Proponents of self-driving cars often claim, and probably rightly, that the vehicles can conduct themselves much more safely than human drivers.
But as these 21st Century vehicles take hold, they’ll be sharing the road with cars driven by people.
And, let’s be frank, some of those people are idiots. Some are road ragers. Some are frequently distracted.
All those qualities can lead to tailgating. And until the day arrives when all roadway traffic is robotic and algorithmically responsible, passengers in self-driving cars will face the threat of being rear-ended by a moron, a hothead or an out-of-control Instagram addict.
So Waymo, the autonomous driving company spun off from Google and remaining under parent firm Alphabet, has patented a system for detecting tailgaters and taking measures against them.
“Vehicles that follow others at short range or ‘tailgaters’ can present safety and comfort issues for passengers of autonomous vehicles,” the patent said.
The system relies on the robot car’s sensors to measure the distance between vehicles in front and behind. Combined with speed measurements, the data tells the car whether a driver behind is following too closely for safety.
“Once a vehicle has been identified as a tailgater, the autonomous vehicle may provide various notifications,” according to the patent, granted June 6. “This may include notifying passengers of the autonomous vehicle audibly or visually, and/or notifying the tailgater visually that he or she is tailgating.”
To ensure that those inside the self-driving vehicle know they’re at risk of getting rear-ended, the system can use a tone, voice alert or dashboard icon to notify them. Also, the offending driver may be targeted for notification, through methods including a warning light on the back of the autonomous vehicle or, if there’s slow or stopped traffic to the front, by braking “more aggressively earlier to draw attention of the vehicle behind (while monitoring its state) in order to leave more room to maneuver later.”
The robot vehicle may also take evasive action by changing lanes.
“The autonomous vehicle could then let the tailgater pass and return to its original lane,” the patent said.
Alternatively, the self-driving vehicle could give itself more space to the front, the patent said, which presumably would reduce the need for sudden braking while a yoyo, hater or doofus is riding the rear bumper.
Photo: A self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivan from Google spin-off Waymo (courtesy of Waymo)
Tags: Alphabet, autonomous vehicles, Google, patent, self-driving, tailgater, tailgating, Waymo