Google’s autonomous cars will be learning to honk automatically

Google’s monthly report on its autonomous self-driving cars for this month points to the fact that they will be honking on their own. The self-driving car team is making the driver-less cars a little bit more smarter as well as a little bit more polite. According to the monthly report, the team at Google is teaching the car’s AI when and how to honk the horn and alert the human drivers on the road about the autonomous car’s existence.

Our goal is to teach our cars to honk like a patient, seasoned driver,” the self-driving car team wrote in the report. “As we become more experienced honkers, we hope our cars will also be able to predict how other drivers respond to a beep in different situations.” The report also said, “our self-driving cars aim to be polite, considerate and only honk when it makes driving safer for everyone.”

The self-driving car team at Google have not only taught the driver-less cars when it’s the right time to sound the horn, but they have also taught the cars to use different types of honks and beeps, each for a specific type of situation. The team tested a variety of situations where the horn is required, like a car backing out of a driveway at the wrong time or if a car begins to swerve into the car’s lane on the road or even when a car is headed the wrong way on a one-way street.

The researchers and engineers at Google started out by sounding the horn only inside the vehicle, so they could see if there was a legitimate need for the honk and for recording proper feedback. This was done in order to ensure that the car wasn’t sounding the horn incorrectly, which could disturb or distract human drivers. Once convinced with the AI, the horn now sounds outside the car and it has two different types of honk. Two little beeps as “a friendly heads up,” and a sustained honk for more demanding situations.

Google has also addressed the autonomous car’s engine note issue. As an electric car, it is a completely silent vehicle and doesn’t make any noise, so the cars will now produce a “hum” like any other traditional internal combustion engine cars. The hum will increase and decrease in pitch as the car accelerates or decelerates, to mimic the sounds of other cars. The hum is designed to be familiar so pedestrians and cyclists can hear the car coming and going, and know when it is speeding up or down, and to proof its existence to the visually impaired.

To create the basic sound, the team has tried adapting everything from Orca sounds to ambient art sculptures, but they apparently haven’t landed on a distinct “voice” for the vehicle yet. Google engineers experimented with various tones as they honed in on the ideal alert. They looked to other vehicles, modes of transport and consumer electronics products, the company says.

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