
    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      Nothing exciting about sitting in a driverless sh1tbox and probably soaking up pre-made entertainment content and a few Google targetted ads.

      *sigh* You remind me of the old Pontiac commercials, "we build excitement." I always took that to mean "the brakes are bad and the handling is shit."

      If the car is driving itself, you're free to watch the scenery go by, read a book, take a nap.

      Would rather drive the thing myself, despite the miniscule chance of me crashing into a people carrier with 6 kids inside

      The ri

      • by gstoddart (321705)

        The risk is hardly miniscule, considering that 40,000 people die on American highways every year. Exciting enough for you, son?

        Yeah, but if you look at Causes of Death [wikipedia.org] in the US, that translates into a fairly small (relatively speaking) amount.

        More people die in the US from malaria than traffic accidents.

        Unless all of the cars get switched over to this, you're still going to have to deal with the randomness of other drivers. And there's simply no way that everyone in the US is going to agree to buy a new c

  • I would expect a computer-controlled car to do well in these kinds of situations. On a fixed course with no other cars, it comes down to calculating the optimal trajectories, and being able to accurately estimate things like when your tires are about to lose traction. Computers are probably better at that than humans are, given enough data. I mean, cars and tired are already designed with computer simulations of those kinds of conditions.

    Google's self-driving cars being able to drive in regular traffic was more of a surprise to me: something I would've have expected for another decade.

    • by hey! (33014) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @12:08PM (#41069035) Homepage Journal

      And I expect computers on the road will get better the higher percentage of computer-driven cars there are on the road. The reasons is that people are very good at predicting the behavior of other people. Just the other day I was driving on the interstate in moderate, fast moving traffic and I saw a guy pull up behind a car in the right lane. "Watch this guy," I said to my wife, and sure enough he changed lanes, pulled up to within two feet of the car in front of me (at 70 mph) and cut in front of the first car with hardly a foot to spare. It was exactly what I'd expected him to do, based on the speed with he approached and the kind of car he was driving.

      Of course a lot of predictive heuristics about human behavior could be programmed into an automated system. One of them might be recognizing the slow reactions of distracted drivers. As I approach intersections these days I'm always on the lookout for someone on the cross street who is not slowing as soon as he should. Frequently these are drivers on cell phones who not only miss the stop line, but end up well into the intersection before they start looking for traffic.

      A robotic driver would be consistently aware and prudent. I suspect well before the point where a robot driver is as good as an average driver (if we aren't there already), we'd reach the point where the roads would be safer if all cars were robot piloted, simply by removing human inconsistency.

      • we'd reach the point where the roads would be safer if all cars were robot piloted, simply by removing human inconsistency.

        And what happens if the driving program freezes while you are at 100km/ph? A single bug can end lives.

  • by Maxo-Texas (864189) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @09:13AM (#41066959)

    I'd really like to see a video of that. How do the cars adapt.. or fail to adapt.

    What's the point of failure or do they all behave prudently as more and more cars are on the track?

    • 2nd human driver? Or another computer driven car? There would be nothing exciting about having two computer driven cars on the track driving 120mph. It would only be impressive to see the cars drive side by side the entire time without touching, or in line like a train.
    • I saw the video, the big problem is that the steering inputs aren't smooth, in a corner the wheel is constantly sawing back and forth. They're working on fixing this now by monitoring professional drivers' brainwaves as they drive the course (not sure how that will help, I was thinking a smoothing algorithm would do).

    • by slinches (1540051)

      Based on my experience with the Gran Turismo driving simulator software, the computer controlled cars would strictly hold to the optimum racing line regardless of whether you're overtaking on the inside of a sharp corner or not. Of course, it won't matter since neither car will suffer any damage from the impact.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Speed limits are for tourists and drunks.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      And people who don't want to kill pedestrians or cyclists [humantransport.org]. If you hit a pedestrian at 5 mph, there is a 5% chance of death. If you hit a pedestrian at 40 mph, there is an 85% chance of death.

      Considering that cities are trying to become more cyclist friendly, perhaps we need to think about trying not to kill them. You may feel like a big man driving 35 mph in a 25 mph zone, but if you only have a split second to slow down 5 mph in each case, the death rate is ten times higher than driving the speed limit.

      • by Bigby (659157)

        Speed limits were always set in pedestrian areas.

      • Considering that cities are trying to become more cyclist friendly

        Citations? I know of exactly 0 cities within my geographic vicinity that have expressed such an intention.

        • by Anguirel (58085)

          It would help to know your geographic region. I'll give you Denmark [nytimes.com] and theUnited States [usatoday.com]. I specifically chose normal news sites, rather than eco- or cycling-specific news sources, but there's a lot more out there on similar sorts of movements in many municipalities across several nations, including moves to create pedestrian and cyclist only downtown regions.

  • Isn't this roughly BMW's track trainer? http://www.autoblog.com/2007/12/11/bmw-330i-races-around-the-top-gear-track-without-a-driver/ [autoblog.com]

    Seems like it did impressively well on the top gear test track, but a 330i is much slower than a TTS... (Clarkson does mention you can fit it to a M3 though)

  • I would like to see them test their robot cars in the congested downtown streets of a large city. With the window washers too.
    • by tgd (2822)

      Clearly you've never been to San Francisco, where Google did much of its 300,000 miles.

      Tourists, dirty hippies, hipsters, you name it, they're walking around in the street looking to be hit.

      • by vbraga (228124)

        I hope Google coding team gets a bonus when the car runs over a hipster :-)

  • by longhunt (1641141) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @09:28AM (#41067147) Homepage
    I grew up in Montana under the "reasonable and prudent" speed limit. Man, I miss those days. The problem was that too many tourists came in that didn't know the roads and got themselves killed, so the feds threatened to yank our highway money unless we changed the law. Unless you can do away with either the Federal government or idiot tourists, it's probably not coming back.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I had myself a high speed adventure in a desert state a few years back. I found a stretch that was perfectly straight for over 5 miles on a slight decline so visibility was over 20 miles. I drove the course, dropped off my buddy to act as a spotter with binoculars and a walkie talkie, backed up 3 miles and floored it until redline in 5th. The car started getting floaty so I didn't want to reach down to shift to 6th. And of course there were no other cars in sight. I'd say thats about as reasonable and prude

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Bullshit. The law was changed because it was challenged in court as being too vague. The Montana Supreme Court ruled that there had to be a numerical limit in order to charge people with speeding as "reasonable and prudent" violated due process. The Montana government didn't even call a special session for the legislature. They waited a few months until a regular meeting (during such time there was no speed limit, not even a "reasonable and prudent" one) and then enacted a 75 mph limit. The Federal governme

      • by BigT (70780) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @11:02AM (#41068225)

        That was in '98. OP is talking about in the 70's when all states were required by the feds to have a 55 MPH speed limit or lose highway funding.

        In '97-'98 there were way too many idiots on the roads thinking 120 mph was reasonable and prudent. Even on the twisty 2 lane roads.

        • I was in Montana on a networking gig in 97, we did 90 everywhere on the highway. Never saw a police car on the interstate they were all in town responding to real crimes. Story I heard was there was a dealership in Colorado letting folks test drive the fast cars over in Montana. Also heard that if you did get pulled over real tickets started at $300.

    • by Fwipp (1473271) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @09:46AM (#41067357)

      Montana has tourists?

  • by spagthorpe (111133) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @09:39AM (#41067273)

    Racetracks are known quantities, down to every minute detail. Back in the 90s, when the F1 cars were loaded with every possible form of electronics, the computer was programmed with every turn on every track. All the driver had to do was stomp on the gas and let the car handle the maximum traction, braking, etc for every place on the track. Even the prime steering track can be programmed in. Ever played any of the more recent driving simulations?

    I can appreciate the achievement to some extent. The ability to sense where it is, and things of those nature are impressive to me, but lets see how the car would do in a pack of other drivers where conditions weren't always ideal. If you could convince other race drivers to get on the track with it.

    • by Krneki (1192201) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @09:50AM (#41067409)
      First learn to walk, then you learn how to run.

      For AI is the same, don't worry soon it will outrun, outpace, ... and make you completely useless. But it's ok.

      On car topic: I can't wait for this to be a safety feature, Imagine, you drive full throttle down the road, but you miss-judged a corner, the AI, with light-speed reaction time understand that you can't make it at that speed and applies the little correction you need to make it through. It's the same, with traction-control, ABS, ... this will just be the next logical step.

      • you drive full throttle down the road, but you miss-judged a corner, ... and applies the little correction you need to make it through.

        So you want the AI to keep people alive who don't know how to drive safely? You want to thwart evolution and allow the stupid/careless/whatever to be able to keep reproducing?

        We have enough hippos going to Wal Mart, we don't need to keep the herd growing. A little culling now and then will do the trick.
        • by Anonymous Coward

          Yeah, the obvious problem with that is bad drivers tend to take out good drivers while they are at it. Many times they take out the good drivers without themselves kicking the bucket. Especially if they are driving a huge gas guzzling tank while the good driver is driving a fuel efficient compact.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          We have enough hippos going to Wal Mart, we don't need to keep the herd growing. A little culling now and then will do the trick.

          A shame that the culling all too often involves collateral damage, wouldn't you say ?
          Try thinking a little more before making such a statement again.

      • by hey! (33014)

        First learn to run, then learn to walk through a room full of furniture, then learn to walk through a hallway full of morons talking on their cell phones.

  • not that impressive (Score:5, Informative)

    by SuperBanana (662181) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @09:42AM (#41067311)
    Sigh, I've been reading a lot of stories now about Stanford tooting their horn about this...and they just can't seem to stop blabbing about how they're "as good as a human driver". Bullshit.

    I have quite a bit of HPDE [wikipedia.org] experience.

    First off, quoting times around the track is silly unless it was in the same car. Which it wasn't. However, if you want to see what "fast" is, look at the SCCA records [sfrscca.org] for various classes. Spoiler: lap times of 1:39 to 2:12. Read that again: the absolute slowest competitive race time is 2:12, and that was done by someone in a Mazda Miata in a stock racing class (ie, limited modifications.) The Stanford car has more than 100HP over the Miata, all wheel drive, big brakes, and a dual-clutch gearbox that shifts virtually instantly.

    120MPH sounds impressive, until you realize that we're talking about a nearly 270HP car and a very open track. [thunderhill.com] 120MPH isn't that hard to hit on many racetracks, even for a novice, and it's not a demonstration of skill; what's a demonstration of skill is how fast you exit each turn. Just by looking, I can tell you the fastest part of the track is between turn 8 and 9, most likely, for high-powered cars; slower, lighter cars may be faster between 9 and 10.

    Second: "professional driver" could mean anything from someone who drives a taxi, to someone who races dirt-track, to someone who races Formula 1. Anyone can call themselves a "professional driver."

    Third: the way that thing drives itself is absolutely atrocious and reminiscent of the worst kind of first-day HPDE students. The ones who think they know how to drive, don't, and are aggressive. Hammers it down the straights, not smooth with the controls at all, misses the apex (the inside center of the turn) by half a dozen feet, overloads the tires (hear them screaming? That's not a "I'm giving you the most grip" noise, that's a "I'm past my limit and am sliding all over the place" noise)...ugh.

    From the way the car dives and rolls, as well as how the 'driver' is thrown around and the steering wheel is jerked - there is absolutely no finesse, and that is critical for driving fast.

    Lastly: "For example, the math involved in getting a spinning wheel to grip the pavement is very similar to recovering from a slide on a patch of ice. "If we can figure out how to get Shelley out of trouble on a race track, we can get out of trouble on ice," Gerdes said."

    Haha, no. Pavement, ice, dirt, and snow all have very different characteristics and "getting out of trouble" on them is different. Effin' Californians... Spend a winter in Vermont, then tell me about how to drive on ice.

    • Third: the way that thing drives itself is absolutely atrocious

      Oh, woe, my dancing, talking bear can't sing an aria!

    • by FatAlb3rt (533682)
      Gee, maybe they should just give it up. Or maybe you should take the lead.
    • by CaptainLard (1902452) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @10:54AM (#41068119)
      I have some HPDE experience of my own and what you're basically describing is how a beginner drives on a race track. I don't know how many "track days" the standford team has done (or can afford for that matter...renting out the whole track is probably a large part of their budget) but I'm guessing the car is more or less a beginner. Once it's done a few events I'm sure it will be trail braking, hitting apexes and tracking out just fine. The real question is when will it be able to acknowledge corner workers and other cars?
    • I circle Thunder Hill at about 2:30. I'm a shit driver in a 4000lbs luxury car who way overbrakes. I figure my car is capable of a 2:15.

    • by nschubach (922175)

      someone in a Mazda Miata in a stock racing class (ie, limited modifications.) The Stanford car has more than 100HP over the Miata, all wheel drive, big brakes, and a dual-clutch gearbox that shifts virtually instantly.

      The MX5/Miata routinely competes with much bigger and more powerful cars. It's renowned for it's handling and ability to take corners at much higher speeds than the bigger heavier and more powerful cars.

  • by doug141 (863552) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @09:44AM (#41067331)
    was european driving tourists coming over and assuming the higways were autobahn quality (not even close) and dying after flying off a bump. Montana realized that their highways weren't safe above 85 and posted it.
  • by doug141 (863552) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @09:47AM (#41067375)
    to a visually spectactular, high speed, failure and breakup of a driverless car. One way they will react is to play the footage over and over, that's for sure.
  • Well, Stanford wins on car choice, at least.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "Reasonable and Prudent" was nixed when someone was given a speeding ticket and challenged it in court. The court held that "reasonable and prudent" was arbitrary and what one police officer thought was "reasonable and prudent" was not necessarily what another officer would think and that there was no way for a citizen to feel confident that they were within the bounds of the law. (I.e., What if you had gone through advanced drivers training??? Does that mean you can go faster?)

    Along these lines, I'm wait

  • The main advantage of computer driven cars is that they learn faster than humans. A human is at a massive learning disadvantage as he can't exactly replicate his actions, recall his sensory input perfectly, vary aspects of his driving without affecting other aspects nor make changes that are smaller than his biologically imposed resolution limit. The computer can learn more from every previous race and try more things in the search for lower lap times. After sufficient versions/updates (and assuming a sport
  • by tommeke100 (755660) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @10:49AM (#41068051)
    I call it "THE BRICK" !
  • by wonkey_monkey (2592601) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @12:14PM (#41069121) Homepage

    topping 120 miles per hour on straightaways

    Enquiring minds want to know how fast it took the bendaroonies.

  • A 2:30 seems like a terrible time to me. I did a 2:40.312 [mylaps.com] in an old Festiva with a busted engine and severely compromised rear suspension on janky old street tires.

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