To Survive The Streets, Robocars Must Learn To Think Like Humans

Many robotic systems, Anca Dragan, who studies autonomy in UC Berkeley’s electric engineering and computer sciences department, says, come with a built-in flaw: Their makers assume the presence of an autonomous car won’t change how other actors move. “An autonomous car’s actions will influence human actions, whether we like it or not,” she says. “Cars need to start accounting for this influence.”

That’s why Dragan and her team have built a system that includes a model of human drivers’ responses to the car. “Our car is no longer ultra-defensive, because it knows it can trigger reactions from people, too,” she says. “Like other vehicles slowing down when our car merges in front of them. We’ve also looked at actively estimating human intentions, again by leveraging the autonomous car’s actions. In that case, our car might slow down gently to see if the person wants to be let in.”