Newly published Google patent shows how their driverless cars monitor traffic lights in real-time


Google driverless cars patent 2

There’s no question there’s a lot of technology going on inside Google X’s driverless cars. In fact, you can find Google patent applications dating all the way back to 2009 dealing with almost every aspect that makes their fully autonomous vehicles tick.

The latest — filed in September of last year but published only a few days ago — deals with Google’s specialty software in their driverless cars that makes it possible to scan and read traffic signals, sending that information the car or user. Google explored a variety of methods to recognize changes in traffic signal, ultimately deciding that a mounted camera would be the easiest and most logical solution. Working in conjunction with location data, these cars are able to calculate the position of traffic signals on a map using 2 or more cameras, discerning whether it’s a traffic light they’re looking at, or simply the lights of the car up ahead.

Google Driverless car patent

As detailed in the patent filing, the software works by first receiving the images taken by the camera, filtering images (those taken of intersections), classifying images by searching for red, yellow, and green blobs where it can then label the classified colored blobs accordingly. Using motion compensation to identify associated labels, it can determine the 3D location of traffic signals and generate traffic signals on a map.

Again, this data can be used by other driverless cars alerting users if there’s been a change (green to yellow to red). This, folks, is how your future driverless car (we’ll all be driving these, right?) will work with others to monitor traffic lights and signals, preemptively knowing when to stop or slow down. Pretty neat, right?

Chris Chavez
I've been obsessed with consumer technology for about as long as I can remember, be it video games, photography, or mobile devices. If you can plug it in, I have to own it. Preparing for the day when Android finally becomes self-aware and I get to welcome our new robot overlords.

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  1. I wonder how quickly the inter car communications will be exploited? Tell all the auto cars to merge over and let you through. Win!

    1. Just gotta root your car. :P

      1. brb, flashing franco kernel. It makes my car go faster.

        1. Lol let us all know how the first force closed went.

          1. LOL, exactly! What happens when the thing breaks or shuts down at 80 MPH!? What happens when one of the cameras go bad and start picking up red as green. There are too many variables!? I wouldn’t trust myself in one of those cars let alone my kids (if I had any). I love Android but I’d drive in an Apple car way before an Android car.

          2. After the Apple Maps fiasco, I think we’d be better off with Google.

          3. With Apple Maps LOL.

          4. Android is probably the most stable OS next to Linux

          5. Let me know how it goes when you are driving over a bridge and apple maps thinks the river below is a freeway and does a instant right turn

    2. this would be perfect for ambulances though. yay for not dying in the back of ambulances stuck in traffic.

  2. I have absolutely no interest in these cars other than the technological accomplishment. I’ll drive myself.

    1. think traffic jams… the reason traffic backs up is because one person pumps their breaks and the resulting reaction by every driver behind them is exaggerated… smart cars would all together get rid of stand still traffic.

      also think stop lights… say your 20 cars back when the light turns green… its going to take roughly 20-30 seconds to get rolling… automated cars on the other hand all start rolling at the exact same time. its all about efficiency and robots can do what humans can’t when it comes to efficiency.

      1. Think about the cost to repair these. The more bells and whistles you have the more it costs to repair. Plus all of your technicians will have to educate themselves and buy specials tools/scanners to work on this equipment so that will also make your shop visit more expensive. Also, computers can be more efficient but there are plenty of times when a humans input is needed. Trust me, coming from someone that makes his living fixing your vehicle, the more automated they get it, the worse it is for you. Besides if people don’t drive their own cars they will become worse drivers over time and probably forget how to drive. Its sad how many people are given consent to drive a couple thousand pound death machine and they can’t even put air in their own tires or basic fluids. Years ago you couldn’t get your license without being able to parallel park, today most places don’t even make you attempt it to get your license.

        The technology has its benefits but it should in no way be forced into our lives. Not to mention something that’s automated like that and connected to a network makes it much easier to spy on, track or whatever. Would suck to have your car hacked and crashed or sent to the wrong place/etc too.

        1. Its inevitable. Just like planes that basically fly themselves now, it is really only a matter of time. Maintenance will always be an issue regardless of driver.

          1. This is true but as I said the more bells and whistles, the more it’ll cost you. A Cadillac definitely costs more to fix than a Chevrolet. Even if its an almost exactly identical problem.

          2. but cost drops as adoption increases… we could either stay exactly where we are in life and not progress in order to have nearly free maintenance over time orrrrr we could progress ourselves and keep maintenance roughly the same.

            10-15 years after these have been on the road they will be CHEAPER to maintain than cars now simply due more even wear and tear and better maintenance alert systems

          3. That’s not true at all. The cars themselves aren’t the only wear and tear you’ll experience. Unless you’re magic and can stop weather and force your city go have perfect roads to name a few. Not to mention a lot of mechanics recommended not purchasing a luxury vehicle over 10 years old unless you have deep pockets due to all the stuff that breaks and is less common over time. You think something like this won’t be the same? It will. You can progress without giving up control. Cars can be improved just like they have been for the last x amount of years. Look at the cars that can tell when its about to crash and stops. That’s where we should be heading. Driver assistance not replacing the driver.

          4. You seem to have a problem with replacing the driver. If we could do so, would you resist it? Good luck. Everyone else would think it was the best thing ever. Not having to sit in traffic jams, not having to find a parking spot, being able to work or play, or even sleep rather than commute. Lower maintenance costs because the computer behaves as the perfect driver, lowering wear and tear from extreme or unnecessary driving. No more speeding tickets, no more crashing, and no more jobs which dedicate your entire life to driving about. I’d love to see how you could stop such an innovation.

          5. You obviously haven’t read the rest of my comments or you have the mental capacity of a 5 year old. The cars will still break. There are FAR more factors than the driver alone. Drive on hills? That’s extra wear. Drive on uneven surfaces? (aka almost every road in the country) there’s more wear. Drive in winter weather? That’ll give your vehicle a beating. No matter what’s driving it. Those are only a few variables other than the physical driver of the vehicle. Are you aware that most vehicle failures/break downs actually happen on the road? No not when you’re parked on the side of the street. How is your self driving car going to get you out of a situation where you are sitting at a traffic light and your fuel pump goes out. Oh no. Your car won’t start or run, even with autopilot. Possible traffic jam right there. Not to mention the incredibly heightened risk of hackers getting into your car and stealing your personal info or making your car do various bad things. If they get into the wrong computer of your car they could literally destroy it. Hell if I plug one of my scanners into it, I could. Why make it easier for someone to do it wirelessly? Not to mention software glitches/ bugs. Two cars could see the same lane/parking spot or whatever is open and boom. Crash. Your maintenance costs will NOT be lower as there will be new parts to repair or replace that came with the new technology. Those repairs will cost a lot more than your typical repair now. In fact, if they start to sell less, part prices would actually INCREASE to make up for the loss.

            Look at Cash for Clunkers. Everybody thought that was a great idea until the government started blowing up your old cars and scrapping them. What did that do? It decreased inventory in salvage yards effectively decreasing the number of used parts available and skyrocketing the price. Think that helped the millions of Americans that are still forced to drive older cars? I don’t think so. 80% of the readers on this site probably have next to no clue about how to repair a car of how one even works. Not to say that’s a bad thing as this is a tech site and not an automotive site, just saying leave the talk to the professionals who know what they’re talking about. I wouldn’t walk into the mobile or any industry that I wasn’t familiar with and start with my opinion. You’re a customer. A driver. You use the product. You don’t make or repair it, so you don’t really know. The only people that do are the people who have to fix OEM mistakes/deal with them down the line and repair your vehicle.

            You just show how ignorant you truly are.

        2. Certainly there will be new items that need to be fixed. However, they will be some decrease in maintenance as well. You’d probably need to replace brakes less frequently, since there would much less hard braking and less “riding” of the brakes. There’s also the savings due to fewer accidents, which not only affect the drivers in the accident, but also the costs of everyone else being late for work and the allocation of police, fire, and EMT personnel. Police could be reassigned to more serious crimes rather than having to monitor speeders and reckless drivers. In other words, whatever extra you pay in maintenance might be mitigated by what you pay in taxes and other losses that traffic accidents and infractions incur.

          Also keep in mind potential life savings with a system that can automatically and safely open up lanes for Emergency Vehicles.

          Keep in mind, this by no means even close to prime time. There will be years of testing, and probably required municipal upgrades before this is deemed street legal anywhere. Even if we never achieve a world of self driven, the techology will find uses in other areas.

          1. Do you really think your local Police Department would like the idea of abolishing speeding tickets? They do have a quota to meet and speeding tickets definitely help bring in some cash. I’m not saying the technology isn’t cool or that it wouldn’t have its benefits. I’m saying that as of right now, the good does not outweigh the bad. Sure you’ll be saving money here and there but you’ll be spending more in other areas. I would rather pay $400 for brakes than pay a mechanic $79 an hour (or whatever your local labor rate is) to hook their scanner up to my car, receive the trouble code (they don’t tell you what’s wrong, they just give you a code and its up to you to diagnose the actual problem) and diagnose the problem. When you get j to electrical and computers in a car, its not cheap, for the customer or the mechanic. We have over $10,000 worth of diagnostic scanners (and that’s just a few of them) at the shop I work at and we’re a local shop.

          2. Screw the cops and their speeding tickets if a city cannot manage their funds without ripping of residents it is time to fire the city officials. That is the reason we pay taxes in the first place is it not? Besides from my experience well at least where I live the majority of tickets are bs just to meet the quota.

          3. I can’t say I disagree with anything you just said. Haha.

      2. They also pack them into the highway much smaller/tighter. It’s so much more efficient than human drivers. Plus, those who commute 2 hours in traffic every day to work might be able to start/finish some work on the road.

  3. What if the traffic lights are out of order?

    1. When this happens you’ll have to take over. Or else traffic accident galore.

      I assume there’s a feature that will see the light and notice it’s not functional, and ask for your input.

    2. Then it will treat the light as a stop sign just like we do.

  4. i would let a car drive me around… i’d sign up to be a google passenger explorer for sure.

    1. You’d get accepted, but you’d have to pay $75,000 for the car.

      [moneys internally]

  5. Am I the only one frightened by these things?

    1. Nope. My grandmother is frightened too. That makes two of you. :)

    2. You guys are insane. I can’t get my Note 3 bug free, why would I get in a car which has to 100% of the time to keep me safe monitor traffic, speeds, other drivers! You have to be insane. The technology isn’t there yet! Humans suck at driving and we are super computers! I can just see myself getting pissed off at the Google car either broke down and trying to decide if a light is green, lol. So we can mess with the cars by flashing green lights from the back of our car windows, lol.


      1. Good luck with that and having the G-Car slam full speed into you. Brilliant.

      2. People don’t realize humans are terrible accident prone drivers. autonomous cars don’t have to be 100% perfect anything over 95% and accidents will probably go down. plus as the ratio of autonomous to human driven cars increases, the systems will have less not more variables to deal with. As you can see from googles patents everything is about layers….at the base it might be as simple as adaptive cruise control, then a redlight/greenlight camera, then on top is remote light camera from cars ahead of you to be premptive. Really though i still think well probably end up moving many of these systems to the cloud. instead of looking for a redlight, why not just have the traffic light broadcast “I am a light, I am red”, they could use something as simple as wifi outdoors the range is 300 feet more than enough time to brake.

  6. living in Utah, I’m more worried about how it will handle snow. but interesting article

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    2. I think a system that could work in bad weather would be much farther down the line. Heck, even planes don’t take off and land in those conditions and they have some very advanced tech and teams of highly trained people running them.

  7. I wonder how good these things are at recognising fakes.
    Say in the future no one drives their own cars. Can I just get a Hollywood Traffic Light prop, set it to red permanently and create a huge traffic jam on a road where there aren’t supposed to be any lights in the first place?

    1. when no-one is driving on their self, there won’t be traffic lights, it will all be controlled in some control center thingy, which will tell which cars can drive when.
      well, that’s what i believe, and i’m quite sure it will be either like this, or maybe something better :)

      1. Control center is pretty dangerous. It’d be much better if it were a decentralised self operating network of cars talking to each other rather than each car talking to a control centre.
        If the control center goes down tragic goes down (you obviously don’t want that).

      2. Yeah, this seems more like an interim type thing. I think the future would see municipal traffic lights fitted with some sort of transmitter the provides the light’s location & status to the cars. There would probably be some sort of two way communication so the relative positions of all cars can be kept track of.

        This would be mind bogglingly expensive to implement and would require all sorts of standards and encryption to be settled upon. It would probably take decades even for major cities and highways.

      3. If it is 1 main system which controls all the cars, it still needs to rely on car sensors. I mean if a deer crosses the road, it can;t just ignore it. It needs to brake or go around it. And I am sure those sensors can be tricked (*starts buying fake deer off ebay*)

        If each car controls itself depending on what cars and other objects are around it, than it would just as easily be tricked, perhaps even easier, because you could take whatever part of the car transmits to other cars its presence, hide that and stick it in the middle of an intersection and each car would get the feed that the intersection is blocked even though there is no car there.

        If they opt for manual driving for those situations, well than I’ll jsut have to sell the fake deer I just bought :P

  8. “This, folks, is how your future driverless car (we’ll all be driving these, right?)…”

    I’ll be riding in one.

  9. I cant wait until these become available. I’ve been watching these for years now and it excites me to no end. Safer driving wall while relaxing with the tablet watching YouTube or something.

  10. Now that’s innovation worth a patent. Not a black rectangle or square icons as other have.

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