After all, not everyone takes an off-ramp the same way.
By Eric Jaffe, February 27, 2015
Here's the scene that was scaring people: It was a driverless-car
test run in Germany on a perfectly straight road with a medieval gate up
ahead. The gate was a tight squeeze, and a regular driver would slow
down to a crawl to make sure the car fit. But the driverless car made
the calculations ahead of time and knew it had enough space, so it
cruised along at the speed limit, maybe 30 m.p.h. And as it got closer
to the gate, with no signs of slowing down, the passengers lost it.
"It's perfectly fine and safe, but the people inside the car, they
basically freak out in these situations," says Dietmar Rabel, head of
automated driving product management for HERE, an arm of Nokia
that's developing data tools to help car companies make driverless
cars. "This was the start of this idea that we really need to look at
how people really drive in the real world."
That idea has grown into what HERE calls the "humanized driving" project.
By analyzing a huge archive of data collected through its existing
traffic products, HERE has identified behavioral patterns and styles
that can be organized into various driver profiles. A "sports" profile
might represent a more aggressive driver, for instance, whereas an
"economy" profile might suit someone more defensive behind the wheel.
Take the different ways drivers use a highway exit ramp. Some slow
down dramatically as soon as they merge off the highway, others
decelerate more gradually through the ramp, and still others keep
driving 55 m.p.h. or so as long as they can. These varying off-ramp
styles might be included in economy, comfort, and sports profiles,
respectively, says Rabel.
Other common scenarios modeled by HERE is how people handle inclement
weather, how they change speeds at certain times of the day (turns out
there's a reliable dip in speeds when cars head into the sun), how they
approach a yellow light, and when they decide to prepare for an
exit. A driverless car could safely move into the exit lane at the last
moment, for instance, but some people would feel more comfortable doing
One can also imagine profiles that vary geographically, for both
legal and cultural reasons. In New York City, for instance, a driverless
car would need to know not to turn right on red. In Pittsburgh, of
course, cars notoriously turn left as soon as a light turns green. Such
practices could conceivably be built into the mind of the driverless car
and programmed to occur based on GPS location.
Ultimately behavioral profiles may become consumer options on
driverless cars, says Rabel. Maybe buttons let people toggle between
"sports," "economy," or "comfort" styles; or maybe a car adopts one
singular style. "If you're buying a Porshe you probably don't need the
'economy' profile," he says.
That's really up to manufacturers to decide. HERE provides back-end
data services to car companies developing driverless cars, but isn't
making one itself. (Rabel wouldn't say which specific companies partner
with HERE, but he acknowledged it's "fairly known" which auto makers are
pursuing driverless technology.) Along with the Humanized Driving
profiles, HERE's data services
include extremely precise mapping (with "10-20 cm accuracy") and
real-time road information (such as crash or weather or construction
idea of a more aggressive driver profile diverges noticeably from the
approach being taken by Google's self-driving car team. For now, at
least, Google is programming its car to be as cautious as possible; when
I rode in it last spring, the car didn't turn right on red for just that reason. Team leader Chris Urmson told me it's "probably not the right thing to emulate all the human behavior"
in driverless cars. Theoretically they could be programmed for road
rage, of course, but Urmson hopes people will feel less anxious in
driverless cars because they can use their time more productively.
HERE is obviously not suggesting that driverless car profiles will or
should compromise safety to any extent. That's priority number one. But
the point of the Humanized Driving project is that people will expect
driverless cars to behave a certain way—at least in the early iterations
of the technology—and building driver profiles that meet these
expectations might help manufacturers make the ride more comfortable.
"There are many other things that could be envisioned," says Rabel. "The sky is the limit. Nobody knows right now what's needed."