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Will Your Car Run on Google One Day?

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On: Wed, Oct 13, 2010 at 9:29AM | By: Chris Weiss

Will Your Car Run on Google One Day?

Over the weekend, Google detailed some of its recent work on self-driven vehicles. The tech company is looking to leverage its expertise in mapping and software toward creating self-driven vehicles that could cut traffic accidents. In fact, Google believes that its technology could cut the 1.2 million lives lost in car accidents annually by as much as half. Far from a new undertaking, Google has already spent much time refining its car.

Google's fleet of prototype cars have already logged 140,000 miles in testing "from [its] Mountain View campus to [its] Santa Monica office and on to Hollywood Boulevard. 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."

Each car is driven with the help of technological components including mapping software, laser range finders, video cameras, and radar sensors. They're capable of sensing and adjusting to the traffic around them and navigating the roadways.

Of course, since the cars are still experimental, and experiments by definition are bound to fail at some point, Google always has a live person in the driver's seat when conducting on-road testing. That person can take over the second a glitch or problem occurs. Google didn't give any indication as to how often its driver has to grab the wheel back hold from the ghost in the machine, but was content in stating that the precautionary measure is taken every time. Next to this "back-up" driver, Google has a software engineer tracking the vehicle's software. The company also speaks to local police prior to running tests.

In developing its technology, Google has had some help from some proven experts in the field of vehicle autonomy. Its team includes several people that participated in DARPA's autonomated vehicle challenges from earlier in the decade, including Chris Urmson, the technical team leader of the CMU team that won the 2007 Urban Challenge; Mike Montemerlo, the software leader for the Stanford team that won the 2005 Grand Challenge; and Anthony Levandowski, who built the world’s first autonomous motorcycle and a modified Prius that delivered pizza without a driver.

Call me old-fashioned, but the idea of automated cars on our roadways seems way ahead of its time. Google and other tech companies might want to address such things as software glitches, blue screens of death, and computer viruses before tying the fate of our highways to software. I experience some type of computer glitch, screen freeze, or software crash on a regular basis. What is but a minor irritation on my home computer could foreseeably be a life-threatening catastrophe on the roads. Not to say that self-driven cars aren't an interesting possibility, but it seems like there are a lot of smaller pieces that need to be stacked together before any focus moves toward automating the roads.


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