Here’s how driverless cars avoid cows

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If you thought not running into other cars was the biggest challenge for those developing driverless vehicles, think again. Not only do the connected cars of the future need to be capable of handling other vehicles, but much smaller and nimbler people. Even more so than those groups though, animals present one of the biggest concerns, since they are quite unpredictible and come in all shapes and sizes.

Cows in particular can be a problem, not just because they’re rather large and could do a lot of damage to any vehicle, but because they can often be found on country lanes and crossings. If you factor in calves and bulls too, they also come in quite varied sizes and an automated vehicle will need to know what to do when it meets them on the road.

Google apparently is ahead of the game when it comes to figuring out solutions to these sorts of problems though, and has actually patented a system for dealing with it. It isn’t one designed around cows though, but blockages in the road that include the moving of livestock, fallen trees, accidents and other blockages that make a road impassable. At that point, the car will need to know whether to wait it out, or turn around and find another route if possible.

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Another scenario where this could come in to play in an entirely different way is in car parks. Underground and aboveground car parks can have serious problems with moving space and when you factor in one way systems with limited signs or damaged road markings, the potential for problems becomes much more exaggerated. This is why Google’s system is important and in its current, most basic form, it’s able to do the following:

When a blockage in the road is detected, one that the vehicle is unable to go around safely, it will wait where it is and a countdown timer will begin. If after a certain time – potentially tweakable by a passenger – the object hasn’t moved, the car will turn around and try and find an alternative route.

Due to the unique scenario and its parameters however, the car won’t just pull up a sat nav and head down a nearby road. Instead it may ask the passengers or a central Google representative or algorithm to plot a path for it, potentially going beyond its traditional ruleset. That may mean reversing on a one-way street, or using the hard shoulder.

Unless the herd is in their thousands though, I’d recommend staying still. The last thing you want is some freaked out cows running past your nice new car.

Image Source: Wikimedia

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Jon Martindale is an English author and journalist, who's written for a number of high-profile technology news outlets, covering everything from the latest hardware and software releases, to hacking scandals and online activism.