We take it for granted just how much of a complicated business driving is. And I don’t just mean operating a vehicle; pushing pedals and twirling the steering wheel is actually the easy bit. No, what makes driving difficult is processing and responding to what’s going on around the car.
We encounter hundreds, if not thousands of situations every time we take to the road. Most of them require very little thought on our part to deal with quickly and safely. Yet those actions that seem so small to us require massively sophisticated sensors and huge processing power to be carried out by a computer. By an autonomous car, in other words.
Developing hardware and software that can recognize and take the appropriate action in every conceivable situation is by far the biggest challenge of putting a fully autonomous car into production. There are so many little pieces of the puzzle to put together. Earlier this week Google published its patent for one of those pieces that could have been easily overlooked but is absolutely vital.
The patent is for system that recognizes the flashing lights on an emergency vehicle and takes the appropriate action to deal with the situation - pulling over to the side of the road and stopping, in most cases.
The system uses a sensor that detects the unique flashing pattern used by emergency vehicle lights. Google hasn’t said if it has yet implemented the sensor in its fleet of prototype driverless cars. The patent was actually filed back in 2014, but hadn’t been published until now. You can read it in full at the source link below.
Of course, simply recognizing a flashing blue light is easy. Knowing if it is approaching, moving away, or stationary is the tricky part. Presumably the sensor would be linked to the car’s GPS system to work out the relative positioning.