Google Is Teaching Its Autonomous Cars How To Honk At Humans

Photo: Eric Risberg/AP
Photo: Eric Risberg/AP

Google just released a monthly update on its self-driving car program discussing how its cars will communicate with human drivers in other cars to make sure they don’t kill themselves. The strategy: teach the autonomous cars how to honk at us flesh-bound mortals.


Google says 94 percent of minor crashes are caused by human error, so to combat this, the Menlo-Park, California-based company’s autonomous cars are going to need to whip us fallible beings into shape by disciplining us when we misbehave.

But Google’s cars won’t be using paddles, your dad’s leather belt, or – my personal favorite! – battery-filled tube-socks. They’ll be whipping you into shape with their horns.


The company says the point of the honking software is to “recognize when honking may help alert other drivers to [our car’s] presence — for example, when a driver begins swerving into our lane or backing out of a blind driveway.”

Just like you do with a real horn. Imagine that.

The report also discussed how the company has been teaching its cars to honk, saying:

During testing, we taught our vehicles to distinguish between potentially tricky situations and false positives, i.e. the difference between a car facing the wrong way during a three-point turn, and one that’s about to drive down the wrong side of the road.

It went on:

At first, we only played the horn inside the vehicle so we wouldn’t confuse others on the road with a wayward beep. Each time our cars sound the horn, our test drivers take note whether the beep was appropriate, and this feedback helps our engineering team refine our software further.


So it looks like Google is well on its way to having a functional honking software developed for its self-driving cars. Even better is the fact that the cars aren’t just going to lie on their horns for five minutes like a New York City cab driver. Instead, there will be various types of honks:

We’ve even taught our vehicles to use different types of honks depending on the situation. If another vehicle is slowly reversing towards us, we might sound two short, quieter pips as a friendly heads up to let the driver know we’re behind. However, if there’s a situation that requires more urgency, we’ll use one loud sustained honk.


Google says its cars promise to be “polite, considerate,and only honk when it makes driving safer for everyone.”

That sounds good to me. It’s a lot better than today’s usual routine: a loud horn quickly followed by a middle finger and some choice words. And definitely not battery-filled tube socks.


h/t: The Verge

Sr. Technical Editor, Jalopnik. Always interested in hearing from auto engineers—email me. Cars: Willys CJ-2A ('48), Jeep J10 ('85), Jeep Cherokee ('79, '91, '92, '00), Jeep Grand Cherokee 5spd ('94).

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Can Google teach the cars to just scream at people through an external speaker?

“Hey dumbass! Get outta the way!”

Or “I don’t need to give out another Darwin award today, assface, move it!”

All in Boston accents of course.