Google has developed cars that can drive themselves, testing seven such automobiles on 140,000 miles across the roads of America, in a move that could one day revolutionise the transport industry.
Google said that the seven Google cars have driven 1,000 miles without any human intervention, apparently the 140,000 mile number includes occasional human control. These cars are a modified version of the Toyota Prius, and there is one Audi TT as well.
Google says it has gathered the best engineers from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Challenges, which have promoted autonomous-vehicle development. And the company is also quick to point out that safety has been the first priority in this project.
The driver’s seat is never unmanned, and a trained software operator sits the passenger seat to monitor the software.
Every test began by sending out a driver in a conventionally driven car to map the route and road conditions. By mapping features such as lane markers and traffic signs, the software in the car becomes familiar with the environment and its characteristics in advance.
Engineers told the New York Times that the forays onto the highways have been largely incident-free, apart from one bump when the car was reportedly hit from behind at a traffic light.
“Our automated cars, manned by trained operators, just drove from our Mountain View campus to our Santa Monica office and on to Hollywood Boulevard,” the company said in a blog post on its site. “They’ve driven down Lombard Street, crossed the Golden Gate Bridge, navigated the Pacific Coast Highway, and even made it all the way around Lake Tahoe. All in all, our self-driving cars have logged over 140,000 miles. We think this is a first in robotics research.”
“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,” the blog post explains. “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.”
The company also says the technology makes commuting time more efficient and claims that it has the potential to cut accident rates in half.
Google says that although the project is very much in the experimental stage, it provides a glimpse of what transportation might look like in the future, thanks to advanced computer science.
Google has rapidly branched out from its previous core business of search in recent years.
The company already has significant interests in location services through its Google Maps and Google Street View offerings.
Read the Google blog posting on its driverless car project here.