And they drove it from Mountain View, CA, to Hollywood Boulevard.
Our automated cars use video cameras, radar sensors and a laser range finder to “see” other traffic, as well as detailed maps (which we collect using manually driven vehicles) to navigate the road ahead. This is all made possible by Google’s data centers, which can process the enormous amounts of information gathered by our cars when mapping their terrain.
This is the stuff of science fiction. The only accident that has occurred so far: One of the cars was rear-ended by a driver at a stop light. Human error! …
If your first concern is one of safety, Google would argue that you’re going about it all wrong. Safety is one of the the project’s purposes. Google believes that the technology could nearly half the number of automobile-related deaths because computers are supposedly better at driving than humans in the right circumstances.
There are other hypothetical pluses, too. The vehicles’ instant reaction time and 360-degree awareness would allow them to drive closer together on the highway than humans can, reducing traffic congestion. They could be more careful when operating the gas, reducing fuel consumption.
Count me in the pro-automated driving camp. Five years ago I imagined a system that would use computer chip-beacons embedded in the reflectors in highway lane lines, like buoys at sea, to transmit speed and navigation settings to on-board navigation computers. I still like the idea. Maybe one day Google will use them as the fallback instead of the “trained operators” that ride along to take control if something goes awry. They also have a technician in the passenger seat to monitor the navigation system
The most optimistic time-line for production vehicles is eight years. That’s in time to cash in on a fat market of aging baby-boomers.
James Joyner is also an autonomous driving fan and has a good a bunch of links and comentary in reaction to the Google car. Techmeme has discussion. And the NYTimes Tech Talk podcast this week discussed a NeuFlow supercomputer with Eugenio Culurciello that has the kind of computing power and capabilities necessary to make self-driving vehicles.