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The End Is Nigh: Google Patents Autonomous Driving

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On: Fri, Dec 16, 2011 at 5:11PM | By: Chris Salamone

The End Is Nigh: Google Patents Autonomous Driving

Motoring fans everywhere have witnessed a slow degradation of the driving experience for years. 6-speed manual transmissions have shifted to something entirely less exciting, the CVT, and the road-feel of yesterday’s vehicles has become a mere afterthought on the pillow-top suspensions of today. And yet, the savvy tycoons at Google have claimed yet another aspect of the automotive industry – this time chipping away at the very essence of what makes driving fun.

Originally filed May 11 of this year, the USPTO just recently awarded Google patent #8,078,349 which specifically claims ownership of certain events where a mixed-mode car can transition from a human driver to an autonomous mode.

Google has been testing and theorizing on autonomous driving in California for quite a while, and the company recruited some of the sharpest robotics minds in the business. Christopher Urmson and Nathaniel Fairfield, both from Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute, certainly played substantial roles in the company’s autonomous R&D phase – especially considering that Urmson was the technical leader from the winning team of the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge.

But why would Google want in on autonomous driving? Google’s patent envisions the use of landing strips which can be detected via internal vehicle sensors and monitored by GPS location devices externally. Then information from landing strips, detailed maps, cameras, a laser range finder, and radar sensors can be cross referenced to determine the exact location of the car. Once the driver switches to autonomous mode, the vehicle can guide itself with location data and URL-driven instructions.

ConceivablyTech speculates that, “at the very least, potential applications would be industrial vehicles as well as future cars that may park themselves in a parking lot.” But here’s the real jewel of Google’s autonomous vehicle plan: the company already dominates the internet mapping industry, and autonomous URL tracking and guidance would be a natural extension towards substantially monetizing Google Maps.

While troubling, automotive enthusiasts don’t have to fear a total selfless-driving apocalypse just yet. Google’s patent calls for a dual mode vehicle, capable of switching from individual to mechanical control. The real question is: how much can we afford to trust these machines? Automated parking sounds like a dream come true for any holiday shopper, but will Google’s autonomous driving technology be content with simple parking functions?

So far, Google seems to have abated our concerns by avoiding labeling their autonomous driving program with anything which might instigate a riot (Skynet, Hal 9000, etc.). If only we could avoid sacrificing the driving experience in the name of “advancing” society…



Stephy21 | 9:46AM (Mon, Dec 19, 2011)

I don't think many people would go for this idea if they put it in a car. Who wants to trust their life with a car that is driving its self and you have no control. But i could be wrong some people might see this as are future.

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