Inter-Vehicular Communication

One of the dreams of autonomous vehicles is the possibility of inter-vehicular communication, well beyond what is currently possible.

For example, when a stoplight turns green, all of the cars waiting in line could accelerate at the same time, having communicated that it is safe to do so. Contrast this with human drivers, each of whom must watch for the acceleration of the next driver, before accelerating their own vehicles.

However, there is some level of human-to-human driver interaction, and autonomous vehicles are potentially having trouble coping with this.

Think, for example, of arriving at a four-way stop, simultaneous to another car.

Theoretically, when cars arrive simultaneously, the left-most car has the right-of-way.

Practically, however, cars never arrive exactly simultaneously, and nobody pays attention to the left-hand rule anyway. Usually, one driver takes the initiative, or perhaps one driver waves another driver forward, ceding the right-of-way.

According to Melissa Cefkin at Nissan, these situations are tricky for computers to navigate:

Intersections present a particular challenge, said Melissa Cefkin, who is based at Nissan’s Silicon Valley research centre.

“Sometimes drivers communicate between themselves and with pedestrians or cyclists directly, by swapping looks, with a hand gesture, or even verbally,” she said.

“Sometimes it’s interpretative: we look for signals while judging the vehicle’s speed and movements.”

The tiny pointers that motorists pick up from one another are not yet within the reach of the technology.

“Currently, the machine isn’t capable of grasping all the subtlety of these clues,” Cefkin said.

Increasingly, it looks like one of the sticking points for driverless cars will be the situations in which driverless cars have to interact with human drivers.

This isn’t that surprising. Studies show that drivers are safer violating the speed limit and keeping up with traffic, rather than adhering to the speed limit and going at a different speed than everyone else.

The interactions between human and computer drivers seems like a variation on that.

Originally published at on November 15, 2015.

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