Some scientists and engineers are using the notoriously violent video game Grand Theft Auto in the development of autonomous car technology, reports Automotive News.

Scientists from Darmstadt University of Technology in Germany and Intel Labs started pulling visual information from Grand Theft Auto V for use in autonomous car software testing as of last year.

Grand Theft Auto, produced by Rockstar Games Inc., is uniquely positioned to throw the unexpected at self-driving car developers, given its typically rash and brash gameplay.

The latest iteration of the video game features programming with unique physics engines for 262 types of vehicles and incorporates the actions of more than 1,000 different unpredictable pedestrians and animals into the game. There are also 14 different weather conditions which vehicles need to drive in during gameplay.

Computers can be programmed to reliably respond to a given input, but cannot respond to spontaneous, unexpected events without prior programming. The use of Grand Theft Auto is intended to help programmers nail down “unexpected” scenarios an autonomous vehicle might face, so that it can respond appropriately.

Real-world testing is already underway by several automotive companies and autonomous vehicle upstarts, but given the near-infinite number of possible driving scenarios, it’s difficult for developers to rack up enough testing miles to create reliable software that will be safe for motorists to use on public roads.

Hence the use of “virtual testing,” wherein developers are testing their autonomous tech via Grand Theft Auto.

Road safety regulators have yet to spell out minimum testing standards required for autonomous vehicles before they can be approved for public consumption; the testing standards would likely include a minimum distance of real-world kilometers driven.

Will authorities allow automakers to include virtual testing as part of their regiment to rack up autonomous mileage prior to getting approval for dissemination of their self-driving cars to the public? Time will tell.

(Automotive News)