Fahckin' Seagulls Menace Boston's Self-Driving Cars

Illustration for article titled Fahckin' Seagulls Menace Boston's Self-Driving Cars

Vast scourges of seagulls routinely wreak havoc on coastal families, beach gatherings, and happiness in general, but apparently they’ve found a new target to annoy the shit out of: our future fleet of robot cars.


The Boston Globe is reporting that the creatures have proved to be a difficult little thing for autonomous vehicles to handle. Last month, AV designer nuTonomy Inc. started testing its self-driving car in Boston. And while the car has been able to maneuver around an industrial park on Boston’s south side, driving about 100 miles, it’s having a hard time with sea gulls.

Because of fucking course seagulls are causing a problem. From the Globe:

“One bird is often small enough that the car assumes it can be ignored. But when you have a flock of birds together, it looks like a big object, so we’ve had to train the car to recognize the birds,” nuTonomy chief executive Karl Iagnemma said. “It wasn’t something really that we’ve seen before.”

The vehicle, which has a human in the driver seat to take control as needed, reacts to the flocks the same way a human might: it slows down while approaching the birds until they fly away, and then resumes its normal way. It generally slows for any unrecognized object

The vehicles slow down for any objects it doesn’t recognize, the newspaper says, and they’ll trudge along slowly while approaching a flock of the nasty, constantly-pooping ocean birds.

Iagnemma said it’s important to teach the car’s software to recognize the birds for what they are, to “give the vehicle a better capability to predict what’s going to happen next.” The company teaches the vehicle to recognize new objects by continually feeding imagery of the object into an algorithm. Other examples include MBTA buses and recumbent cycles, which riders pedal while seated in a reclined position.

Iagnemma told the newspaper the company didn’t encounter sea gulls while conducting AV tests in Singapore, but the birds show that new settings bring new challenges.

Like blizzards in the Rust Belt, or torrential downpours anywhere. But add this to the laundry list of why sea gulls will continue to be immensely hated.

Senior Reporter, Jalopnik/Special Projects Desk


The English Guy

“One bird is often small enough that the car assumes it can be ignored.”

So about the size of someone’s pet?

Or about the size of a skunk that running over will stink up your car for days.

Or that $2,000 laptop you set down while loading the trunk, forgot about, then reversed over because the car doesn’t give shit one about context?

I look forward to this terrible smelling, utterly traumatizing future as I’m powerless to stop my car bouncing over kittens and terriers that, like a true sociopath, it ascribes no value to.