Self-driving Cars Lack Social Skills, is That a Problem?

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As we all know, driving has its own set of rules and etiquette. Whether it’s merging or giving way, or not driving into a crowded intersection- these small decisions are usually made quickly and intuitively by humans and rely on social interactions.

Now, self-driving cars are already utilized in many countries around the world, and they seem to be struggling with navigating these social interactions in traffic. More specifically, self-driving cars have a hard time understanding the etiquette of when to “yield”- when to give way and when to drive on.

In a new research conducted at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Computer Science, researchers analyzed videos of self-driving cars in various traffic situations.

Professor Barry Brown, who has studied the evolution of self-driving car road behavior for the past five years, talked about the inability of self-driving cars to understand social interactions in traffic. “The driverless vehicle stops so as to not hit pedestrians, but ends up driving into them anyway because it doesn’t understand the signals. Besides creating confusion and wasted time in traffic, it can also be downright dangerous.”

According to Techxplore, there have been reports of self-driving cars causing traffic jams and problems in San Francisco. Professor Brown claims the problem is that they don’t know how to react to other road users. “Recently, the city’s media wrote of a chaotic traffic event caused by self-driving cars due to fog. Fog caused the self-driving cars to overreact, stop and block traffic, even though fog is extremely common in the city,” says Professor Brown.

When asked why he thinks it’s so difficult to program self-driving cars to understand social interactions in traffic, Professor Brown says, “I think that part of the answer is that we take the social element for granted. We don’t think about it when we get into a car and drive—we just do it automatically. But when it comes to designing systems, you need to describe everything we take for granted and incorporate it into the design.”

This information was provided by the University of Copenhagen.