Monday, February 27, 2017

Google Self-Driving Car Triggers Laser Detectors

Google (Waymo) self-driving Lexus test car in Mesa, AZ

Driving in Phoenix recently my Escort Passport 9500ci began shrieking a laser warning. Especially on urban freeways, alerts like this aren't uncommon, often triggered by the laser-based active cruise control (ACC) system in a nearby vehicle. (Lexus and other Japanese makes are big offenders.)

But normally the alerts stop after a few seconds. This one went on forever.  After 30 seconds or so I spotted a possible suspect in the mirrors. It was a Lexus, alright, an RX 350. But this one was festooned with sensors sprouting from the fenders and roof, capped by a central, smoked-plastic dome the size of a football helmet.

I changed lanes, using a Ford Super Duty pickup as a shield. The Escort went silent. Another lane change brought the Lexus into view again. Instantly the Escort alerted. The source identified, I backed off to get a closer look.

It wore California plates and a discrete door decal reading "Waymo", one of a fleet of Google self-driving cars being tested in Arizona.

When these cars enter production, it's a safe bet that laser (lidar) detectors everywhere will react similarly. To Uber self-driving cars as well, at least if Uber continues to use the same lidar system. That issue will be decided by the courts, given that Google/Waymo is suing Uber, alleging that Uber, um, borrowed the patented technology.