York Times report
has outlined the details of a secret Google project to truly
put the "auto" in automobile. The Mountainview,
California-based tech company has tested seven cars that have driven
without the aid of a human for 1,000 miles, and more than 140,000
miles with minimal human intervention.
project was created by Google engineer and co-inventor of Google's
Street View, Sebastian Thrun, director of the Stanford Artificial
Intelligence Laboratory. In 2005, Thrun led a team from the
university to win a $2 million Pentagon prize for designing the
Stanley robot car, which drove autonomously for more than 132 miles.
the current project, Google outfitted six Toyota Priuses and an Audi
TT with advanced mapping technology and artificial intelligence
software that can sense objects near the car and mimic human driver
decisions. A passenger has been present to make minor adjustments,
like when a bicyclist ran a red light during a recent test drive.
motivation for the project, its engineers say, is to make the roads
safer. "Robot drivers react faster than humans, have
360-degree perception and do not get distracted, sleepy or
intoxicated, the engineers argue," NYT noted.
Autonomous cars could double the capacity of our current roads by
allowing them to be driven closer together, and, because of the
decreased likelihood of a crash, could be made out of lighter
materials, translating to better fuel efficiency.
only reported crash, engineers said, was when one of the autonomous
cars was rear-ended while stopped at a red light. Otherwise, one of
the cars even drove itself down Lombard Street in San Francisco,
what NYT calls "one of the steepest and
curviest streets in the nation." The cars can be programmed with
different driving personalities -- "cautious" is more
defensive, while "aggressive" is, well, more aggressive.
has 15 engineers working on the project, as well as at least a dozen
people with clean driving records hired to sit in the driver's seat
as a precautionary measure.
Google isn't the only party working on a self-piloted car.
Researchers at Yale and NYU recently
unveiled a human vision-based supercomputer called NeuFlow,
which will aide in navigating cars in the future. A few years
ago, DailyTech went
for a ride in
the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge winner, a fully autonomous Chevy
autos are still years away from mass production, NYT notes,
because computers have to become much more stable and less likely to
crash, for one thing. Another obstacle beyond the technological
aspect is the law. “The technology is ahead of the law in many
areas,” Bernard Lu, a senior attorney for the California DMV
told NYT. “If you look at the vehicle code, there
are dozens of laws pertaining to the driver of a vehicle, and they
all presume to have a human being operating the vehicle.” Google
has argued that, because there is a human being present to override
any decisions of the automobiles, its experiments are legal. Lu
there are those who believe that the technology could change society
as profoundly as the Internet has. Google has not revealed a clear
business plan for the new technology, but both Thrun and Google
co-founder Larry Page have a shared commitment to increase the
nation's highway safety and efficiency, sources say.
least one thing is certain, autonomous cars, when perfected, would
save more lives than any texting-while-driving