Technology

Google Announces Real Robot Cars

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The end is really, really nigh. Google has announced, simultaneously on their official blog and in a front page story set for Sunday’s New York Times, that they “have developed technology for cars that can drive themselves.” But not “have developed” as in, they’re in a lab somewhere waiting for use in 2014 or when the asteroid hits. “Have developed” as in done deal: “Our automated cars, manned by trained operators, just drove from our Mountain View campus to our 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. All in all, our self-driving cars have logged over 140,000 miles.” Those are real roads in California.

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. 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.

Maybe your Gchats are making this possible. Take it “Off the Record” now!

And though the Times claims that “[a]utonomous cars are years from mass production,” Google claims this experiment “provides a glimpse of what transportation might look like in the future thanks to advanced computer science.” They even have the blessing of local police.

More support via the Times:

Robot drivers react faster than humans, have 360-degree perception and do not get distracted, sleepy or intoxicated, the engineers argue. They speak in terms of lives saved and injuries avoided — more than 37,000 people died in car accidents in the United States in 2008. The engineers say the technology could double the capacity of roads by allowing cars to drive more safely while closer together. Because the robot cars would eventually be less likely to crash, they could be built lighter, reducing fuel consumption.

(This is obviously a big deal because The Awl’s Choire Sicha posted on a Saturday afternoon just to equate Google with Skynet.)

Oh, and in case you were wondering, the robots will have personalities, programmed “from cautious, in which it is more likely to yield to another car, to aggressive, where it is more likely to go first.”

For this, we have Google engineer Dr. Sebastian Thrun to thank.

Can we text twice as much while driving, without the guilt?” Dr. Thrun said in a recent talk. “Yes, we can, if only cars will drive themselves.”

What we’re driving at [Google]
Google Cars Drive Themselves, in Traffic [NYT]