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No, Google Isn't Using Grand Theft Auto To Train Self-Driving Cars

by El Destino

2017-04-27 11:59:38

"Don't Worry, Driverless Cars Are Learning From Grand Theft Auto!" read a headline at Bloomberg News. And soon an urban legend took root. "Major companies such as Ford and Waymo have been using the game to teach their developing technology how to react in thousands of different driving situations," reports the British tabloid The Sun. There's just one problem with this story: it's not true.

Bloomberg described how Google's Waymo is rolling their own coolio virtual simulations of driving conditions. Much of that information came from a blog post by Waymo engineers last December. Waymo's crazy cool new technology runs millions of miles of driving simulations every day, "the equivalent of circling the equator five times, every hour." And Ford and Toyota also have their own cool virtual simulators, too.

It's just that none of them are Grand Theft Auto.

Bloomberg's article does also mention some German researchers who found a way to extract data from a game of Grand Theft Auto V. So Bloomberg's writer thought it'd be cool to say that when it comes to virtual driving simulators, Grand Theft Auto was also "in the mix." But the only people actually using the game are the apparently-underfunded Princeton Autonomous Vehicle Engineering team. (They told Bloomberg that Grand Theft Auto "is the richest virtual environment that we could extract data from.")

Okay, but they're by no stretch of the imagination a major auto manufacturer. And that's where the article gets a little confusing, reporting that Waymo "uses its simulators to create a confounding motoring situation for every variation engineers can think of: having three cars changing lanes at the same time at an assortment of speeds and directions, for instance."

But "its" means Waymo, in this case. (Though some news professionals apparently thought "its" referred to Grand Theft Auto.)

And that's how you also end up with a Time Inc. publication about driving saying that Google's Waymo and Toyota Research are using the game to teach their self-driving cars. ("Rather than emulating a caffeine-crazed teen crashing through traffic, these firms are taking advantage of the game's incredibly detailed environment to run traffic, weather, and accident-avoidance simulations.")

Do I want to see a world where the streets are infested with reckless and violent self-driving cars, concocting their own bank heists while hurtling down the highways and inflicting mayhem on undeserving passers-by?

Absolutely.

But are Waymo, Ford Motor Company, and Toyota actually using Grand Theft Auto to train the self-driving cars of the future?

No.

Over.  End of Story.  Go home now.

radon@pigdog.org

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