Halloween is a fun time for kids, but a tough time for autonomous car systems. Built to recognize other cars, pedestrians and the occasional cat or dog, what is an artificial intelligence to make of a ghost running across the street, or a giant butterfly fluttering by?
Google used the spooky holiday to help address this potential issue by having employees bring their kids to work in full costume, and then march them past a parked self-driving car. "This gives our sensors and software extra practice at recognizing children in all their unique shapes and sizes, even when they're in odd costumes," read a Google blog post on the topic.
With better information on what a kid in costume looks like, the cars will be less likely to identify them as adults or random objects, and will instead classify them as children — around which the cars are programmed to drive more cautiously. After all, kids are less predictable than adults and more easily obscured behind things like bushes and parked cars.
So far Google's self-driving cars appear to be about as accident-prone as those with human drivers, if not a bit more — but with the significant difference that the autonomous vehicles have never yet caused an accident. Let's hope it stays that way.