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Google develops cars that drive themselves

by Parm Mann on 11 October 2010, 12:14

Tags: Google (NASDAQ:GOOG)

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Google has revealed that it is actively testing cars that can drive without any human interaction.

The vehicles, developed by Google engineers, may sound like a futuristic dream but are very much a reality. The cars have already been tested on roads in the United States, weaving their way through traffic to log over 140,000 autonomous miles.

To date, the automatic cars have navigated San Francisco's famed Lombart Street and Golden Gate Bridge, they've driven between Google's Mountain View and Santa Monica offices, and they've circled around Lake Tahoe.

Google's automated car, generally a modified Toyota Prius, features rotating cameras on its roof, radar sensors on the front and rear bumpers, and a laser range finder that allows it to “see” other traffic. Using the added technology, the car is able to navigate detailed maps of 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," said Google software engineer Sebastian Thrun.

The software giant is hoping its ambitious project will fundamentally change the way we use cars by preventing traffic accidents, reducing traffic and cutting carbon emissions.

Statistics from the World Health Organisation reveal that over 1.2 million lives are lost on the world's roads each year. Google claims its self-driving car "has the potential to cut that number, perhaps by as much as half".

The technology, however, is years from mass production, and Google's current trials are focused on "safety and efficiency". All of the company's automated cars currently operate only on routes that are first driven and mapped by a driver in a conventional car.

"By mapping features like lane markers and traffic signs, the software in the car becomes familiar with the environment and its characteristics in advance," said Mr Thrun.

Even so, the automated cars aren't unmanned. A trained safety driver is always behind the wheel ready to take over, and a trained software operator is in the passenger seat to monitor the software. Local police are also informed before any automated car sets off.

Videos capturing the cars in action have already surfaced on the web as both automative and technology enthusiasts race to get a glimpse of what could be the car of the future.

HEXUS Forums :: 8 Comments

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How much is it to insure one? :p Or do you even need insurance as technically you arent driving!!
I can't see this being anytime soon - relying just on the car itself is always going to fail in my oppinion, you'd need things on or by the road to rely information.

I mean, how does it handle traffic works where the speed limit has been reduced, or when a new roadabout, stop sign or anything else changes? especially things like snow and ice.

I'd like to see it follow behind a gritter for a short while and then see how well it performs with a layer of salt over it's sensors.

*edit* If it's anything like GPS they'll be a lot of cars driving over cliffs
I think ideally you'd have multiple cars like this on the road all sharing information with each other either via google's servers or directly. With several sensors per car it would then be hard to imagine a couple of dodgy sensors messing up a collective picture of what's going on. This way roadworks or extreme road conditions up ahead could be relayed to your car long before you even got there. Cars communicating with each other could probably also drive in much closer formation safely and traffic jams could be sorted out in the most mathematically efficient way automatically.

I can dream.
Ive been considering the idea of this for years. The problem as always is mass adoption. It will work amazingly if all of the cars are upgraded at the same time. However, it's a bit like public transport:

Govenment: use the transport!
Public: it doesn't run on time/there isn't enough!

They cant use those cars unless all of the cars are converted.

It would save a tonne of time. Consider when you are at traffic lights, if everybody moved off at the same time…