Google develops self-driving cars

After a long night of drinking, you walk to your car, turn on the ignition, and drive home.

Only you aren’t doing the driving, your car is. That’s Google’s vision of the future and if their testing is any indication, that future is closer than you may think.

According to the report, Google has seven test cars that have driven a total of 140,000 miles in traffic with only minimal human interaction. During the public showcase, the car started at Google’s campus, merged onto Highway 101, then exited the highway, stopping at lights and stop signs while announcing its intentions to the people in the vehicle.

If this technology can be mass produced, fuel consumption will be drastically reduced, roads will be better utilized, and traffic accidents could be all but eliminated.  All of this assumes that the software works as advertised, but considering we already have cars that can park themselves, why should this be much different?

Before these cars can be mass produced, nearly every driving law on the books will have to be examined and modified as they all assume a responsible person is behind the wheel. If there’s an accident in a robotic car, who is at fault? Given the fact that you can sue a company over bad walking directions, you can be sure that both the software and auto companies would be on the receiving end of many lawsuits.

The question is which do you trust more, a computerized car with potential software errors, or a person who may be intoxicated, tired, or simply not paying attention?

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If this technology can be mass produced, fuel consumption will be drastically reduced, roads will be better utilized, and traffic accidents could be all but eliminated.

How can you say that?!
How would mpg be drastically increased? Seriously. *IF* every vehicle went the speed limit, then that would make a difference, but you can't say by how much -- real world stats aren't available [again seriously -- check the background on the stats that are available & hyped]. If you mean there would be no traffic jams, think again -- DOS attacks work because inbound pipes are a finite size, just as roads carry a finite amount of traffic. If you mean because of more even acceleration & braking, there are no real world, overall stats -- e.g. 6 cars accelerate faster than normal from a stop light, each consuming more gas because of it... Now what if because of that 4 extra cars make it through the light? How much fuel would they have wasted at idle? Since all vehicles are different, you'd have to actually measure mpg in those situations to get a good average. No one's spent the large sums of money to do that, & lab simulations are no good given real world weather, air density/quality/humidity, road conditions, & average *in use* vehicle performance levels, all of which highly effect mpg. As far as braking goes, a real human driver can anticipate the future, can see a red light's going to change etc., & coast... that's much more efficient than any chip calculating stopping distance & applying brakes as required.

Yes it might eliminate some accidents, but it might also cause others. Assuming all human driving error was eliminated, that still leaves equipment failure, obstacles in the road, damage to the road, & things like weather conditions. When you take the human element out of the equations, you take it out completely, & that includes all the wrecks that were avoided that with automation might not be. Plus rather than preventing human error, you're just putting it somewhere else -- somewhere else where you have a multiplication of effects, because if one driver makes an error, you have one collision, whereas when one coder makes an error you could have thousands.

The idea of automated vehicles is not terribly far fetched -- just not yet terribly practical either. All the bits & pieces are there -- proximity sensors/radar, GPS, speed controls, auto-braking etc. What isn't there & necessary, is the level of AI & supporting infrastructure. The latter is unlikely since it would be to support something politically incorrect -- driving -- & when the gov's goal is to move you out of your car & into mass transit, it's not going to happen. It's more impractical to take Google's approach, which I think is all about hype & propaganda, with just enough R & D that might pay off to satisfy the bean counters.

If/when you equip a vehicle & test it [as Google has done], if it works it's partly because it was the only "auto" auto on the road, & partly because the odds (& luck) are in it's favor -- the unexpected is unexpected because it doesn't happen all that often. It's also dependent on the intelligence of other drivers to maintain some sort of flow & order. People (& not any car's AI in any near future) can monitor everything on the road within visible range, everything in proximity that might have an effect [e.g. the dog about to run into traffic], road conditions [blow a tire & no amount of control is always going to save you], traffic congestion, & hear that funny noise that means your car's going to die, soon. To work properly & efficiently on a large scale would require a tie in to some sort of "Central Command" complete with camera & sensor networks for coordination & monitoring. To work at least as safely as a human behind the wheel, this system would have to be able to identify the object that just fell off that truck as a 50 gallon drum, plot it's likely trajectory, & decide a course of action -- can the car stop in time (as well as all those behind it), swerve out of the way, accelerate to get ahead of the car in the next lane and so on. It would have to analyze road conditions, vehicle performance, condition & performance of the vehicles tires -- all those sorts of things a driver's brain can keep track of, filed away under how *their* car behaves &/or acts.

There are plenty of poor drivers out there, & those we encounter are what stick in our memory, precisely because they are unusual -- if asked: "How many good drivers did you come across on the drive home", could you put a number to it? You can come up with stats on how many accidents were ruled to be caused by driver error, but can you quote how many were avoided? While it's too often the norm, you really can't make a qualified judgment with insufficient data. During the decades I was involved, automotive engineers were always famous for the blinders they wore, & every tech unfortunate enough to deal with them spent undue time trying to make them see real world reality. That sound's like Thrun, the guy seeking all this fame & fortune behind this albeit interesting exercise.

Besides, in the sci fi movies the hero most always wrests control from whatever automaton.

Mouettus said,
Hell no! I love driving! gtfo Google!

Well, that's how & why they sell cars & not everyone is behind the wheel of an identical Yugo. ;-)

We don't all dress the same, we don't live in identical pods, we aren't (for the most part) part of the Hive. :-)

Mouettus said,
Hell no! I love driving! gtfo Google!

Sounds like me, I enjoy driving but I hate riding in a car as a passenger. It's so boring.

Skyfrog said,

Sounds like me, I enjoy driving but I hate riding in a car as a passenger. It's so boring.

You said it. I can't even stand to use cruise control.

Joyette S said,
What benefit does Google get out of this? They make money via ads, do you have to listen or watch ads on the way home?

sure:

"we are turning right, we are now passing bank of America which offers free checking, etc""

webeagle12 said,

sure:

"we are turning right, we are now passing bank of America which offers free checking, etc""

You may have been joking, but that's actually not a bad idea....

Yea but Google is also known for killing projects, imagine going down a motorway and suddenly Google kills the programme.................brings a whole new meaning to the term programme crash

So they have flying camera probe things and now robotic cars? SWEEEEEEET I'm definately liking the future however just waiting for these robot cars to be deeemed illegal in the UK just like every other great invention eg the segway

zikalify said,
deeemed illegal in the UK just like every other great invention eg the segway

The segway is illegal in the UK? Wow, what exactly is the reasoning behind that one?

roadwarrior said,

The segway is illegal in the UK? Wow, what exactly is the reasoning behind that one?

It is legal to own them and to use them on private property, but because they are classified as powered vehicles they would have to be licensed and registered for use on public roads. The problem is that they don't meet the safety standards for motor vehicles or something like that.

Next headline reads, "first virus for self-driving car released, family drive into river." Although, I guess that already happens due to GPS.

Seifer78 said,
Next headline reads, "first virus for self-driving car released, family drive into river." Although, I guess that already happens due to GPS.

Lol

Seifer78 said,
Next headline reads, "first virus for self-driving car released, family drive into river." Although, I guess that already happens due to GPS.

And it would say "thank you for drowning with google, have a pleasent day"

I can't wait for this to hit mass production. I side with software reliability anytime ... besides even if a bug is identified, a fix can be distributed in no time via the cloud.

Constantin said,
I can't wait for this to hit mass production. I side with software reliability anytime ... besides even if a bug is identified, a fix can be distributed in no time via the cloud.
I'll be more concerned about the reverse.

leeisl said,
I'll be more concerned about the reverse.

Exactly. Imagine a system where a remote hacker can hack your car, take over, and drive you into a wall... Sounds a bit scary to me.

Constantin said,
I can't wait for this to hit mass production.

And you'll be waiting a long time -- your grandchildren will be waiting a long time. ;-)
Politically the goal is to get you Not to drive, & that's not saying anything one way or another about any current gov. The time, effort, & cash needed to develop this will not be spent any time soon. What may happen is bits & pieces of Google's R & D may find their way into car's/trucks/SUVs as they (& their entertainment centers) become more connected. Intel & Microsoft are already involved in that stuff, so it makes sense for Google to want to go there. I'd expect an Apple presence too, but getting Government Motors to hand Jobs the keys to their engineering dept is likely a sticking point. :-)

Dazer said,

Exactly. Imagine a system where a remote hacker can hack your car, take over, and drive you into a wall... Sounds a bit scary to me.

Would your opinion change if the car wasn't connected to the network? What's to stop it from being a self-contained system? Perhaps do updates by plugging in a USB stick or something.

rakeshishere said,
It will be in BETA atleast for a couple of years

It'll be in beta even after it hits the market, until at least version 32 dot oh, two years into its life.

Joshie said,

It'll be in beta even after it hits the market, until at least version 32 dot oh, two years into its life.

hahahha...ryt....like GMAIL

Well judging from how wonderfully accurate GPS navigation systems are people will no longer have to drive themselves into lakes, just let the cars do it for them.

/- Razorfold said,
Um BMW, Benz, and a bunch of other car companies are already doing / researching this =/

Yea I remember reading a while back that L.A. was testing a 'computerized' lane that allowed for autopilot vehicles [basically magnetic block in the road]. Anything to reduce the congestion in their city.

/- Razorfold said,
Um BMW, Benz, and a bunch of other car companies are already doing / researching this =/

Yep, my friend at Toyota was testing them about 2-3 years ago.

SaltLife said,

Yea I remember reading a while back that L.A. was testing a 'computerized' lane that allowed for autopilot vehicles [basically magnetic block in the road]. Anything to reduce the congestion in their city.

A much different approach than Google's, that sort of thing has been proven, but it's not coming to most cities & towns with Winters [where roads too often need repair] any time soon. And it does nothing for places like Orlando where the city streets (& toll booths), not so much the highways become parking lots.

Troll said,

Yep, my friend at Toyota was testing them about 2-3 years ago.

Toyota & Honda especially have great R & D... most of it you never hear about because a lot of really innovative stuff [e.g. Honda's 4 wheel steering & Toyota's voice controls (as far back as the 80's)] didn't sell to consumers. Long ago Ford I think had similar problems when they found that *much* smaller steering wheels [like 6" - 8" I think] were safer & offered better control, though of course that was way before air bags, or even shoulder belts -- a *lot* of the US auto makers R & D came crashing to earth when their glory days ended.

/- Razorfold said,
Um BMW, Benz, and a bunch of other car companies are already doing / researching this =/

microsoft will also be doing this...i guz with Kinect guz

/- Razorfold said,
Um BMW, Benz, and a bunch of other car companies are already doing / researching this =/

thanks for putting this in perspective. researchers and car companies have been working on this for years. It's good to see a company like Google pushes this in any case. But it's not like they invented it.

sounds good but that gives more excuse for people to drink and the majority of population drive a old clunker. It will be a long time coming to improve safety for everyone. What if a cop is trying to pull a controlled car and the person passed out? lol

DrOmango said,
What if a cop is trying to pull a controlled car and the person passed out? lol

Wouldn't matter as the car was driving & would presumably get the ticket. ;-)

DrOmango said,
What if a cop is trying to pull a controlled car and the person passed out? lol

The same way cop cars control traffic lights (turning them green instantly) would probably be implemented for said computerized cars. If you're trying to pull an automated car over, just input the plate in the computer, press a button and voila, the car pulls over on its own, even ignoring driver's interaction. Would be nice to assist them during car chases too.

Vinay Kumar said,
What next... Google Robots ??? ohh wait.....i guess they are already on it

Well, they already have androids out on the street... so who knows.

This was coming sooner or later but I guess nobody thought that Google was going to be the one pushing the technology. Yeah, eventually they will be even in your cereal

rahvii said,
This was coming sooner or later but I guess nobody thought that Google was going to be the one pushing the technology. Yeah, eventually they will be even in your cereal

I wonder if this isn't a 20% project ( http://goo.gl/gCl9 )
Sounds odd if it's an offiicial thing Google is running.

thatguyandrew1992 said,
I hope we can switch to manual drive, for when dozens of robots start attacking your car because you know too much.

Think I'll want my life-like metal arm first to fight them as well

M2Ys4U said,
I think this will end up more of an "autopilot" function like on, say, planes than a fully humanless system.
Likely or not this is the future, kind like the movie "I, Robot".

Quattrone said,
Likely or not this is the future, kind like the movie "I, Robot".

Like the scene where he grabs the steering wheel to drive on his own and the girl goes, "What are you doing!?"